Gujo Hachiman – compared to places like Osaka and Tokyo - is a small, quaint, picturesque, Japanese town nestled in a valley between mountains in the center of Gifu Prefecture. Surrounded by verdant mountains and pure water. Its total area spans around 1,030.79 km² and has an altitude range of 110 meters (Minami Town’s Konno District) to a high of 1810 meters (Choshigamine in Shirotori Town) above sea level.
More about Gujo, the City
Gujo became a city on March 1, 2004. The city, which is less than 2 hours away from the city of Nagoya, is a result of the merger of the towns of Hachiman, Shirotori and Yamato, and the villages of Meihō, Minami, Takasu, and Wara. Famous for its waterways, canals, and fountains, Gujo’s water source is a source of local pride, as it is still operated the same way it was in the 17th century. The town and its houses have been preserved with such outstanding care that visitors experience that nostalgic “old town” atmosphere, giving them a real feel of history.
Sometimes Gujo is known as “Castle Town” because of Gujo Hachiman Castle, which is located on top of Mt. Hachiman Mountain. The castle, built by Endo Morikazu, in 1559 was rebuilt in 1933 with wood, making it one of the oldest wooden restored castles in Japan. The castle, together with its Maple trees, commands such a spectacular view, especially in autumn. The presence of the castle became an important influence on the town’s history and its rise to becoming a notable and prosperous city of Japan.
Gujo then became an active place for trading. Many past merchants, artists, and craftsmen bringing with them their skills, traditions, cultures, customs, practices, and architecture all contributed to what Gujo is today. Visiting Gujo will give you a glimpse of the authentic, unique, and vibrant culture of the Japanese.
What is Gujo Hachiman Known Most For?
Gujo is called “Castle City “because of its beautiful castle. It is also called “Water City” because of its stunning rivers and canals - and how the exceptional maintenance of traditional ecological practices has kept the water so pure. However now, more often, it is also named the “Fake Food Capital of Japan.” Gujo is famous for its food replicas or “shokuhin sampuru” meaning “sample”. It is the main producer of food samples or plastic food models.
A Specialization in Food Replicas
Gujo Hachiman has many factories that employ highly trained craftsmen that make fake, but realistic food replicas. It is a billion-dollar revenue making business. These replicas, usually handmade using polyvinyl chloride, are often displayed in restaurants as a means of showing their dishes instead of using menus. These amazing life-like copies of food entice customers to enter the restaurants and order when they see the attractive and colorful window display of dishes. They can make replicas not only for restaurants but also groceries, banquets, museums, television props, television commercials, trade shows - the list is endless.
Takizo Iwasaki is the inventor of fake food. He turned it into a business in 1932. Born and raised in Gujo Hachiman, he experimented, ending up with first fake food creation which was an omelet. The original omelet sample is still displayed in the Sample Village Iwasaki, which is the shop now in Gujo that displays all kinds of high quality copied food.
The open hours of Sample Village Iwasaki are 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM (classes until 3:00 PM). It’s closed on Tuesdays, the 1st Thursday in October, the 1st Saturday in February, and New Year holidays. It costs nothing to enter, but for classes, prices start from ¥800 to ¥1,200. Its exact address is 250 Jonan-cho, Hachiman-cho, Gujo City, its telephone number is 0575-67-1808.
At the Food Replica Workshop Kobo, another outlet for fake food, visitors, with the guidance of the workshop staff, are encouraged to have a hand at making their own waxen products. Adults and children enjoy it alike.
The Food Replica workshop is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (extended hours during the Gujo Odori Festival), and it is closed on Thursdays (except in summer and New Year holidays). You don’t have to pay to come in, but classes prices start from 900 yen to 3000 yen. To visit, head to Hachimancho Hashimotocho, Gujo, Gifu Prefecture 501-4227, Address 956. Its Telephone Number: 0575-67-1870
A Guide to Gujo Hachiman in Japan:
There are many things to do in Gujo Hachiman; since it is relatively a small village, it is best to go around on foot or bicycle. A must see is the Gujo Hachiman Castle and the fake food workshops, but there are also so many other places worth your time and visit.
Where to Go:
- Visible everywhere are small, street side, clear, water canals, which you pass when you walk up and down the town streets. As you stroll along, you will find Mizu Fune or “water boats” These are layered wooden or stone basins where water flows down from the top basin to the lower basin. Water coming down from the top spigot is best for drinking, and glasses are provided for whoever wants to drink. The lower basins are mainly used for other purposes like washing fruits or laundry.
- You can also try your luck at Ayu fishing in the Nagara River. (You must get a permit to do this)
- Sogi Sui Water Spring is a very popular shrine where Sogi, a 15th-century poet, and to Tsuneyori, a feudal lord, exchanged farewell poems when the poet had to leave for Kyoto. This water spring and the small shrine is classified under one of “Japan’s 100 Remarkable Waters” to raise awareness of nature conservation and the preservation of clean water and the environment. The Japanese Ministry of Environment recognized it as a place of historical and ecological significance.
- Otaki cave is the most popular of 3 limestone caves in Gujo because inside the cave is a 30-meter-high waterfall. It became classified as the tallest underground waterfall in the whole of Japan. A cable car takes visitors up to the cave entrance. Upon disembarking, tourists are made to continue their tour on foot at their own pace. There are many steep and narrow staircases to climb, but the view of the fascinating (sometimes red and pink, sometimes white) stalactites makes everything worthwhile.
