Gifu is your window to old Japan. Historic villages that carefully preserve the past, architecture from the Edo Period, lush greenery, hot springs, and a backdrop of mountains make a trip to Gifu a memorable experience, and an excellent addition to any trip to Japan:
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Shirakawago is nestled obscurely in the mountains. The distinctive gassho-zukuri houses are located there and even now, the villagers continue on with their lives. It is a precious area which is an unspoiled landscape reminiscent of a nostalgic Japan. Gassho-zukuri houses have the characteristic of solid thatched roofs that resemble hands pressed together. It’s said that these traditional houses only exist in Japan in Gifu Prefecture’s Shirakawago and in Gokayama in the adjacent Toyama Prefecture. Currently, 3 gassho-zukuri communities have been registered as World Heritage sites, and among them, Shirakawago is the largest. It has been maintained as an Important Preservation District of Historic Buildings which includes a 45.6ha part of a forest at the foot of a mountain. In this area, 59 gassho-zukuri houses exist which can be enjoyed as a tranquil spectacle unchanged since the Edo Era.
When it comes to the symbolic gassho-zukuri houses of Shirakawago, there is the Wada-ke House. 300 years after its construction, the people there continue to live their daily lives. Among the gassho-zukuri houses left in Shirakawa Village, it is the largest house where the garden, hedge, the surrounding rice fields and irrigation canals are also beautifully preserved. At this time, part of the 1st floor and all of the 2nd floor are open to the public. You can view household items that have been used for generations among other things at Wada-ke House. Elsewhere, there is the Nagase-ke House where medical instruments from the Edo Era can be found, Kanda-ke House, which has been praised for its high level of completion among the gassho-zukuri houses, and other houses which can be toured.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Shirakawago
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Shirakawago
- Tours of Shirakawago
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Furui Machinami was established by former samurai Nagachika Kanamori in the Edo Era and is an area adjacent to the merchant quarter of a castle town. The area’s arrangement and the width of its streets have basically remained unchanged since it was developed over 400 years ago. You can freely get a taste of Edo here. Within Furui Machinami, the Sanmachi-dori (The Three Town Streets) consisting of Kamisannomachi, Kamininomachi and Kamiichinomachi is THE sightseeing course for Takayama. The streets, which retain a lot of the Japanese architecture from the latter half of the Edo Era to the early half of the Meiji Era, have been designated as an Important Preservation District Of Historic Buildings. On these narrow streets where irrigation water flows under the eaves of houses with latticed bay windows, curtains for well-established shops are all lined up, and a scene reminiscent of a trip through time spreads out.
In Sanmachi-dori, Kamisannomachi has been the street which has survived the longest. The area is bustling with plenty of tourists visiting facilities such as souvenir shops selling candies made with techniques unchanged since olden times in the Hida District and the specialty of soy sauce-flavored Mitarashi dumplings. You will want to take photos of the Machinami and quietly get a taste of that elegance. In that case, coming to the market early in the morning or during sunset when the souvenir shops are starting to close is recommended. You get an unusual feeling in the area as it is wrapped in a quiet that feels as if time was rolled back.
Strolling through the streets, you will see big round objects under the eaves. These are the sakabayashi (sugidama), balls of cedar leaves which are hung at sake breweries to inform people that fresh sake has been made. Local sake in Takayama has been produced since the middle of the Edo Era, and blessed with things such as pure water, high-quality rice and the ideal climate, it has been highly praised all over the country. In Sanmachi, there are 7 breweries, and depending on the brewery, the sake can be sampled. Going around to some of these places to sample the local brew is also very enjoyable.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Furui Machinami
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Furui Machinami
- Tours of Furui Machinami
Hida Folk Village
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The Hida Folk Village is a museum that recreates the lifestyle of the rural areas as well as the seasonal events from the Hida district. The village consists of old & valuable Japanese-style houses of Minzoku Mura that were transferred and restored and the steep thatched-roof houses from Hida-no-Sato. The Old Nokubi House in Minzoku Mura is the symbol of this museum. Said to be the oldest house surviving in Hida, its notable feature is its thatched roof which has been built from ripped boards folded several times and piled on top of each other, further topped by lumber and rocks. For these special thatched-roof houses that have disappeared elsewhere around the nation, this building is precious indeed.
At the other highlight of Hida-no-Sato, there are 6 thatched-roof houses which have been moved and restored. At places like Shirakawago, 2 types of thatched-roof houses can be viewed: the steep gassho-zukuri and the irimoya-zukuri with the more gentle slanted roofs. The Old Nishioka House at the heart of Hida-no-Sato is a gassho-zukuri house that was moved over from Shirakawago. In the past, a chief priest of a Buddhist temple had lived there and the house has the air of a chief priest’s quarters everywhere you look. At the Old Tomita House which was built in the irimoya-zukuri style, Hida Sashiko items with patterns made from white thread by the local elderly are featured (except in winter). You can see these fine arts born within a lifestyle up close..
On the Hida-no-Sato road which connects Minzoku Mura and Hida-no-Sato, there is an art museum, restaurants and handicraft shops. There are plenty of things to see during your trip up the road. There are accommodations such as minshuku guesthouses built in the gassho-zukuri style that were moved from the World Heritage site of Gokayama. Also, at the entrance to Hida-no-Sato, there is a souvenir shop and the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center where you can create items without making a reservation. There is a variety of things to do such as creating the Hida District craft work of Sarubobo and painting Japanese candles. You can get up close and personal with the traditions of the Hida district.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 700 / Child: ¥ 200
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Hida Folk Village
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hida Folk Village
- Tours of Hida Folk Village
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Takayama has the largest surface area in Japan. The northern area of Takayama, which lies at the foot of the Northern Alps, has the Oku-Hida Onsen Villages which include the Hirayu Onsen and the Fukuji Onsen. The area is also known for its heavy snowfall which makes it popular for winter sports. In the southern area of the city, there is Shokawa-machi which is known for the Shokawa-zakura, an aged cherry tree which has existed for about 500 years. The most popular area which is in the center of the city has retained the castle town and the merchant quarter from the Edo Era. The townscape which includes Sanmachi-dori (refer to separate article) has also been called the Little Kyoto of Hida.
When one speaks about a familiar morning sight in Takayama, it would be the Miyagawa Morning Market. It is said to be one of Japan’s Three Great Morning Markets alongside Ishikawa Prefecture’s Wajima Market and Chiba Prefecture’s Katsuura Market. Every morning from 6:30 a.m. to 12 noon (from 8 to noon in winter), Miyagawa starts up and 40 to 50 shops regularly open their doors as homegrown produce is sold. In winter, the specialties of the Hida district are displayed such as mochi rice cakes, miso and straw products. There is also another morning market in front of the former government outpost known as the Takayama Jinya. In the plaza, there are 30 tents of varying sizes.
The area of Kamisannomachi comes to mind when people talk about the old townscape which best represents Takayama, but nearby there is one more Important Preservation District of Historic Buildings. Shimoninomachi and Ojin-machi make up an old area that has retained the castle town region and Etchu Street from the days of the Edo Era. The townhouses from the Meiji Era into the early Showa Era have remained in excellent shape, so you can feel that are still traces of the former merchant town. It has a slightly different feel from Kamisannomachi which is popular with the tourists, and it is attractive for its calm and serene atmosphere. The interiors of the Kusakabe Folk Museum and the adjacent Kichijima House which are said to best represent the townhouses of Takayama can be toured. The spacious beauty of the splendidly arranged beams and the large dirt floors can be said to be the grand sum of the residential architecture spotlighting Edo Era techniques.