Not many people outside of Japan have heard of Gifu Prefecture. In fact, the majority of people outside Japan have hardly heard of any place that isn’t Tokyo. Don’t make their mistake and think about visiting Gifu during your trip to Japan. You may be very surprised.
Travelling to Gifu Prefecture
Gifu (岐阜) Prefecture is in Japan’s centre, on the main island of Honshu, and compensates for the lack of access to the sea with mountains, including part of the Japanese Alps. Getting there is quite easy, regardless of your starting point, and there are suitable options for every budget.
- Travel by plane to Chubu International Airport in Nagoya. From there you can catch a Meitetsu train and spend an hour to get to Gifu station.
- Travelling by bus you can reach Gifu City or Takayama City most easily from Tokyo, Osaka and Kanazawa. The journey can be as long as five hours travelling from Tokyo, or as little as two hours travelling from Kanazawa (one hour if going to Shirakawa-gō) in normal traffic. But buses are usually the cheapest option, especially when booked in advance, even if journey times are the longest.
- Travelling by train is the easiest way of travelling to Gifu and all its places. The JR Tokaido Main Line will get you there from either Nagoya or Osaka, while the JR West Shirasagi limited express train will get you there from Kanazawa. The fastest way of travelling there from Tokyo is by the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, but as it is a bullet train, it may be more expensive than local lines. For a train timetable and route planner go to Hyperdia.com.
If history is what you are looking for, you should start from the city of Takayama (高山), where you can transport yourself to feudal Japan of the Edo period. Takayama was under direct rule of the shogun, whose living quarters are now open to the public (Takayama Jin-ya, 高山陣屋), displaying where the once most powerful man in Japan would stay, relax and continue ruling the country while in Takayama. Before or after that treat yourself to a walk around the old streets, preserved as much as possible, where the hustle and bustle probably hasn’t changed that much from the past. And if you go in either spring or autumn, you should be right in time for that season’s festival as well.
For an even grander display of power, head to Gifu City itself and to the Gifu Castle. It belonged to one of the great unifiers of Japan, Nobunaga Oda, and now hosts an exhibit of Japanese swords and armour, providing the visitors with an even closer insight of life of Japanese warlords. And with the castle being sat atop a mountain you are guaranteed some marvellous views!
If you are more interested in the common people of the past Japan than its great warlords and rulers, then you should go to the village of Shirakawa-gō (白川郷), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is hidden away in the mountains, and thus easiest to get to by car, although there are buses and organised coach trips going there fairly regularly, so don’t worry about missing out. Shirakawa-gō is famous for the gassho-zukuri (合掌造) houses, typical of the Edo period, named so because the roofs look like hands in prayer, and which were designed to withstand the weight of snow in winter. Many houses in Shirakawa-gō are still inhabited, and if you plan in advance, you can get a first-hand experience of staying in one to see how farmers and those who reared silkworms lived.
As already said, Gifu has some beautiful nature and natural sights just waiting to be discovered. Those who love mountains should take the Shinhotaka Ropeway (新穂高ロープウェイ) to the top of the Northern Japanese Alps for some gorgeous views from over 2000m above sea level. Even if you’re afraid of heights, you can just stay on the ground and explore the walking trail nearby, and admire whatever beauty is in season at the time of your visit.
For more active people, Gifu will be great for skiing in winter, and you will be spoilt for choice of skiing resorts if you look this up. One of the more popular ones is Hirugano Highlands Ski Resort (ひるがの高原スキー場) in Gujo City, where you can sled, snow raft, snowboard and more, as well as ski. As a bonus, this particular resort is fully prepared to deal with non-Japanese customers, making it easier for those who do not speak Japanese particularly well.
After you’ve enjoyed the beautiful views or gotten tired from skiing, you should visit Gero Onsen (下呂温泉) to relax in natural hot waters and to treat yourself to a beautifying rest you deserve. It’s regarded highly amonst the most famous onsens in Japan, and attracts people from all over the globe who want to try its “water of beauties”. And as it’s located in another gassho-zukuri village, you can also feel as if you’ve stepped into the past, while relaxing in hot water.
You’ve surely seen the wax food replicas displayed by many restaurants, but did you ever think that you could make one? They have supposedly originated in Gifu Prefecture, and you can book yourself a hands-on workshop of making wax food replicas yourself, for example at the Sample Village Iwasaki (サンプルビレッジ・いわさき). Making realistic-looking food is great fun, as well as a very Japanese souvenir to bring back from your trip. It would also be a great day out for those travelling with kids.
Gifu is also home to another Great Buddha Statue, or Daibutsu, located in the Shoho-ji Temple (正法寺). While this one is a little younger, dating only to the 19th century, at over 13m tall it is certainly an impressive sight. And once you’re done admiring the Gifu Daibutsu, make sure to stay a little longer for some meditative peace and calming nature as you walk around the temple.
Being a mountainous prefecture, Gifu has access to the best mountain spring water – which in turn makes excellent sake. You can visit the Watanabe Sake Brewery (渡辺酒造店) in Hida City, which has been making sake since the Meiji period (1868-1912). If you just drop in, you’ll only be able to visit the shop (and possibly try some delicious sake), but if you book in advance, you could go on a tour of the brewery to see the different stages of the sake making process. And, again, sake makes for fantastic, and very Japanese, souvenirs to bring back home with you.
And if you think that this is all that Gifu Prefecture has to offer – think again! This is just the beginning. Explore this and much more yourself.