Gujo-Hachiman | Gifu’s Castle Town with an Epic Bon Dance

The view of a temple, Gujo-Hachiman Station and the Yoshida River from the top of Gujo-Hachiman Castle in Gifu.

Today we’ll be looking at the former castle town of Gujo-Hachiman. Located in Gifu Prefecture, this riverside hamlet has long been on my to-visit list. Best known for its pristine waterways and its famous summer obon dance festival, the Gujo Odori, Gujo-Hachiman has all of the makings of an amazing hidden gem. What’s more, the area is also conveniently located near Nagoya. This means that it is an easy add-on for tourists looking to take a step off of the beaten path and explore a side of Japan that many visitors skip.

Honestly speaking, the best time to visit Gujo-Hachiman is most definitely during the summer months when the several week-long Gujo Odori is taking place. At the same time though, the town also has ample amounts of attractions that can be enjoyed throughout the year (more on this later). Furthermore, Gujo-Hachiman is also breathtakingly beautiful during the months of autumn. If you’re lucky, you can catch the town’s mountaintop keep floating above a blanket of fog. When set against the fall foliage, this creates an ethereally beautiful scene.

All in all, Gujo-Hachiman is an amazing hidden gem that certainly deserves to be on the bucket lists of more foreign visitors to Japan. Especially for the brave adventurers already planning to visit central Japan during the sultry months of summer, I cannot more highly suggest that you check out Gujo-Hachiman and partake in the Gujo Odori. It will be one of those memories of traveling in Japan that will stick with you for a lifetime!

How to Get There

While located under two hours from Nagoya, Gujo-Hachiman and its Yoshida River feel words away.

As alluded to previously, Gujo-Hachiman is not at all difficult to reach. As always, a service like Jorudan will be your best bet for navigating your way to this castle town in Gifu Prefecture. That said, there are generally two main means of getting to Gujo-Hachiman. The first (and far more simple), is to take the highway bus from the Meitetsu Bus Center in Nagoya. This will get you to Gujo-Hachiman in around 80 minutes or so and will only set you back 2,260 yen. Assuming that you can figure out the buses, this is my prefered method of transportation.

Gujo-Hachiman can alternatively also be reached via train. To do so, you’ll need to first go to Mino-Ota Station and then transfer to the Nagaragawa Railway. You’ll then want to hop off at Gujo-Hachiman Station but note that this is around a kilometer away from the castle town’s central areas. Seeing as the bus brings you right into the heart of Gujo-Hachiman, you’re only creating more walking for yourself if you opt to take the train. In either case though, know that you’ll be spending a little under an hour and a half in transit.

Once you’re actually in Gujo-Hachiman, you’ll be pleased to know that most everything can be easily reached on foot. In fact, seeing as it is a town teeming with craftsmen, the best way to explore Gujo-Hachiman is to just waltz around. Frankly speaking, the only semi-hard place to get to is the mountaintop keep of Gujo-Hachiman Castle. Unless you’ve come with your own set of wheels, this must-see allure is going to require that you sweat your way up to the top of the 350 meter-tall bluff.

By the way, if you’re finding that the logistics and figuring out what to see in Gujo-Hachiman seem a bit overwhelming, I suggest you book this amazing tour. Run by my good friends down at Nagoya is not boring, this 3-day adventure will take you to all of the spots in Gujo-Hachiman. What’s more, you’ll also get to experience many of the other allures in this part of central Japan. I couldn’t more highly recommend it!

The Legendary Gujo Odori

People dancing for the famous bon dance in the town Gujō-Hachiman in Gifu

OK, without further ado, let’s dive into one of the main reasons why travelers would want to visit Gujo-Hachiman, the Gujo Odori! This annual dance festival has a history that started over 400 years ago in the 16th century. Today, the Gujo Odori is considered to be one of three important traditional bon odori in all of Japan. Furthermore, the Japanese government has designated the celebration as a Significant Intangible Cultural Folk Asset. Usually running from around mid-July and reaching its peak in mid-August, the Gujo Odori is an epic time of the year.

Historically speaking, the Gujo Odori got its start as a means of bringing all of Gujo-Hachiman’s population together. This allowed the people of the town to transcend their existing social hierarchies and connect with one another regardless of their place in society. This spirit of equality, which got its start back during the Edo period (1603–1868) can still be felt today when you take part in the Gujo Odori. As you’ll see for yourself when you go, the celebration welcomes people from all walks of life.

If you’re a bit of a klutz like me, know that the dances for the Gujo Odori aren’t really too challenging. In fact, if you just follow what the people of the town are doing, you should be able to figure it out easily. There are a variety of dances that are done but the two most iconic are the Kawasaki and Harukoma (you can see this one on my Instagram reel). Though some of them are harder than others, even someone as clumsy as myself was able to figure out the Kawasaki so don’t be afraid to get in there!

Finally, note that you can still get a taste of the Gujo Odori even if you’re visiting when the festival isn’t going on. To do so, you’ll want to go to the Gujo-Hachiman Hakurankan City Museum. Here, you can catch one of seven daily demonstrations of the Gujo Odori. Additionally, the facility also has some great exhibits on this part of Japan’s historical legacy (which sadly are only in Japanese). Entry to the Gujo-Hachiman Hakurankan City Museum will set you 540 yen but it’s worth it to see a glimpse of the celebrated bon dance.

