Gifu. A prefecture in central Japan.
Although it’s only a few hours from Tokyo on the train, Gifu is relatively untouched. A best kept secret if you will.
After researching where to spend our time in Japan, Gifu stood out as a must-do.
We have been craving something deeper in our travels. A real desire to immerse ourselves into culture and venture down the road less traveled. Which is exactly why we chose Gifu.
Don’t get me wrong, people flock to places like Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo because they are world famous tourists destinations, and for good reason. But we wanted to discover the next biggest tourist destination before anyone else did.
This Gifu Travel Guide will give you tips on how to make the most of your visit.
Gifu Travel Guide
Gifu is bucket list worthy because:
♦ Shirakawa Go– prayer hand shaped houses in the cutest village you’ll ever see.
♦ Towns like Gujo and Hida, with ancient traditions still in tact.
♦ Takayama with world famous raw beef sushi and Miyagawa market.
♦ World class Onsens and Ryokans in hot spring towns like Gero.
♦ Seki sword making and demonstrations from multi generation sword masters.
♦ Bordering the Japanese Alps means more outdoor adventure activists than you could do in a lifetime.
♦ You can still have unique, personalized, real experiences without the line-ups or crowds!!!
♦ Did I mention Gifu is CHEAPER than other Japan hot spots? Bonus!
On journey in Gifu started here, a small town named Gujo, with its traditions and authentic way of life still completely in tact. History and culture perfectly preserved, almost like stepping back in time. During our time in the city, we legit didn’t see ONE other foreigner!
The fog rolled in as we strolled past pristine blue rivers, brightly coloured bridges and water shrines. I felt like I had been plucked from reality and placed into an ancient time. A time where life was a little slower, more careful and full of enrichment.
And for a few moments I felt completely at ease. Right away I knew this was the Japan I’ve always dreamed of visiting.
Top Things To Do In Gujo:
Eat Soba Noodles & Ayu Fish
Both of these foods are famous local dishes and both not to be missed!
Soba noodles taste different than other Japanese noodles (like Udon) because they are made from Buckwheat. They are also commonly served chilled with a dipping sauce on the side, compared to stir frying noodles in a wok.
We ducked into Soba no Hirajin a quaint soba noodle restaurant with a lovely view of river.
Soba noodles are fantastic, but did pass on the Yamaimo sauce, which I hear is an acquired taste! It’s made from yams so I automatically believed I would love it, but its super sticky and its almost mucus like texture threw me off.
Our lunch of soba noodles, dipping sauce and soba tea was the perfect comfort food on a chilly, foggy day.
Ayu is a Japanese sweetfish that has a slight flavour and aroma of melon and is found in only the purest waters of Gifu. Since the people of Gujo have such a deep connection and respect for their waters, catching, preparing and eating the Ayu fish is a big part of their culture. You might be surprised to know that many people eat Ayu head to tail, scales, bones and all!
Discover Gujo's Ancient Water System
You can absolutely drink the tap water in Gujo. In fact, there are many waterways throughout town that you can drink straight from! They use a very eco-friendly and ancient way of sharing the towns crystal waters that dates back to the 17th century.
Water is a sense of pride and culture for the people of Gujo, so much so that it’s been dubbed the ‘Water City’.
You’ll spot many mizu fune, which are tiered systems of water basins with clean water flowing through them. The top basin is always reserved for drinking, as it’s the purest form of the water. The next basin might be used to wash fruits and vegetables. (or to ‘cool a melon’ which I found out is a very popular task in the hot summer of Japan.)
The bottom basins might be reserved for washing laundry or something else of that nature. Each mizu fune system has a post of how the different tiers should be used.
Food Replica Workshop
If you’ve ever been in Japan looking for a spot to eat, you would have seen the the mouth watering displays of food in the front windows. The city of Gujo is one of the biggest producers of ‘replica food’ creations, some of which are REALLY hard to tell apart from real food.
We stopped by a live workshop at Sample Kobo to see how food replica is made, and give it a try ourselves.
Our class involved making a cell phone holder out of custom resign that made it look EXACTLY like spilled ice cream! While this creation was pretty easy for a novice to do, it made me realize how much work goes into their amazing custom work.
Their location also has a great gift shop with tiny replica magnets, key chains and other gifts.
¥800-1200 for workshop
Experience the Gujo Odori Festival
Gujo’s Odori Festival is a month long dance festival running from late July into early September.
The entire town (plus many visitors) get together each night for group performances of cultural dances that date back to the Edo period.
