Home to Japan’s most ancient fishing tradition and a historic castle with sweeping sights of surrounding mountains and greenery, this city could be central Japan’s best kept secret.
Located in central Japan, Gifu City lies just 20 minutes north of Nagoya. As a pioneer of Japan’s unique, 1300-year-old fishing method, it attracts thousands of visitors in the summer alone. But the natural landscape of the city, a historic castle offering impressive views, and Gifu’s unique food and craft specialities make it a great city to visit anytime of the year while in the prefecture of Gifu.
Gifu city is the proud pioneer of ‘ukai’ or cormorant fishing, a 1300-year-old method of fishing. The fishermen light bonfires to attract ‘ayu’, known as sweetfish, to the boat, at which point trained cormorants are sent out to catch them. The fishermen then retrieve the fish from the birds’ throats. Once a tradition, cormorant fishing survives today as a major tourist attraction on the Nagara river. It takes place twice a day between May and October and is especially scenic at night.
Nagara River Promenade
Those looking to find out more about cormorant fishing can visit the nearby Nagaragawa Ukai Museum, although the information available is almost entirely in Japanese. A great alternative is a stroll along the Nagara river promenade, from which you can see Gifu Castle sitting atop a mountain.
Gifu Castle and Mt. Kinka
Gifu Castle, located on top of 329-meter-tall Mount Kinka, can be reached in two ways. The first is an hour-long hike up a mountain trail, and the other is a two-minute-long ropeway cablecar ride. Visitors with more time to spare should seriously consider the former, as not only will you be rewarded with amazing scenery throughout, but you’ll also have conquered a mountain, albeit a tiny one.
Once on top, apart from the impressive castle, there is also a small museum, a and a free observatory deck with amazing panoramic views of Gifu City and surrounding mountains.
Spread out at the base of Mt. Kinka is Gifu Park, which is one of the highlights of the city in autumn. Hundreds of fiery red, orange and yellow trees, in addition to waterfalls, ponds and tiny footbridges, make the park seem nothing short of magical.
Minutes away from Gifu Park is the Shoho-ji Daibutsu temple housing one of the giant Buddha statues in Japan. The statue is awe-inspiring, not only because of its more-than 13-meter height but also because of its solemn expression. (It is shown in the main photo above.)
In Kawaramachi, the city’s old wooden houses still remain, and it is also where every Gifu gourmet speciality is on offer. This includes ayu-gashi, sweets shaped like sweetfish, marron kuri kinton, a popular autumnal sweet made from chestnuts, high quality Hida beef, and mino washi paper craftwork, a Japanese paper created in Gifu prefecture. Visitors looking for places to eat, shop and experience the city’s bustle should arrive here sooner rather than later, as the street can become quiet as late afternoon turns to evening.