One of my goals when visiting Japan was to get off the beaten track. I love the excitement of large cities, but I really wanted to practice my Japanese. My interest in Gujo Hachiman grew from an article in the Japan Times about the city. After reading the article, I added the water city to my itinerary.
Know Before You Go
Gujo Hachiman is a very small city. Being able to speak basic Japanese phrases will make your trip much more enjoyable. The city can be accessed by bus or by train on the Nagaragawa railway. Gujo Hachiman is three hours from Nagoya by train or two hours by bus. Since the city is very much in the country, trains will run on the hour. Be aware of your time when planning your visit. If time is a concern, book a night at a hotel or ryokan in the city ahead of your visit.
Unfortunately, Japan Rail doesn’t run to Gujo Hachiman. To get there, you will need to take the private Nagaragawa railway for part of your trip. My trip cost about $15 USD.
Gujo Hachiman Via Train
Riding the Nagaragawa railway is visiting the past. The diesel train is only one car in size, and the conductor is also the ticket agent. I took the Wide View Hida Express train on the Japan Rail line from Nagoya past Gifu to Mino-Ota to transfer to the Nagaragawa railway. The transfer time is only ten minutes, but luckily, Mino-Ota Station is very small so it was pretty easy for me to read the signs and dash down the steps to the Nagaragawa line. My Japanese kanji skills aren’t great, but another passenger at the station helped me purchase a ticket. It turned out that I didn’t need to buy a ticket at all. When you enter the train, grab a ticket from the ticket dispenser. You can pay the conductor when you reach your stop. Note that the conductor accepts cash only.
Many of the train stations, including the Gujo Hachiman station, are historic train stations. However, the train is still used daily by travelers and locals. I had a fun conversation about One Direction with a high school student who wanted to practice her English.
Getting Into Town
Located in the mountains of Honshu, Gujo is famous for its water. Several rivers run through the city. In the summer, fisherman catch ayu or sweetfish which are roasted and sold as a delicacy. During the late summer the locals will dance through the night during the Gujo Odori festival.
The train station, built in 1929, is across the river from the main part of town. Town buses run from the train station to the visitor’s center.
There are two buses which run in different loops around the town. The red route bus has red writing on a white background and the blue route bus has blue writing on a white background. Your trip to the visitor information center will be thirty minutes longer if you take the wrong bus. To get from the train station to the visitor’s center, use the following guidelines (courtesy of this great post from Nihonshock):
- Station to Tourist Information Center: Take the :15 RED or :45 BLUE bus
- Tourist Information Center to Station (Return Trip): Take the :00 RED or :34 BLUE bus
What to See
A small but pretty castle is perched on top of Hachiman mountain overlooking the town. The original castle dated from in the 1500s but was destroyed during the Meiji era. The current castle was rebuilt during the 1930s which makes it the oldest reconstructed castle in Japan. It’s a pretty steep hike up the mountain to the castle so I recommend comfortable shoes.
Gujo Hachiman has the distinction of being Japan’s leader in the production of food replicas for display in restaurants. Several centers around the town demonstrate the art of producing realistic appearing fake food.
A walk through town is a must for the trip. The historic district features several homes and shops with traditional architecture. A unique aspect of the town is the small canals that run through the city. The canal system dates from a fire in the 1600s that destroyed half of the town. The local lord ordered the canals built to protect the town.
In the summer, local teens will jump from the bridges in town into the Yoshida river. While it is entertaining to watch, visitors are forbidden to attempt jumping from the bridges due to the risk of injury or death. There are several spots along the river which are suitable for swimming if you want to bring your swimsuit.
Despite being a small city, Gujo Hachiman has thirteen temples and four shrines. The city is referred to as Little Kyoto because of the high number of shrines and temples. Before or after your hike up to the castle, stop at Anyouji Temple. The wooden building is the largest in Gifu prefecture. The temple is located on the road leading up to the castle.
Another must-see temple is Jionji Temple. The gardens at the zen temple are renowned for their beauty. While you aren’t allowed to walk in the gardens, the view of the gardens is lovely.
Vegetarians don’t need to worry when visiting the city. I ate lunch on the train since I was not sure if there would be vegetarian options available in the city. I regretted this later. Many of the local restaurants have English menus and, for a small city, Gujo has a surprisingly large number of Italian restaurants. Be sure to save some room for lemon candy I made with Gujo’s famous water!