The Gujo-Hachiman Castle Town

The old buildings from the Meiji Period a century ago that comprise the Gujo-Hachiman Hakurankan City Museum

Though the Gujo Odori is certainly the main highlight of Gujo-Hachiman, this modest castle town also has a number of other allures that you should also consider in addition to the Gujo-Hachiman Hakurankan City Museum (pictured above). What’s more, these are all conveniently clustered around the Jokamachi Plaza Bus Terminal in the center of the town. While you need not visit all of the locales that I’ve listed below, I suggest that you peruse what’s on offer and pick out whatever tickles your fancy…

  • Gujo-Hachiman Castle
    By far, the most iconic destination in this part of Gifu Prefecture is Gujo-Hachiman Castle. Perched up on a hill that overlooks the town below, this dominating fortress once was a strategically important center for the region. Though the present structure is a modern reconstruction, the stronghold still affords some amazing views. What’s more, Gujo-Hachiman Castle is also incredibly picturesque, especially during the months of autumn. It’s therefore highly worth the 20–30 minutes of hiking needed to see it.
  • Sample Village Iwasaki
    In addition to its dancing, one of the other things that Gujo-Hachiman is famous for is its wax or plastic representations of dishes. All throughout Japan, many restaurants place these in their windows to give would-be customers a sense of what to expect. Sample Village Iwasaki and some other workshops actually offer experiential courses if you’re wanting to make your own replica. It’s a bit far so consider also Sample Kobo if you’re not one to hoof it. Oh, and if you’re wondering why Gujo-Hachiman is producing these, know that the practice got its start here!
  • The Sogi-sui Source
    Gujo-Hachiman is a town that is very well known for its clean waters and ample waterways that flow throughout the various buildings. Of the many sources though, this one is by far the most famous. Its water output is divided into four subsections that each have their own dedicated use. The first is used only for drinking whereas the subsequent three are used for washing rice, vegetables and tools respectively. You’ll find the Sogi-sui Source at the end of a picturesque alleyway down by the Yoshida River.
  • Igawa Lane
    Found right behind the local tourism information center, Igawa Lane is a quaint, 200 meter-long water canal that runs through a residential neighborhood. What makes this place appealing is that the stream of clean water is home to some of the biggest koi that I’ve ever seen. These behemoths are constantly swimming against the current meaning that they’ve put on some real muscle. Of course, their growth is only aided by the fact that visitors to Gujo-Hachiman often feed these fish pellets meaning that they are very, very well fed.
  • Takara Gallery Workshop
    In addition to all of the other various things that I’ve mentioned thus far, one other thing that Gujo-Hachiman is known for is its tenugui. These traditional Japanese hand towels are made from a thin piece of cotton and often have some sort of print on them. At Takara Gallery Workshop, you can make use of screen printing to actually make your own tenugui. Unfortunately, though they are a key part of the Gujo Odori, the ones you make will need two or more days before the ink settles. This means that you’ll need another temporary tenugui for the time being.

Of course, in addition to the aforementioned options, simply walking around and enjoying the townscape of Gujo-Hachiman is something that anyone making the trip to this part of Gifu Prefecture ought to do. Simply put, things to see and do aside for a second, it’s the vibe of places like this in Japan that really make them worth visiting as a tourist…

Other Nearby Attractions

The view of the Nagara River from the top of Mt. Kinka and Gifu Castle

If you’re going to be in Gifu Prefecture, you’d be silly not to check out some of the other amazing opportunities for tourism in this section of Japan. Which of the many options logistically works out the best for you will depend entirely on how you got to Gujo-Hachiman and how you’re planning to get back. For example, if you’re heading back to the Meitetsu Bus Center via a highway bus, you’d be better off checking out some of the other spots nearby like Nagoya Castle or the Tokugawa-en garden. Alternatively, you could instead ride the Nagaragawa Railway back and hop off along the way.

Seeing as you’ll have a lot of flexibility, I suggest you do some real digging and find something that aligns with your personal interests. I’ve included many potential locations that you could consider in this article on Gifu City. Of the options mentioned though, I’d like you to pay special attention to Seki. Up until the modern period, this now-rural area was home to some of the best bladesmiths in all of Japan. Today, the area boasts a museum with one of the best exhibits on Japanese swords that I’ve ever seen.

From Seki, you could even continue to follow the Nagara River down to Gifu City. Here, you could enjoy the local art of ukai or cormorant fishing and have some of the best ayu sweetfish to be had in all of Japan. Indeed, there are so many options for tourism in this neck of the woods that it is really hard to offer any sort of definitive account of what a tourist should see or do. The few samples I’ve provided here have barely even begun to scratch the surface. Moreover, seeing as it’s easy to hop back on the standard route from Tokyo to Osaka, there’s ample room for exploration.

Before ending, know lastly that Gujo-Hachiman is also located on the way to Shirakawago and Gokayama. Many of the buses that run between the Meitetsu Bus Center in Nagoya and the aforementioned iconic villages. While I didn’t make the trip myself and thus cannot provide a sample itinerary comment on the convenience of the routes, it appears to be doable. Just be sure to check the hours on the official website or something in advance as buses in local regions like this can be few and far between.

Until next time travelers…

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Donny Kimball
Donny Kimball

I'm a travel writer and freelance digital marketer who blogs about the sides of Japan that you can't find in the mainstream media.

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