Off the Beaten Path: Gujo-Hachiman
Japan seems built for great tourism. Everywhere you go you will find some attraction or historical spot, and every city (in some cases every restaurant) claims to have it’s own 名物 (meibutsu: famous local delicacy). Heck, even places that Japanese wouldn’t consider “tourist” spots are interesting to a lot of foreigners. You could spend years touring the sites around just Tokyo and Kyoto, and you’ll find no shortage of resources in book stores and elsewhere on the internet to help you with that.
What I like to do at Nihonshock, though, is introduce people to new things. So I’m writing my first “travel” article on a place you’ve probably not heard of, and which is well off the beaten trail: Gujo-Hachiman (郡上八幡).
Gujo-Hachiman is a small town nestled in the mountains of Gifu prefecture, right smack in the middle of Japan. What makes this town unique is not only it’s beautiful scenery, but a castle on a steep mountainside with a stunning view, an “old-style town” (古い町並み) that is a pleasant walk, a pristine river that runs through the town, and a certain very unique product that the town is known for.
I’ve gotta start with the castle. It’s a smaller castle, and I’m not a history fanatic so I didn’t read the pamphlet too closely, but the view from the top may well be the best of any castle in Japan.
To get to the castle is a 20-30 minute hike from the bus stop, but you can drive to the top if you’ve got car (small car preferable, also required: above-average driving skill). It’s a steep trip but well worth it if the weather’s decent. Admission is 300 JPY.
The Walk Around Town
The castle is impressive, but in my opinion the fun part of Gujo-Hachiman is footing the downtown tour. There are numerous interesting shops and and no shortage of things to look at, not the least of which is the Yoshida river (吉田川), which is so clean you could probably drink from it.
The walk takes between an hour and two hours, depending on how long you browse shops and excluding any stops for meals.
Disclaimer: Nihonshock does not recommend drinking the river water… no matter how beautiful and mouth-wateringly delicious it looks.
And the icing on the cake for Gujo-hachiman visitors is food samples/replicas (食品サンプル); the town is famous for them. If you haven’t been to Japan, you might not know what they are. Food samples are super-realistic replicas of actual food dishes, which you can commonly find displayed in front of restaurants in Japan to attract customers.
The detail and craftsmanship that goes into them is astounding, and they make perfect souvenirs (they come as keyrings, magnets, or just plain decorations). As you can see in the picture at right, I made sure to stock up on these before I came back from Japan.
There’s about 3 or 4 good places to shop for food samples along the walk, and the big touristy-place near the plaza even offers demonstrations of how some of it is made.
Note: all of the above pictures are NOT EDIBLE. Evil, isn’t it?
Getting to Gujo-Hachiman
As the title of this blog states, it’s off the beaten path to get here. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?
Coming from Tokyo or Kyoto/Osaka, you’ll have to go through Nagoya. I think you can figure out how to find Nagoya on your own, so I’ll basically start my directions from there. (All prices and times are 1-way)
- First you need to get to Mino-Ota (美濃太田) station.
- Cheap way from Nagoya: take the JR Chuo line (中央線) to Tajimi (多治見), then at Tajimi transfer to the Ota line (太田線). 40+30 minutes, 950 JPY.
- First-class way from Nagoya: Take the “Wide-view” Hida express train. No transfer required. 40 minutes + 2770 JPY.
- If you are in or can get to Gifu, take the Takayama Main Line from there (高山本線): 33 minutes + 480 JPY.
- At Mino-Ota, transfer to the Nagara-gawa railway (長良川鉄道) and take it to Gujo-Hachiman station. 83 minutes + 1320 JPY.
- Take the community bus “mame-bus” (郡上八幡コミュニティバス「まめバス」) for 10-15 minutes to Jouka-machi Plaza (城下町プラザ). 100 JPY.
- Note that this bus operates in a kind of weird loop, and there are buses that go both directions. It’s 10-15 minutes one way and double that the other, so it’s confusing but you’ll want to get it right.
- Station to Plaza: Take the :15 RED or :45 BLUE bus
- Plaza to Station: Take the :00 RED or :34 BLUE bus
- Buses run 8am through 5pm, but end an hour earlier in winter-time (October through May) and on Sundays/holidays.
- The buses also start an hour later on Sundays/holidays.
- Here’s a link to the complete bus information, unfortunately in Japanese only.
Yes, the train trip takes a while, but you’re going through the countryside so you’ll get some great views along the way. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
And here’s a couple Jorudan (excellent train information site) links for good measure.
- Nagoya to Gujo-Hachiman route information (Japanese only)
- Jorudan English site (search isn’t linkable, you’ll have to input it yourself)
Map of the area
I made up a map to help you. The red dot is the Plaza (where you’ll get off the bus). Note that the train station is further down and to the left, well off the map.
- The blue line is the approximate path to walk up to the castle.
- The red line is my suggested walking path through town.
- The purple lines are a couple nice little detours to consider.
- Gujo wikipedia page
- Gujo-Hachiman on Google Maps
- Gujo-Hachiman city page (+ English version)
- Gujo-Hachiman on Japan-guide.net