Day 30/35 – Friday August 1st
We headed by train to Gifu, a city on the northern edge of the flat plain rich alluvial farmland that is now modern Nagoya and it’s satellite cities. Lunch today wasn’t the best. The service was too slow. Some homework to do on that one.
Due to the heat, our next destination was the air-conditioned Gifu Museum of History, which by accident we did in reverse order, mainly because of a sudden interest in a vintage Datsun. The museum has an interesting range of exhibits, from the mesolithic and proto-Japanese periods such as the Jomon, right through to the devastating fire-bombings of 1945.
From here it was a short walk to the ropeway (essentially a cable car) and to the beginning of the hiking path. There was a beautiful garden and lots of shade to enjoy on the way.
There are two paths available, more or less following the same routes as those used in the 16th century. One turns 7 times (think gradual, horses and other pack animals carrying stores), the other supposedly 100 times (think steep, warriors/porters, and umm… visiting high school students carrying cameras). The climb takes about 45 minutes at most, and the first climbers arrived at the top about the same time as those on the ropeway.
On the way to the starting point of the hike, we passed the location of Oda Nobunaga’s residence. There is very little remaining. According to a long letter written by the Portuguese Jesuit missionary Luís Fróis, who befriended Oda Nobunaga and stayed in the personal residence for some time while writing books, it was a beautiful and imposing 4 storied structure.
There have been on-going archaeological excavations here since 1984, and the foundations of his residence, as well as those of preceding structures have been identified, but no trace of his actual residence has yet been confirmed. What has been found is foundations, a stone enclosed passageway, some battlements (of stone and earth construction) and a water supply. One of the reasons the residence was at the base of the mountain was water supply, as there were very few wells at the top of Mount Kinka – a key reason why the castle was surrendered and then abandoned in the early 17th century.
In total, Oda Nobunaga lived here for about 9 years, before constructing the ill-fated Azuchi castle near Lake Biwa in what is now Shiga Prefecture. We cover that during the Sengoku Jidai module of the History Course.
The mountain was formally known as Inabayama. It isn’t particularly high (only about 1000 feet), and while the original plan was to climb up, about half of the party took the ropeway. A much easier way up, and down come to think of it.
A classic mountaintop castle, Gifu Castle provides an amazing view of the city below. The flat alluvial plains to the south provide an enormous contrast to the alps visible to the north. On clear days you can see Nagoya station, the Sekigahara pass, Mount Ibuki, Inuyama castle, and much besides. It is a popular place to visible at sunset for the night views, and you can see the Ubune (cormorant fishing boats) down below.
After descending from the mountain, we enjoyed some ramen at an unusual place called “betakon ramen”. The name was intriguing until we worked out that betakon was an abbreviation of Viet Cong (the family running the place are Vietnamese). The building was old but the daughter spoke fluent Japanese, the food was great, the service quick, and the signage sometimes a really good laugh (in a nice way).
We then headed off to watch the cormorant fishing which took place after sunset. The fishermen use baskets of burning wood to attract the fish, which are then caught by the highly trained cormorants. This form of fishing was very popular during the Edo period, but these days it is mostly for tourism. The cormorants are very good at catching Ayu, a popular sweet trout, but the birds cannot swallow the fish, due to metal rings placed around their necks. It sounds cruel of course, but these birds are well fed, and live approximately twice the average lifespan of wild cormorants. They can however swallow small eels, after which they immediately lose interest in working. You can read more about Ukai – Cormorant Fishing here.