Nestled away in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture just north of Nagoya is the unique town of Gujo Hachiman. With its beautiful scenery, small side streets preserved in their original state and the pristine Nagara River which runs through the town, Gujo Hachiman offers visitors a perspective into Japan of a bygone era. The town’s many waterways still function in much the same capacity as they did in the 1600s. Local residents utilize them for washing rice, vegetables and laundry. The townspeople cooperate to keep the canals/ waterways clean and the pure drinking water is a source of local pride.
The town is also known as the capital of plastic food (the replica food samples that you see in shop and restaurant windows throughout Japan). A local resident is credited for having pioneered the production of these familiar items and consequently to date, 80% of all plastic food samples are still produced in Gujo Hachiman.
There is a large summer dance festival known as Gujo Odori, which takes place in Gujo Hachiman for a period of thirty-one festival nights, between the months of July and September. The dances continue all through the night during Obon which is celebrated in mid-August. The summer dance festival originated over 400 years ago and continues strong today.
In early to late November, visitors flock to Gujo Hachiman for another reason. Perched atop a steep mountainside is the beautifully reconstructed Gujo Hachiman Castle, where one can find magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below. Unlike other castles in Japan, which are typically surrounded by sakura (cherry blossoms), this castle is surrounded by momiji (Japanese maple trees) which are ablaze with the brilliant colors of autumn this time of year. During November 8-16, from sunset until 9:00 PM, the momiji are illuminated at night allowing spectators a unique opportunity to marvel at the colorful leaves at night.
Gujo Hachiman Castle hosts an annual Autumn Momiji Festival from November 1 to November 24, which features a reenactment of an early Edo period battle as well as a Japanese tea ceremony and taiko drumming.
Visitors to the castle are expected to pay a nominal fee of ¥310 to tour the castle itself but hiking up the mountain to just take in the beautiful scenery is free of charge.
Castle Hours are from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (March to May and September to October), 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM (June to August) and 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (November to February). The castle is closed from December 20 to January 10.