“All mountain landscapes hold stories: The ones we read, the ones we dream, and the ones we create.” ~ Michael Kennedy.
Fed up with hearing about tourist crowds in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka and wondering if a Gujo Hachiman day trip is worth it? With striking similarities to Takayama, I’d say Japan’s “Water City” could also be known as “Kyoto without the crowds” boasting a unique twist!
So, where is Gujo Hachiman? Located in central Japan’s Gifu Prefecture and often overlooked by foreign visitors, a day trip to Gujo Hachiman will reward you with an intriguing “Castle in the Sky,” water so clean that Japanese carp swim in street canals, gorgeous mossy temples and shrines, and traditional Edo Period preserved buildings lining the old streets – all without having to battle throngs of people.
And if that wasn’t enough, Gujo Hachiman is also adored for its annual summer Gujo Odori dance festival dating back 400 years, and is known as the birthplace of sampuru (Japanese replica food) production throughout the country. The best part is you can get involved in both!
After having it top my bucket list for a number of years, I’m beyond excited to finally bring you this Gujo Hachiman travel guide. Here on my travel blog for Japan, I’m fiercely passionate about sharing off the beaten path places to dilute the current overtourism footprint.
To find out how to get to Gujo Hachiman, the many experiences to enjoy, where to base yourself for the day trip and where to stay, read on for more!
This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
How to get to Gujo Hachiman
Tokyo to Gujo Hachiman
It takes around 5.5 hours to reach Gujo Hachiman from Tokyo by train or car, so I highly suggest basing yourself in Nagoya and visiting from there instead. I’ll share my recommendation for where to stay at the conclusion of this Gujo Hachiman itinerary.
TIP: The journey takes over 3 hours each way by car and train from Kyoto or Osaka, making the day trip from Nagoya more favourable.
Nagoya to Gujo Hachiman
Known as the gateway to the Japanese Alps, Nagoya makes the perfect base for an easy day trip to Gujo Hachiman..
- By car: 1 hour 20 mins via the E41 highway north of Nagoya. I hired a car for the day and drove, which was the fastest option. Cost: 151,000 JPY for the car (including insurances and ETC card) and 4030 JPY in tolls.
- By train and highway bus: Depending on the connection, the minimum travel time is 2 hours 10 mins from Meitetsu Nagoya Station on the Meitetsu Limited Express line, then switching to the local Gifu Bus. Cost: Approx 2630 JPY
- By sightseeing train: The Nagaragawa Railway provides incredibly scenic views along a section of the Nagara River that isn’t accessible by road. From Nagoya’s Kitano station, the train passes through a dozen stops until it reaches Gujo Hachiman station. Cost: Approx 1800 JPY one way and includes a dining car.
TIP: My guide to is Nagoya worth visiting? shares more reasons to stay here.
Day trip to Gujo Hachiman itinerary
I recommend starting with Gujo Hachiman Castle first (for reasons you’ll discover in a moment), then driving back down into the compact city to experience the rest easily on foot.
Park your hire car in one of the dedicated parking lots as street parking is not permitted.
Things to do in Gujo Hachiman
Admittedly, it’s a little surreal to be casually strolling the streets only to look down at your feet to see colourful koi swimming alongside in clear water!
I’ve grouped together the Gujo Hachiman attractions and recommend visiting them in the following order when creating your itinerary.
Start by visiting Gujo Hachiman Castle
Topping the list for things to do in Gujo Hachiman is of course visiting its iconic white castle. Precariously perched 350 metres above the town on Mt Hachiman, at certain times of year clouds accumulate around the mountains’ base, owing to its nickname of “Castle in the Sky.”
TIP: I was grateful I ended up hiring the car here, as the walk up the hill is incredibly steep! There is dedicated parking at the top a few moments from the castle entrance.
Honestly the creakiest Japanese structure I’ve ever visited, the castle has incredible views over the valley below and features a small museum inside. It’s the oldest reconstructed wooden castle in the country.
- Cost: Adults 320 JPY, children 150 JPY ea
TIP: By mid-morning the castle was quite backlit by the sun; perhaps the lighting is better towards late afternoon for photography.
NOTE: Surrounded by Japanese maple trees, this is a popular spot with locals for koyo (autumn colour viewing), so it may be busier than usual during this season.
Stroll across Miyagase Bridge
Arching over the Yoshida River, Miyagase Bridge offers some of the most scenic views in Gujo Hachiman. If you look closely, can you spot the castle on top of the hill?
Admire the handiwork of Yanaka Lane
Its pebbled pathway swirling in harmonious patterns and shapes beside a small canal, Yanaka Lane is a lovely spot to stop for a break.
TIP: Come back in the evening as the lights begin to illuminate the streets for no people in your photos!
Create food replicas at Sample Kobo
Just a few steps from Yanaka Lane, don’t miss adding Sample Kobo to your Gujo Hachiman day trip! Check out my videos from Sample Kobo on my Instagram.
As Gujo Hachiman is the home of sampuru (Japanese fake food), it supplies about 50% of the replica food samples you see in restaurant windows all over the country. It’s one of the quirky things Japan is known for.
Keep your eyes out for gold-coated seafood and pick up a few realistic samples. I couldn’t help myself and bought one of the melted ice-cream smartphone holders. This is a great place to buy unique souvenirs from Japan, too!
TIP: Allow enough time to partake in a workshop to make your own inedible culinary delight, more info from Sample Kobo’s official website.