The dance areas come alive with the sound of Japanese flutes, drums, and the sound of wooden Geta clogs tapping the ground. There are several dances to learn, and always an eager teacher to help curious visitors.
We visited Gujo in October, so even though we missed the festival, we still got to learn the dances! The Hakuran-kan museum first gave us a traditional dance performance, then had us join in! Although I can’t say we were any good at all, it was fun to give it a shot.
TIP: If you are able to visit during the festival weeks, I would suggest renting yukata robes from a local shop. Some Ryokans will have them for guests to use as well. This will make the festival an even richer experience!
Open 9am – 5pm
Visit the Gujo Hachiman Castle
Something that BLEW MY MIND about castles in Japan is that most of them are not originals. During the late 1800’s many castles were demolished in an attempt to ‘modernize’ Japan. (my heart!)
In more recent times, many of the castles have been rebuilt to their former designs to restore history and culture to the country.
The Gujo Hachiman castle is was originally built in 1559, demolished in 1870, and rebuilt in 1933.
We took a car up most of the way up a winding switchback road to the castles base, but you can also walk if you like a good workout!
The view from the top is astounding!
Open 9am – 5pm (8am-6pm summer)
An hour drive East of Gujo brought us to the town of Gero.
Nestled in the mountains and world famous for it’s powerful healing onsens and natural hot springs, Gero is a must-do for any spa lover.
Everything about this town gave off the vibe of rejuvenation and relaxation. If we had any more time in one of Gifu’s cities, we would choose to unwind in Gero.
Top Things To Do In Gero:
Stay at the Suimeikan Hotel
There is no better place to stay in Gero than the Suimeikan Hotel.
This ryokan has traditional Japanese suites with paper doors, futon mattresses, chabudi (short table for sitting on the floor) and matcha tea service upon arrival. The room was like no other place we’ve ever stayed and even had natural hot spring water ON TAP for the bathtub!
Suimeikan has THREE amazing onsen on the property. One is open air to gaze up at the stars, another gives a panoramic view of the city and mountains. The third features a cypress wood design and view of Japanese gardens.
Read more about staying at a Japanese Ryokan
Walk Through Town Wearing Yukata Robes
BIG fan of yukata robes over here!
Yukata are a light cotton type of robe that is worn when staying at a ryokan or onsen in Japan. Many of them are custom made with designs or patterns unique to the area.
When we arrived at Suimeikan hotel, we were shown how to wear the robes and told to simply keep them on for the length of our stay! YES! I hate ‘outfit decision fatigue’ and trying to figure out what to wear to dinner, out for walks, etc. We simply donned our robes for every activity and it was wonderful.
When our guide told us we would be wearing robes to walk around the town, we thought it would be super embarrassing. I mean, wouldn’t people look and stare at the silly tourists walking around in their robes and wooden clog sandals? NO! That’s the beauty of it! Everyone does it and it’s considered more than normal.
I am so glad we did it, because it made for great photos and made the experience feel all the more authentically Japanese.
Try a Local Foot Bath
While walking around town like a boss in our yukata robes, we came across several small hot springs that are used as foot baths. I know this sounds weird for North Americans...let me explain. You sit down, sometimes on the main street in front of store fronts, and dip your lower legs into the water.
These ashiyu foot baths are very popular and it actually became more attractive to me once I tried it myself. It was kind of like dipping your toe into the world of Onsen… pun intended!
Since the foot baths are in the middle of town, we obviously didn’t need to disrobe, which made it a relaxing activity to do with friends. Also, the hot water of the foot baths actually warmed up our entire bodies, no matter what the weather was like outside.
At first it felt weird sitting outside a store with my feet soaking in hot water, but then I realized how wonderful it was. We sat there for a while just relaxing and people watching in downtown Gero.
Have a Set Japanese Dinner
Staying in Gero gave us our kaiseki experience, which is a traditional set Japanese dinner.
The kaiseki dinner creates a very intentional menu that uses hyper local and in-season ingredients to give the most fresh and flavourful meal you’ve ever had!
The dinner is multi-course, but comes out as tapas-sized portions, so don’t worry about eating everything in sight. (Although there were a few times when the table was absolutely stuffed with food! Not complaining!)
Our kaiseki dinner had everything from fresh locally caught ayu to sea urchin, to thinly sliced hida beef cooked at the table. Rounds and rounds of different sashimi, rice, vegetables and meats kept appearing before our eyes, all with gorgeous presentation and care.