- Jionzenji temple is a 16th century Rinzai Zen temple founded by Endo Yoshitaka. It has been rebuilt since a landslide damaged it in 1950. It has beautiful Zen garden, designed by a head priest called Hanzan, which has a pond, a waterfall, and tall maple trees. Gujo Hachiman has thirteen temples and four shrines. Here are others that are recommended for you to visit: Dai Jo Ji Temple, Cho Kyo Ji Temple, An Yo Ji Temple and Gochiku In Temple.
- Kajiya Machi and Shokunin Machi are two very well-preserved streets in Gujo. Both have been listed under “Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings”. These streets, in the olden times, were lined with workshops of artisans who also lived on top of their shops – worth to stop by for a minute.
- Yanako Ko Michi is a small street which only pedestrians can enter. It has a stream on the side with water coming from the Yoshida River that is filled with koi. Locals and visitors alike can feed the fish if they wish.
- Gujo Hachiman Hakurankan City Museum displays demonstrations of Gujo’s festival dances and exhibits the town’s water system, history, and crafts.
- Bokka No Satto is not too far away from Gujo. It is a farming theme park that has beautiful lavender flowers in full bloom during the summer, tulips during springtime and cosmos in autumn. They offer you a choice of dairy farming, horse riding, and baking of bread. To end the tour, you can dip yourself in their Makihana, an open-air onsen or hot spring.
- Takasu Snow Park is in the northern part of Gujo city. It is a resort on the eastern slopes of Mt. Dainichi and where winter sports enthusiasts can go skiing and snowboarding.
The Three Rivers in Gujo Hachiman
The Yoshida River runs from the east to west and goes through the center of Gujo town where it joins the Kodara River, and then both flow out into the larger Nagara River. The cold, exceptionally clear, and clean, cherry blossomed - lined rivers run through the town of Gujo in the form of canals and small rivers.
The presence of these rivers in Gujo has made it possible for it to have a complex system of water canals. These canals wind down inside the city alongside the streets, and they provide not only water for the townsfolk’s daily household use like the washing of laundry and dishes, but they also provide protection against fire.
They also served once as a protection against invading armies. The water canals were built in 1660 after a fire almost destroyed most of the town in 1652. The residents are made to follow a strict set of rules and laws regarding the use of the water and how to keep it clean and because to this Gujo has had access to clean water for centuries.
More about Gujo Odori, Gujo Hachiman’s Festival
Every year, the City of Gujo celebrates the Gujo Dance Festival called the Gujo Odori. This 400-year-old Festival was started by Endo Yoshitaka with the intention of uniting the town’s folks, regardless of their status or social position. Thousands of visitors head to the city yearly to join in the festivities.
The Festival is one of the most important traditional Bon dance festivals in Japan. It is made up of 10 dances, each with their corresponding songs. One of those songs is called “Kawasaki”, The festival lasts for 32 nights starting from the middle of July, lasting until early September. This year of 2017, it started on July 8 and ended on September 2.
Sometime around August 13 -16, during the days of Obon, or the “Tetsuya Odori”, (meaning dancing all night) the dances continue until dawn. Obon is a Buddhist custom celebrated as a yearly event when the locals, with their family members, give homage to their ancestors or relatives that have long gone. They visit their graves and give food offerings in temples and house altars.
Floating lanterns are placed especially on rivers or sea to guide the spirits back into their world. Anyone can join in the festivities, the dancing, and the singing and this attracts thousands of travelers. Anybody can wear anything they prefer, but wearing a “geta”(wooden stilted shoes) and a “yukata” (Japanese summer kimono) gets you more into the mood of the festivities.
What to Eat
Delicious dishes that are necessary to taste are the different varieties of Okimuno Curry. There are 26 local restaurants and shops and they all offer their own version of Okimuno Curry, sometimes made of chicken, pork, mushroom, and beef with rice and miso. The high-quality grilled Gujo-Ayu sweetfish and Unagi are top of the line. Yaki Soba, hot or cold soup of specially made buckwheat noodles, Okonomiyaki, a kind of Japanese pancake and Motai Iburi Doufu; smoked tofu made with special soybeans.
Where to Stay
You have many choices of places to stay in Gujo Hachiman. A popular choice is Hotel Gujo Hachiman, yet there is also Sun Members Hirugano. For luxurious accommodations, you have Holiday House Green Garden. Some hotels that were favorably mentioned are the City Hotel Yoshidaya and Sekisuien Hotel.
For the budget, conscious you may be interested in “Ryokans” (Japanese Inns) or “Minshuku” accommodations in the home of a local family. Whatever your choice of accommodations will be, you can be assured of a warm welcome and a comfortable room.
Visit Gujo Hachiman
Before you head to Gujo Hachiman, the news is that it rains a lot there; levels can be as low as 109 mm of rainfall in January to 405 mm rainfall between June and July. You should also be prepared as to what you’re going to wear, because the temperature can vary from -3 degrees Celsius in January and rises to 32 degrees Celsius in August.
The city has its own train station;” 郡上八幡駅 Gujō-Hachiman-eki” or the Gujo-Hachiman Station, with connections to the Nagaragawa Railway; Etsumi-Nan Line. You can also take the highway bus to travel here, depending on where you’re from. The Gifu bus, for example, goes from the Meitetsu Bus Center, beside the JR Nagoya Station, to Shirakawago, that visits the Jokamachi Plaza bus stop. Another bus goes from Nagoya to Takayama, which also stops at the Gujo-Hachiman Inter. This bus is the Nohi bus.
For those who love everything quaint and quirky, Gujo Hachiman is the perfect destination. It’s not your usual tourist spot, but it makes for a great travel story and cultural experience to visit.