Monday 7 November 2016

Immerse yourself in old town charm - Gujo Hachiman: a true traditional Japanese town (part 1)

I have a folder in my bookmarks on my computer titled "blog places".  Whenever I stumble across something that looks interesting and looks worth a visit I save it there.  I often forget that the folder is there and other options come up for places to visit.  A couple of months ago I remembered it was there and couldn't remember what I had saved there so I went in to check it out, and I am thankful I did.  I discovered a website that I had saved for a place called Gujo Hachiman.  Not remembering the name I went to the website and was greeted by a picture of a castle in the clouds and my next trip was immediately decided!

Located almost exactly in the centre of Japan, in Gifu prefecture, Gujo is a small town (by Japan's standards) of about 43,000 people.  It is a castle town and is located at the junction of three rivers, the Yoshida, Kodara and Nagara rivers.  Gujo is fiercely proud of its water and it is considered the essence of the town.

Good friend Tetsuya was again joining me on the trip and this time we decided to catch the bus from Tokyo to Nagoya and then decide from there whether to catch another bus or the train the rest of the way.  We decided to use a bus company called Willer Express (they have a completely English website here which also has an online booking system) as they have a number of different buses with different styles of seats from your basic through to "cocoon" seats with your own monitor with movies, music and TV programs!  This is the one that we decided to go with.

We got on the overnight bus at the Shinjuku bus terminal and immediately were impressed by the futuristic looking seats

which reclined a lot further than regular seats!

Which is great if you can sleep on your back.  I, however, cannot so I was resigned to six hours of movie watching (there are worse ways to spend six hours I guess).

The bus stopped twice at roadside service areas for breaks of fifteen and thirty minutes and it was during the second, longer break that I decided that some 4:30am miso ramen was in order.

It was a lot better than I was expecting!

The bus dropped us off not to far away from Nagoya station and we stored our bags in a train station coin locker and made our way off to find coffee.  Before leaving Tokyo I had bought myself a selfie stick.  I personally hate the things but I had bought one as I have a plan to start making videos on my travels, for Youtube, when I can build up the courage to put myself out there in public!  It's very easy doing this, hiding behind a computer, but putting myself in front of the camera is something else entirely (Okay, I have made it public so there is now more pressure on myself to do it!  Watch this space....)  However, I broke it trying to put my phone into it before leaving Tokyo and despite all of our efforts we couldn't find a shop selling them in Nagoya before our next bus departure time at 9:30 am.  Settling into the bus seat for the 90 minute ride to Gujo Hachiman I suddenly realised how tired I was dozed off into a restful sleep only to wake up (what seemed like only a few minutes later) to the bus driver announcing we had arrived in Gujo Hachiman.  Having departed Shinjuku at night and travelled in the dark through to Nagoya (big city to big city) we were suddenly deposited in the middle of sleepy rural tranquillity.

Deciding to walk into town to our ryokan (Japanese style hotel) we set off and before long had entered the town.  The buildings were beautiful and old and the streets narrow.  You can see in the photo below that some of the houses have little partitions on the second floor.  These are designed to provide some privacy from your neighbour.

Dodging oncoming cars we finished off the two kilometre walk and found ourselves at our ryokan in about 30 minutes.  There are buses that swing past where you get off the highway bus but we decided against the wait (they come only every 30 minutes or so).  you can also call for a taxi if your Japanese is up to it.  It is worth mentioning here that there is not a lot of English spoken in Gujo Hachiman so come prepared with your Japanese phrase book and a mutual willingness to work together with the locals to understand each other!  Of course, if you are Japanese or speak some Japanese, you will not need the phrase book...).

We had arrived at the ryokan about 3 hours prior to check-in (which is at 3pm) so we left our bags with the friendly owners of Miharaya ryokan and decided that we would check out the castle before coming back to check into our rooms.  We dropped in at the local tourist information office 

and armed ourselves with a couple of brochures with English information and maps.  Stepping back outside, into what was a beautiful day, we peered skywards to where the castle was.

Don't let the photos deceive you, it is only another 30 minute walk to get there.  Yes, an uphill walk, but taken at a comfortable pace it should not be a problem for anyone.  Alternatively you can catch a taxi most of the way to the top.  Tetsuya and I decided to make the most of the sunshine and walk up.  Walking up, you share the road with any cars that come along, but as with anywhere in Japan, drivers are extremely careful and respectful toward pedestrians so this is not a problem.

There are also some step that work their way up the side of the hill for a quicker and more strenuous ascent.

Most people (except for the overly energetic school kids) were enjoying the walk up along the road.

There is a rest stop a little over halfway if you need to take a break and enjoy the view.

The season was early autumn and there was some colour creeping into the leaves of the maple trees that surround the castle.

I think that if we had made the trip a week later, the trees would have been stunning.  In fact, the town has an autumn leaf festival that runs from early to mid November.

Suddenly, before we realised, the castle appeared.

I think I will finish this particular post here, it is getting a little long, but I will start working on part 2 straight away so that should be done in the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading this first part of the trip, I hope you enjoyed it.  Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you.  Also, please share the blog if you know someone who would enjoy it.

See you soon for part 2.

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