The Top Things to Do in Gifu Prefecture
At the heart of central Japan, Gifu is the perfect side trip for anyone traveling between the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka. Covered in mountains with incredible scenery, rural towns oozing with Japanese culture and hot spring towns perfect for relaxing, Gifu is well worth adding to your itinerary. Still not convinced? Here are some places that might change your mind.
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With its historic buildings and quaint traditional streets, the old town of Takayama is a step back into the past. Many of the buildings here were built during the Edo Period (1600-1868) when Takayama prospered as home to wealthy merchants and are beautifully preserved. Some of them are open to visitors to explore and get a glimpse into what life was once like several hundred years ago. Or take to the streets in a rickshaw tour of the old town.
If your visit is flexible, time it for the Takayama Festival that's held twice a year during mid April and October. The festival is ranked as one of Japan's most beautiful as lavish floats are paraded around the town.
Located in the mountains between Takayama and Nagoya, Gero Onsen is a Japanese hot spring town spread across a valley. It's one of the most popular onsens in the country and for good reason, the waters are meant to do wonders for the skin and some even say bathing there will keep you looking young. Apart from the hot springs themselves, the idyllic setting in a mountain valley makes for some beautiful hiking trails and spots to appreciate the scenery.
A beautiful village in rural Gifu, Shirakawago is a stunning example of the traditional gassho-zukuri style architecture, quaint houses with dramatically-slanted thatched roofs. Despite its remote location, the village is highly popular with regular buses departing there from all the surrounding cities. While the area is incredible throughout the year, it's particularly picturesque in the winter, when the houses are often covered in white powdery snow.
Lifting passengers up to incredible mountain views in the Japanese Alps, Shinhotaka Ropeway is a short bus journey from the city of Takayama. The cable car lifts people over 1000 meters up the side of the mountain range, one of the longest ropeways in the country. Down the other side of the slopes you'll find Kamikochi, one of Nagano's most famous scenic spots that looks more at place in the Swiss Alps than in Japan.
One of the 'post towns' along the historic Nakasendo Trail that travelers once used to walk between Tokyo and Kyoto, Magome and the nearby towns are full of stunningly well preserved Edo style buildings. Nestled within the Japanese Alps in the Kiso Valley, Magome is surrounded by incredible scenery. The area is home to a number of beautiful traditional towns such as Tsumago-juku across the border in Nagano Prefecture, an easy walk from Magome.
Another of Gifu's many picturesque towns steeped in history and Japanese tradition, Gujo-Hachiman is unique for its buildings rising up against the riverbanks along with the impressive hilltop castle. The town's call to fame however is through it's 'fake food', as one of Japan's largest producers of plastic food replicas that are used in restaurant windows all around the country. You can even join a workshop and make your own fake food here.
Sitting on a hill overlooking the city of Gifu, the castle provides beautiful views over the surrounding scenery and the town itself. Built in the first few years of the 13th century, the castle was once a highly important stronghold in the area used as a residence by Oda Nobunaga, a well known Japanese lord. It takes about an hour to hike to the top of Mt Kinka where the castle looms above, however you can also take a cable car straight to the top for those not up for walking.
With most of its attractions within easy reach from the major city of Nagoya, Gifu makes for the perfect place to spend a few days exploring the more rural and traditional side to Japan. While most travelers tend to stick to the major cities like Kyoto and Tokyo, whizzing between each area via bullet trains, Japan's countryside is picturesque and beautiful, well worth spending some time to see.