Hida is a peaceful town just 20 minutes north of Takayama.
It’s downtown streets are filled with canals that are home to over 1000 handsome koi fish! Since Hida gets very cold in the winter, these fish are actually moved by hand at the end of each autumn. Then each April they are brought back into the canals where eager tourists can buy food to feed them with.
Being surrounded by tall mountains kept Hida quite cut off from the rest of Japan, which is why it still has so much culture and vibe.
Top Things To Do In Hida:
Ride the Gattan Go
This was fun! The Gattan Go Mountain Bike Ride is an outdoor attraction where bikes are mounted on frames and are ridden down abandon railroad tracks. The best part for me = the bikes are also electric assist! You still need to pedal, but it’s not the kind of torture you experience in a spin class, that’s for sure!
We did the Town Course which is 5.8 km, and includes two tunnels and an elevated bridge. The first half of the course is downhill (yahoo!) with a turn around point at the half way mark. Going back is uphill along the same track but gives you a totally different view point. The course takes 40-60 minutes to complete. This is a beginner course for all ages. They even have bikes with big chairs mounted on the back. (Incase I wanted hubby to pedal while I lay back and stretch out.)
The views of the town were amazing and it was quite unlike anything I had done in the past. We wrote an entire Gattan Go review, including prices, when to go and more info on the courses.
¥3000 per couple
April to November
Visit Keta Wakamiya Shrine
The Keta Wakamiya shinto shrine was recently made famous for being featured in a popular anime movie. If you’re a fan of “Your Name”, you would have seen it in the film as a pilgrimage site. Since then, many fans have some to the shrine to get some Insta worthy shots.
It seemed to be quiet at the shrine, but inside there were Shinto worshipers practising their daily rituals. We couldn’t go in, but we could peek through the outside window. We heard the ceremonial music and watched the people practising their religion inside.
Come During Hida Furukawa Festival
Each year on April 19th and 20th the entire town comes alive to celebrate the Furukawa Festival, also know as the Naked Festival. It got that nickname because of the loincloth dressed men who carry and bang the enormous Okoshi Daiko drum through town.
There is an intensely rough competition where these ‘naked’ men have to bring their district’s drum as close to the main Okoshi Daiko drum as possible. The result is a supercharged, fierce and powerful event that is unlike anything else you’d ever experience!
During the next day and following evening, incredibly detailed floats are paraded through the town. Many feature puppetry and even live kabuki performances by small children. The entire festival can take all year to prepare for, and continues to be a source of pride for the people of Hida.
While we didn’t get to visit during the festival, we got to learn all about it at the Furukawa museum. There we were able to tour inside some of the floats, try out the puppets and watch a fantastic 3D movie on the entire festival itself.
Furakawa Festival Museum
Open 9:00am – 5:00pm
Takayama is only 20 minutes south of Hida and has been dubbed as “Little Kyoto” because of all it’s cultural beauty, rituals and festivals.
If you want the look and feel of what it was like to live in Japan in the olden days, Takayama is for you. The Old Town has residential houses dating back to the Edo Period and even businesses, like sake breweries, that have been in operation for centuries. Many of the streets are preserved in a way that is like walking back through time.
Top Things To Do In Takayama:
Stay at the Green Hotel
While some of the base rooms might be a little dated, this hotel wins on location and amenities. It only takes a few minutes on foot to get down to Takayama’s famous old town district.
They also have 3 gorgeous natural hot spring onsen, an indoor bath, a jacuzzi and an open air night bath.
Just like our stay in Gero, this hotel features Japanese style rooms which I highly recommend for a cultural Japanese experience.
We had a really cool experience while staying at this hotel. Little did we know that we had yukata robes, jackets and belts in our room for us to wear. We didn’t think to check because in the hall beside the elevators there was a large shelf of JUST the yukata robe. We started to put them on over our clothes, but realized the belts and jackets weren’t there. A Japanese couple saw us confused and with no English (just hand gestures) told us to wait. Instead of sending us back to our rooms to find our own belts/jackets, they went to their room and brought out their yukata robes, jackets and belts and started dressing us. They even tied up the bows and give us thumbs up gestures with big smiles. It was their pleasure to take time out of their holiday to make sure we were all dressed up in yukata. It was a humbling and adorable experience.
Shop at the Miyagawa Market
This market is set up right beside the Miyagawa river, just as it has been for hundreds of years. We strolled through in the late morning and took advantage of all the sweet treats available at the stalls. One of my favorites were the tiny pancakes shaped like fish with custard, chestnut, red bean paste and chocolate fillings.
