Furukawa

Furukawa is a small quiet town in Gifu Prefecture located 15 kilometers north of Takayama, on the Miyakawa River. Similar to its more famous, and larger, neighbour, the town is characterized by the surrounding mountains, canals, old white storehouses and other traditional buidings.

However, here, spring arrives with a vengeance. Furukawa is best known for its vigorous annual Okoshi Daiko Festival on April 19th and 20th, an opportunity for the citizens to celebrate the arrival of spring and to release their pent-up energy after a long cold and dark winter. At its height, on midnight at the end of the first day, hundreds of men wearing mawashi, the loincloth-like garment mostly associated with sumo wrestlers, storm through the streets carrying carts on which they beat taiko drums. They compete to reach the main grand drum, the Okashi Daiko, which represents luck for the year, and placing their small drums, tied to long logs, on top of the portable stage on which the Okashi Daiko is also being transported on. The men reportedly also take turns to balance atop tall poles and spin around on their stomachs.

On the following day, the 20th, a festival procession parades through Furukawa’s streets escorted by a lion dance performance, nine festival floats, cock-fighting music, and court music.

Outside of the festival, the town’s main sights are all within easy walking distance of Furukawa Station. For those who cannot attend the festival, the Hida Furukawa Matsuri Kaikan Museum, located in the town’s central square, commemorates and provides visitors a view of the event. A three-dimensional film of the festival is shown as well as a computer-controlled performance featuring puppets that ride on the floats. The drums used in the festival are displayed in an open hall in the museum square. Two festival floats are shown on a regular basis and on the second Sunday of October, all nine festival floats are also displayed in the museum square.

The Hida Craftsman Culture Hall is also located in the central square, featuring the traditional craftsmanship the region is well known for. The Hall highlights local carpenters’ art and skills including how buildings are made from jointed wooden beams so that no nails are necessary, a famous feature in many of Japan’s ancient temples, shrines, castle and other buildings.

The Hida Forestry Museum, a couple of minutes’ walk east of Furukawa Station, displays more local crafts and industries, including sculptures woven from straw. On weekends, there are demonstrations of rice-straw sculpture and traditional weaving. There’s also a slide show of local scenic spots.

West of the station is the Shirakabe-dozo district, where a row of white earthen storehouses have been preserved beside a narrow, gently flowing canal, packed with carp. Towards the river beside a bridge is Honko-ji, an attractive temple decorated with the intricate carving and carpentry for which the town is famous.

Ichino-machi-dori is lined with traditional houses on both sides of the streets along with sake breweries, marked by the cedar leaf balls hanging outside their doors. Mishimaya, a two-hundred-year-old candle shop, is also on this street where demonstrations by a candlemaker take place in the store front. On a corner in front of the town’s central square is a shop where paper lanterns are made.

During the winter, skiing facilities are available at two local hills, Hida Highland and Snowland Sugo.