Shop for souvenirs in Shinmachi
As a beloved shopping area, Shinmachi is a retro section of Gujo Hachiman city a block back from Yoshida River. There are plenty of geta shops (traditional Japanese shoes) but be warned the sizes run on the smaller side.
Admire the views from Shinbashi
Overlooking buildings balancing on a cliff edge above the flowing river, the ambience from this bridge is a joy against a mountainous backdrop. Shinbashi is one of the main bridges of Gujo Hachiman and rickshaws frequently pass along it carrying passengers.
During the summer months, you may see locals jumping off the bridge into the river below! As they are familiar with the water conditions and depth, please don’t do this without asking their advice first.
TIP: I adored the rectangular-shaped lampposts lining this concrete bridge, they had quite an Edo-era feel. Also, keep an eye out for the carp manhole covers that decorate the streets.
Feed the koi along Igawa Lane
Just a few steps from Shinbashi above and spanning over 119 metres, Igawa Lane narrowly lines an incredibly beautiful old canal.
Lined with building walls you’d see in Kanazawa on one side and lush greenery backed against residential buildings on the other, it’s home to some of the largest koi (Japanese carp) I have ever seen in Japan.
Paying for fish food works on an honesty system, which is often seen in more rural areas of Japan. Pop your 100 JPY coin into a little wooden mailbox and take a small bag of fish food for the koi.
TIP: The koi have very good vision and will follow you along the pathway in the hopes of getting food, despite being obviously very well fed!
Enjoy tranquility at Jionzen-ji Temple
Featuring an exquisite moss-covered garden complete with koi pond, Jionzen-ji Temple was one of my favourite places to visit in Gujo Hachiman. Going in the late afternoon meant I had the place almost all to myself, too!
I sat on the tatami floor for at least half an hour just quietly enjoying the stunning scenery and tranquillity here. Although founded in the 16th century, framed photographs detail the story of a landslide that completely destroyed the temple and it was rebuilt in 1950.
The small zen garden is also impressive, as is the selection of omamori (lucky amulets) to purchase as souvenirs.
- Opening hours: 10:00 – 16:00 daily (closed Tuesdays and 30 December – 4 January)
- Cost: 500 JPY ea
TIP: Remember to remove your shoes and leave large bags in the lockers at the temple’s entrance.
Walk Honmachi Street to Chokyo-ji Temple
As I absolutely adore preserved neighbourhoods in Japan, I couldn’t get enough of the dark brown buildings lining quiet Honmachi Street. Walking to its end is a great photo spot from Chokyo-ji Temple.
TIP: Two similar streets nearby are Kajiyamachi and Yanagimachi-dori, which is considered a National Treasure of Japan.
This area fondly reminded me of Sanmachi-suji in Takayama (read all about it in my Takayama itinerary), which I loved so much! At this time of the afternoon most of the shops had closed, but it was so lovely to soak in how peaceful this neighbourhood is.
TIP: If you’re observant, you may notice Gujo Hachiman Castle keeping a watchful eye over the town from here.
Take in the ambience at Shimizu Bridge
A weeping willow draped above this striking vermillion bridge helps to give this charming little spot by Sogi Spring a very Kyoto-like atmosphere.
Learn the significance of Sogi Spring
Remember earlier I mentioned Gujo Hachiman is known as the”Water City?” Sogi Spring is one of the places where it all began.
Named after a 15th century poet and used since ancient times as a source of mineral drinking water, Sogi Spring is recognised as one of Japan’s “100 Remarkable Waters.”
TIP: You’ll also see streetside canals with running water. For centuries, the canal system has been for household use, to put out fires and ensure all residents have access to clean drinking water.
Join in the Gujo Odori Festival
Held from mid-July to early September, the Gujo Odori dance festival is one of the top 3 Obon events in Japan and is unlike any other. Think warm summer nights, live singers, musicians, food stalls, people dressed in yukata taking to the streets and dancing together for hours after sundown.
With the opening ceremony held in mid-July, there are four consecutive nights in August where dancing begins at 20:00 and goes until 5:00 the next morning!
While Gujo city is widely known throughout Japan for its summer Odori festival, there are seasonal events too so take a look at their calendar to see if any will coincide with your trip.
And that’s a wrap for your Gujo Hachiman day trip itinerary!
Where to stay in Nagoya
Just 5 minutes’ walk to Sakuradori Station on the red metro line, I enjoyed my stay at Grand Base Hotel Chiyokura Nagoya. It’s in a good location for those staying as a small group and prefer to be in the one room (which can be difficult to find in Japan!)
Concluding this Gujo Hachiman water city itinerary
If you’re wanting to avoid large tourist crowds elsewhere and explore a little more off the beaten path, Gujo Hachiman Japan ticks all the boxes. From iconic bridges spanning beautiful rivers, fun food replica workshops, preserved streets and laneways to exquisite temples and shrines, the “Water City” really is a wonderful day trip!
This intriguing castle town captured my heart while exceeding all my expectations. Now it’s over to you: Will you visit Gujo Hachiman Gifu someday? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
While you’re here, why not take a look at my 10 days in Japan itinerary (even if it’s not for your honeymoon), more unique places to visit in Japan, do’s and don’ts of Japanese etiquette, learn some basic Japanese phrases for tourists with my free cheat sheet, find out what to pack for Japan, and even how to rent portable wifi in Japan — I have every step of your Japan planning journey covered from my multiple visits.
Until next time,
Like it? Pin it! 📌
This guide to Gujo Hachiman contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!