Another delicacy you can find at this market is chestnut flavoured dessert. It’s quite a local craze! There are even shops entirely dedicated to treats made from chestnuts. We tried the chesnut treat called Kurikinton. It’s produced locally and made by boiling chestnuts with sugar and then mashing them. Yum!
Tour through Takayama Jinya
History buffs will love touring through Takayama Jinya, as it’s the only remaining Edo government building left in all of Japan.
At the entry we took off our shoes and carried them with us in plastic bags. The entire building has tatami mats as flooring, all designed differently depending on the purpose of each room. It was eye opening to see how different class structures were regarded during that time period, as it’s clearly reflected in the design and use of the building.
The sadistic couple we are, we quite enjoyed seeing the torture room, or ‘interrogation room’ as they called it. This is where criminals, thieves and tax evaders would be held, questioned and put through some uncomfortable situations.
I also loved the balcony view from the magistrate’s private quarters. I just sat there for a while, looking out onto the Japanese garden, wondering what it would have been like to live there.
¥430 per adult
15 minute walk from JR Takayama Station
Eat Some Hida Beef Sushi in Old Town
I don’t eat beef, but my husband Trevor sure does. His Gifu highlight was getting to eat almost raw Hida beef sushi at Kotte Ushi in the old town.
You’ll be able to identify it right away by the long line-ups and the high prices, but everyone who eats there says it’s 100% worth it!
Hida beef prepared in any fashion is going to be a culinary treat for any true foodie. Eat it anyway you can while you’re in the area.
Seki – called the ‘sword capital of Japan’ and well known for being the third largest producer of high-quality cutlery in the world. Traditionally the environment was perfect for forging the ultimate samurai swords. An abundance of water combined with coal and red clay put the city of Seki on the map as a world leader in the cutting tool industry. For the last 700 years Seki has been supporting the Japan sword industry.
Being half an hour from both Gifu City and Gujo, Seki is easy to stop in while touring the prefecture.
Top Things To Do In Seki:
Eat a Katsu Lunch
They told me the dish of Seki was Unagi, otherwise known as freshwater eel.
I chose not to listen and went for a gigantic deep fried lunch of shrimp katsu instead. No offence at all to the regional (and I’ve been told quite delectable unagi) but it was tempura flakes and thick sauces I was after.
We stopped at a local katsu restaurant which allowed us to call ahead so everything would be on the table ready for us when we arrived. Very organized and efficient way of dining during a busy day touring around.
Visit the Seki Sword Museum
When I was younger I used to pretend I was a samurai and even had a set of pretend swords in my room. Didn’t all millennials have a weird Japan phase growing up? No? Just me?
Anyway, visiting the Seki Hamono museum was like living through a childhood fantasy of mine. We were greeted by a master sword-smith who showed us just how sharp his swords are. He sliced and diced through rods of standing bamboo, complete with a battle-like cry and respectful bow. It was so cool!
We got an entire lesson on how swords were forged back in the day and what ancient techniques are still being used in custom smithing today. Yes, they let us try to hammer the hot metal being made into a sword, which was so incredibly hard!
They also got major brownie points for letting me dress up in a formal kimono. And letting us hold razor sharp weapons…
Read: Our entire Seki Hamono Museum review.
Seki Hamono Museum
¥32,400 Group Sword Forging Tour
¥1500 Tea Ceremony
FREE Samurai Sword Performance
FREE Kimono Experience
A dazzling and enticing little village with an impressive view point and magical looking houses. Shirakawa-Go was on my bucket list the moment I saw a picture of it. I just KNEW I had to see what this unique village was all about.
These homes are tucked into the mountains of central Japan, once cut off from the rest of the world until recent times. Their 60 degree angled roofs make the exterior look like hands in prayer, while the thatching keeps warmth in and snow out.
Built in the 1800’s, the gassho style homes used no nails in the construction and still don’t to this day! I was surprised to learn that people still live in these homes and only a few are used as museums to teach others this incredible way of life.
The UNESCO village is located to the North of both Takayama and Gujo, making it under an hour drive from either city. You can take buses from Nagoya and Takayama, or rent a car!
