Local vibes of Ayu sweetfish and all-night dancing.
Low-rise wood-and-plaster buildings echo this former castle town’s feudal past. Once there, it’s an easily walkable area and a lovely stop while visiting the often underrated Chubu region, a large area of Japan situated south of Tokyo.
Water, water, everywhere
Gujo Hachiman and surrounding towns which make up Gujo sit at the confluence of three rivers and have over 100 natural hot springs. For travelers, not only is it a relaxing escape with bridges, riverside cafes and canal-lined streets, but also a chance to see centuries-old traditions still standing today.
Locals still wash rice, vegetables, dishes and clothes, or cool drinks and fruit in water in front of their homes. And, clean water continues to infuse food-and-drink culture in practices like making soba noodles and sake.
Common river dwellers, ayu sweetfish, are a local delicacy and thrive there. Gujo’s ayu are prized as some of Japan’s best strictly due to the cleanliness of the pristine water. Especially in their summer peak, fish swim into town – like tourists, seemingly lured by Gujo’s quiet, rustic charm. Try ayu with salt, fried, or ayu-zushi in sushi form.
Nowadays, Gujo Hachiman is actually the biggest producer of Japan’s plastic food replicas, which you can buy or take workshops to create.
Events and attractions
Event-wise, one of the biggest is in summer time. Gujo’s population swells to around 250,000 throughout the ultra long celebration of Gujo Odori Festival (mid-July to the first weekend of September). Anyone can join in nightly traditional street dances, climaxing during the Obon holiday in mid-August, with four nights of dancing until dawn.
A gem to culture vultures, Gujo’s 17 temples and shrines contain highlights such as Jion-Zenji Temple. The garden is particularly glorious in spring and autumn. With its waterfall and pond, it’s a soothing pocket of calm.
Visit Gujo Hachiman Castle, from the 16th century but rebuilt in 1933, to take in one of Japan’s oldest wooden reconstructed castles. That’s because most castles rebuilt after World War II are concrete. Viewed from this mountain castle, Gujo’s shape below resembles a fish, with its ‘tail’ disappearing into an expressway.