Gujo Hachiman is a small town with a fish-shape which is appropriate since this oft-nicknamed “town of water” not only because has a number of streams and rivers flowing through it, but also because it is reputed to have the best water in Japan. Despite only having a central core of only 2-3 square kilometers and a population of about 20,000 people, the town also has one of the most famous Obon Odori festivals in the country.
The town is located north and center of Gifu prefecture where the upper stream of Nagara-gawa River and its branch, Yoshida-gawa River, meet. The valley in which the town sits was on an old trade route which once led to the Sea of Japan. Many other rivers, streams, and canals also flow through this city. These waters, called “Sougisui” or “the water of Sougi” by the locals after a famous poet from the middle ages, is recognized by the government to be one of the best and cleanest in Japan. The town itself has a clean and pleasant atmosphere with its narrow lanes and stone bridges.
Maps and guides in English are available at the Gujo Hachiman’s tourist information center (open daily from 09:00-17:00; tel: 0575-67-1819) located in a Meiji-era Western-style building at the foot of a hill, where the Yoshida River runs in a stone channel through the center of town. It also serves as the admission ticket office to a nearby historical and cultural museum contained in six old houses and shops (cost is ¥1,200).
Virtually all communities in Japan have annual Odori festivals, especially at Obon in August, but the one in Gujo Hachiman, the Gujo Odori, lasts for 30 nights over a period between mid-July to the first week of September. Also unlike other communities, at the peak of the festival, during four nights over the Obon period, the Gujo Odori continues well into the night until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. The Gujo Odori has such a long tradition, about 400 years, that even when Emperor Hirohito declared the war over on August 15th, 1945, reportedly, the dancing still proceeded in Gujo Hachiman.
There are ten styles of dance performed at the Gujo Odori with names such as Kawasaki, Sanbyaku, Harukoma and Yacchiku. Matsusaka is a special type which is usually done as the final dance on each night. Visitors are welcome to participate as well. Locations for the Gujo Odori vary throughout the festival period between shrines, temples, parks and streets. The Tetsuya (all-night) Odori takes place during the August 13th-16th Obon period, Japan’s most important national festival to appease the spirits of the dead. Schedules can be obtained by contacting the tourist information office mentioned above.
Gujo Hachiman also many historic buildings, temples and shrines for its small size, many of which were built more than 200 years ago during Tokugawa-shogunate period. The most well-known of these is Hachimanjou, a castle in the top of the mountain in the center of the town. This castle was originally built in 1559 but was pulled down during the Meiji Restoration before being rebuit in 1933 on its original stone foundations. It sits on the top of Hachiman mountain at a height of 354 meters. It has a tower which is a four layer wooden structure of 5 stories and commands views of the whole town.
On the southern side of the central district is Otaki-shonyu-do Stalactite Cavern, about 700 meters long and 100 meters high. The featured stalactites in the caverns are rare ones that can turn red and pink. Also inside is a big 30-meter waterfall that is said to be the largest underground one in Japan.
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