¥300 to tour some of the houses
FREE to walk around the village
Watch our Adventures in Gifu ↓
You know we documented the BEST of Gifu on our Instagram Stories! Watch us explore the highlights of Gifu here:
How To Get to Gifu:
Nagoya – 25 minutes – $5
Osaka – 1.45 hours – $55-$70
Kyoto – 1 hour – $43-$60
Tokyo – 2.15 hours – $80-$120
If you are on a budget and the Shinkansen isn’t a cost you want to splurge for, considering taking night buses! A cheaper way to get where you need to go, without sacrificing valuable daytime touring hours.
You can hop on an 8 hour night bus from Tokyo for around $50 or a 4 hour bus from Osaka for $22.
The closest airport to Gifu is Nagoya International Airport (NGO) that has many direct flights daily from Tokyo, Osaka and many other domestic airports. They even have direct flights from Detroit. Michigan!
Tip For Getting Around Gifu:
We highly recommend renting a car for your time INSIDE of Gifu. 90% of our itinerary relied on us using a car to get from place to place. While you can get to each city using transport, renting a car will make life a lot easier. Compare the two costs before making a decision.
Best Time To Go To GIFU
Spring and Autumn!
Summer time in Gifu is HOT with the average daily high being over 30°C (90°F).
Winter in Gifu is the exact opposite with temperatures falling to as low as 0°C (32°F). Don’t forget snow will commonly fall between December and March.
You will find the best temperature range in the shoulder seasons of spring and. fall. Let’s take May and October for example. Both months have highs around 24°C (mid 70’s°F).
Because of all the outdoor activities in Gifu, visiting between April-June and September-November will give the best temperatures.
3-Day Gifu Itinerary
We toured through ALL of these amazing cities in under 3 days. Here is our exact Gifu travel itinerary you can copy for your own adventure. (Click on each day to open itinerary)
8:30am – Take Shinkansen from Yokohama to Gifu-Hashima Station
10:00am – Arrive Gifu Hasima Station. Rent Car.
11:00am – Arrive in GUJO.
- Visit Gujo castle.
- Tour the streets and bridges of Gujo on foot.
- Visit water shrines and mizu fune.
- Lunch at Soba no Hirajin for soba noodles.
1:45pm– Food Replica at ‘Sample Kobo’
- See how replica food is made.
- Make a cell phone holder that looks like spilled ice cream
2:30pm – Hakuran-kan Museum
- Learn about the Gujo Odori Festival.
- Watch and learn a traditional dance from the festival.
3:00pm – Drive from GUJO to GERO
4:00pm – Check into Suimeikan Hotel
- Tour through the facilities and learn about Onsen.
- Have a welcome matcha tea ceremony in room.
- change into yukata robes.
5:00pm – Walk through Gero town in Yukata
- stop at the hot spring foot baths
6:30pm – Traditional Japanese Dinner
- Set kaiseki dinner at Suimeikan Hotel
8:30pm – Onsen
- Try out one of the 3 incredible onsen at Suimeikan Hotel
7:00am – Buffet breakfast at Suimeikan Hotel
7:30am – Drive to SHIRAKAWA-GO
9:00am – SHIRAKAWA-GO
- Take photos at the lookout point.
- Tour through village on foot.
- Stop into museums and learn about the history and construction of homes.
- Eat lunch at one of the on-site restaurants.
12:00pm – Drive to HIDA
1:00pm – Gattan Go in HIDA
- Ride the mountain bikes on old rail road tacks through Hida
2:00pm – Tour through HIDA
- Visit the Keta Wakamiya Shrine.
- Go to the Furukawa Museum.
4:00pm – Drive to TAKAYAMA
4:20pm– Check into the Green Hotel Takayama
6:00pm – Traditional Japanese Dinner
- Set kaiseki dinner at the Green Hotel.
8:30pm – Onsen
- Relax in the onsen. at Green Hotel
8:00am – Buffet Breakfast at Green Hotel
9:00am – Tour through TAKAYAMA on foot
- Visit the Miyagawa morning market.
- Tour through the Takayama Jinya.
- Walk through Old Town.
- Eat some beef sushi at Kotte Ushi.
12:00pm – Drive to SEKI
1:30pm – Lunch in SEKI
- late lunch at the katsu restaurant
2:30 – SEKI swords
- Seki sword demonstration at the Hamano Seki Museum
4:00pm – Head to Nagoya (one hour drive)
PIN ‘Gifu Travel Guide’ FOR LATER:
We would like to thank the Gifu Tourism Board, the Suimeikan Hotel and the Green Hotel for graciously hosting us for our time in Gifu. As always, our opinions remain our own.