Located in central Honshu, Japan’s Gifu Prefecture combines a range of landscapes, from humming city streets to rural mountain terrain, that travelers won’t want to leave. Get lost in these Gifu destinations, each known for their historic roots in stunning settings.
The city of Takayama, also known as Hida-Takayama, is home to numerous historic sites. In Hida Folk Village, peruse the thirty-plus gasshō-zukuri farmhouses that comprise this open-air museum.
The gasshō-zukuri design—named for its thatched rooftops tilted together like hands in prayer—is unique to the Gifu region and was developed during Japan’s Edo period, which lasted from the seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. This is a prime example of Japan’s not-to-be-missed villages in Chubu.
In addition to the folk village, travelers will simply love wandering around Takayama’s streets, dipping into the shops and restaurants that line historic Sanmachi Suji or passing castle remnants and shrines along Higashiyama walking trail.
Because of its position in northern Gifu, Takayama is also a natural base for exploring the surrounding alps region. In winter, skiers and snowboarders can take to the slopes in nearby resorts. In spring, summer, or fall, take a day trip to Kamikōchi, a protected area in Chūbu-Sangaku National Park. Visitors can stroll easy, walking trails through the valley, or tackle tougher tracks that climb in the surrounding Hida Mountain range.
To decrease vehicular traffic, Kamikōchi is only accessible via taxi or, more commonly, bus, for which there is a stop in Takayama.
Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama
Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama are known for the same gasshō-zukuri houses that grace Takayama’s Hida Folk Village, but these are preserved in their original setting. The region rests in a picturesque river valley in northern Gifu, sequestered from the rest of the country by mountains.
That seclusion yielded a way of life born from the land—the cultivation of local resources like mulberries and silkworms, and the construction of those distinctive gasshō-zukuri farmhouses, made for heavy snowfall. Today, Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama are designated as Unesco World Heritage Sites for their enduring traditional foundations.
Travelers to Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama can visit the villages of Ainokura, Suganuma, and Ogimachi, the latter being the most popular. Whether accompanied by autumn leaves, sparkling snowflakes, or pink cherry blossoms, the villages are unique sites in a dazzling mountain landscape.
For additional experiences, spend a night in one of the gasshō-zukuri houses that have been converted to traveler accommodations, or, on the way to or from the villages, stop by a nearby onsen (hot spring) to relax and take in your surroundings.
Dwelling at the confluence of three rivers, Gujō Hachiman is a town veined with glittering canals. Travelers will love exploring this small settlement, with homes perched on the flanks of waterways and green mountains rising all around.
While there, be sure to stop by Gujō Hachiman Castle, a wooden reconstruction of the sixteenth-century fortress that once overlooked Gujō Hachiman’s valley. In addition to taking in the wonderful view, you can enter the castle for a small fee and learn more about its rich history.
If your visit to Gujō Hachiman takes place in the summer, then you might be able to catch Gujō Odori. An Obon, one of Japan’s many festivals of light, Gujō Odori is a Buddhist ritual dedicated to deceased ancestors. In Gujō Hachiman, this event lasts for about a month from July until September, and includes several traditional dances.
The town’s inaugural Gujō Odori happened four hundred years ago, and the festival’s historic and cultural significance has earned it a designation as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by Japan’s government.
On summer evenings in Gifu city, local fishermen set out on the Nagara River in pursuit of ayu, or sweetfish. Their tackle? Japanese cormorants, graceful long-necked birds that pluck the fish out of the dark twilit waters.
This 1300-year-old trade is known as ukai, or cormorant fishing, and Gifu’s accomplished master fisherman are some of the best (and by “some of the best,” I mean they fish for Japan’s emperor). Visitors can observe ukai in Gifu from May to October, either from shore or via a boat tour.
During the daytime in Gifu, which is the capital city of its namesake prefecture, travelers have a couple of options. Walk or take the ropeway to the top of Mount Kinka, a 1,080-foot (329-meter) peak with a panoramic view of the city.
To learn about local history, visit Gifu Castle (a reconstructed fortress) or Gifu Prefectural Museum. You can also relax at Nagaragawa Onsen hot springs near the river.
Technically, Kanazawa is a city in Gifu’s neighboring Ishikawa prefecture, but you can take an overnight trip if you’re staying in Gifu.
Once there, make your way over to Kanazawa Castle and nearby Kenrokuen Garden. Situated atop a hill in the center of the castle park, the sixteenth century fortress comprises several buildings that have been reconstructed over the years. After you’ve finished exploring the various exhibits, follow the park pathways southeast to Ishikawa Gate, where you can cross over to Kenrokuen Garden—the perfect place to find Zen in Chubu.
Originally the domain of the castle inhabitants, the garden is open to visitors, who will enjoy ambling along winding paths flanked by manicured flora and silver streams. I visited Kenrokuen when it was alight with autumn leaves, but no matter the season the garden is sure to flourish.
Gifu Prefecture sits within Japan’s central Chūbu region, which is home to Mount Fuji and other marvels of the Land of the Rising Sun. Learn more about the wonders of this and other regions from our Japan Travel Guide.
This content was created in partnership with the Japan National Tourism Organization and Japan Airlines.