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.


  1. Hello Jason, well we lost the test and now Trump has come up Trumps.I wonder what the reaction will be in Nihon.Tricky times ahead for Aust. too.From my experience,the student girls of Japan are inquisitive and like to make contact with "Anglo - Saxons"Wherever I went in Japan,they liked to have a chat and be part of a group photo.These are fond memories for me.Gujo Hachiman Castle looks in pristine condition....what an effort to reconstruct it....I like the fact that it is of wood...the Japanese are amazing carpenters and their stone work forming the base of these structures is impressive as well.The castle in Nagoya is of "cement"...but looks like the real deal from the outside.Once you get inside feels like a modern day museum.Worth a visit though, if you have the time.Like the label on the beer bottle.Have some Sapporo Beer in the fridge at the moment... like all Japanese Beer sold in Aust. it is not made in Japan.Not a bad drop though.The days are getting warmer here,but the nights are still a little on the cool side.Now that it is Autumn in Tokyo,it must be a pretty sight in the parks and gardens there.Bye for now and all the best in the land of the rising sun...ashita mo yoi ichinichi wo...Noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      I wonder what the problem is with the Test team. We hit number 1 in the world and have been on a slide ever since! Let's see if we can turn it around in Tassie.
      Regarding Trump, a lot of people here are worried but are taking a wait and see approach to things, much like the rest of the world I guess.
      I actually had a few hours in Nagoya on my way back from Gujo Hachiman and I should have taken the opportunity to head over and have a look at the castle while I had the chance.
      Enjoy the warmer days before it gets too hot!
      Take care.

  2. Hello! I'm Miyu:D
    I like traditional Japanese town, specially Japanese castle!
    I'm looking forward to meeting you every Tuesday! Thank you:)

    1. Hi Miyu! Traditional Japanese towns are great! See you tomorrow!