Saturday 19 November 2016

Immerse yourself in old town charm - Gujo Hachiman: a true traditional Japanese town (part 4)

This is part 4 in a series of blog posts about a recent trip to Gujo Hachiman.  You can find part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

It was getting close to dinner time, so we ventured back out to the street in search of something to eat.  I had done a little research and had a place in mind, however, they happened to be closed (I hadn't researched enough.....).  Oh well, what's a couple of intrepid travellers to do in this situation?  Walk into a random restaurant and hope for the best, of course.  So that's what we did.

The name of the place?  Amanoya.  Nice little place, kind of an izakaya.  One of the staff spoke excellent English, she had spent 2 years living in Australia (some of you may say that that discounts her from being able to speak English!).

Looks good right?  I won't spend too much time on the restaurant here (stay tuned for an announcement in the next few weeks....), just to say that the staff were very friendly, the food good and definitely worth a visit for a meal when you come to Gujo Hachiman .

After dinner I went back to the ryokan to grab my other camera to take some night time pictures of the town.  At night is when a little old quiet town like Gujo Hachiman reveals its magical side, one that is quite otherworldly!

I will stop the talking here and just let the photos do their thing.

Simply breathtaking, and these photos don't begin to do it justice.  Just an incredibly beautiful place to be and an amazingly peaceful place to walk around at night.

As I was wandering back to the hotel, I happened to look up into the sky and saw this......

the castle, illuminated!  Right then and there I decided that the next night I would be taking a walk back up the hill to get a close-up look at this vision.  What a way to end the night!

I'm going to end this post on that note.  I hope you enjoyed the night tour of Gujo Hachiman.  Please leave a comment below, tell me what you think and feel free to share with someone who would like to have a read.  Also, to save time, why not sign up on the right column to get email updates whenever I upload another post.

Thanks again, and see you soon for the next installment.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Immerse yourself in old town charm - Gujo Hachiman: a true traditional Japanese town (part 3)

This is part 3 of a recent trip to Gujo Hachiman in Gifu.  You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

We got back to the ryokan and checked in.  I had chosen this place because of the beautiful old style rooms.  I would love to live in a place with rooms like this!

And outside the window?......

Incredible, the water was so clear, so pure and pristine.  The clear water that runs through the town of Gujo Hachiman is a big source of pride for the residents.  In fact, a nickname for Gujo Hachiman is "the Water Town".  All around town there are water springs called "mizu fune", which translated means "water boat".  They are 2 or 3 tiered systems with constantly running water.  The top tier is for drinking and there are cups left at the mizu fune for anyone to use for drinking.  The lower tiers are for washing fresh vegetables or even rinsing clothes. (My photos for these didn't turn out so well but the kind people at the Gujo Hachiman Tourist Association kindly let me use 3 of theirs.  Please go and check out their full English website with so much more information about the town by following the links below the photos).

(source: Gujo Hachiman Tourist Association website.

This water then runs into street-side canals that run all across the town,

(source: Gujo Hachiman Tourist Association website.

(source: Gujo Hachiman Tourist Association website.

some of which have carp in them to eat any food scraps that might find their way into the water system,

and then back out into the river.  This is a centuries old ecologically friendly system which keeps the water so clear and clean.  Amazing, why can't more places do this?!

Now seems like a good point to stop this post, but I will keep working on the next post which will have quite a few photos of the town at night and I will hopefully have that finished in the next day or so.

I hope you enjoyed this one.  Please leave a comment below and share with anyone you know who would be interested in having a read.


Monday 7 November 2016

Immerse yourself in old town charm - Gujo Hachiman: a true traditional Japanese town (part 2)

This is part 2 of a recent trip I took to Gujo Hachiman.  You can find part 1 here.

Gujo Hachiman castle is not a particularly old castle (relative to other Japanese castles), however it is quite unique.  It was built in 1559 and for over 300 years it was home to various feudal lords.  Its position high on the hill overlooking the valley was perfect as the rivers around the castle created a natural moat protecting the castle from potential aggressors.  Prior to the Meiji period, which began in 1868, Japanese castles were important symbols of power for the local Daimyo.  When the Meiji period began, power was returned to the Emperor and a centralised government was formed.   Castles were viewed as a symbol of the previous feudal rule system and the Castle Abolishment Law was written which dictated that these "undesirable relics of feudalism" were to be demolished (luckily not all were torn down).  Fortunately in the 1930's Japan realised her mistake and started rebuilding these treasures one by one beginning with Osaka castle in 1931 followed by Gujo Hachiman in 1933.  Most of the castles were rebuilt using more modern materials such as concrete.  Now, what makes Gujo Hachiman castle unique is that it was rebuilt using wood, the original material making it one of the few rebuilt wood castles.  Enough of the history lesson, I know!

Japanese castles generally come in two different colours, white and black.  I recently asked a regular student of mine, Aya, what feelings she gets when she sees a white or a black castle and her feelings were exactly the same as mine.  She said that when she sees a white castle it projects a majestic, dignified image while a black castle (such as Matsumoto castle) gives off a distinct formidable military, aggressive image.  I often enjoy conversations with Aya as she knows a lot about Japanese history and is very interesting to listen to.

As we approached the castle, the grandness and majesty of the structure only stepped up even more.

Before heading into the castle itself I stopped to survey the town from above.  It was a pretty impressive view!

Pausing to buy a ticket (310 yen) we headed into the castle grounds.

I knew where I wanted to be and that was right at the top so I started my way up the stairs straight away.  Now I should point out that the stairs are quite steep, a cross between a staircase and a ladder, true mountain goat terrain, so please take care climbing.

As expected, the view from the top was incredibly spectacular!

Imagine being the daimyo of Gujo Hachiman and having to wake up to this view each morning!!

Stunning.  As I have said previously, I come from a very flat place and I am always in awe of the beauty of mountains!

I suddenly became aware of a group of schoolgirls standing a few metres away from me.  Still taking photos I started listening in to their conversation as they were trying to figure out how to say something to me in English!  "Should we photo take with us?..........Can you photo camera us?......."  They were trying to figure out how to say "Can you take a photo with us?"  Suddenly one of them said "May we take photo together?"  That was good enough for me.  "Sure!" I said.  They were so happy.  They started asking me questions, where I was from, what did I do, how long I was staying in Gujo Hachiman etc.  For me, as an English teacher, I was so happy to hear them so excited to be speaking English.  The average Japanese person is not confident to speak English as they are worried about making mistakes.  I always say to my students, "never be worried about making mistakes, I make mistakes with English every day!"

What a wonderful moment it was!

Saying goodbye to the girls we decided to head back down to the town again for a well earned beer before checking in to the ryokan.  Walking through the town, what stood out for me most was that there was a total lack of pretence to the town.  Yes, there were some beautiful old buildings,

but right next to the old buildings were sometimes more modern ones.

Gujo Hachiman was not trying to be anything except.........well, except Gujo Hachiman, and I was loving it!

We sat down, enjoyed our beer 

and just watched the town go about its life in front of us.  

And what a blessing that was.

I'm going to finish this post here.  Wow, two posts in one night!  Thanks for reading these first two posts about Gujo Hachiman.  I will keep working on the next one and hopefully have that ready soon.  Please leave a comment below and don't forget to share the blog with someone you know who may be interested.

See you next time.

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.