Gifu, Town of Oda Nobunaga and Cormorant Fishing Part 1
Gifu is one of the nearby cities of Nagoya, only 25 to 35 minutes by train. From Nagoya station two railway lines connect to Gifu. One is Tokaido Main Line leading to Tokai Japan Railway Line(JR) Gifu Station. Another is Meitetsu Line leading to Meitetsu Gifu Station. Both stations are about three hundred meters apart to each other. My Gifu tour started from JR Gifu Station. The city’s pride rests on cormorant fishing on Nagara River during summer and Gifu Castle where Oda Nobunaga, the first warlord to court the Muromachi Shogun back to Kyoto laid the place as the base for capturing Kyoto until he made the grand Azuchi Castle in 1579. Nobunaga even renamed the town as GIFU(岐阜) literally meaning “the mountain of decisive importance” after (*1 )ancient Chinese anecdotes. One thing I am certain is Gifu residents still love Nobunaga possibly much more than any other place in Japan.
1. Gifu Station
Gifu is the capital city of Gifu Prefecture and JR Gifu Station has become really huge after the station area was neatly redeveloped. It is not, however, tourist-friendly. Although I was a third-time visitor to JR Gifu Station I needed a bit of time to learn how to get to Gifu Park where Gifu Castle is located.
Inside the station, there is little direction provided on how to get to Gifu Castle. Another thing I missed at Gifu Station was the huge statue of Nobunaga. I found it only when I returned to the station.
Exit from Nagaragawa Side of Gifu Station and get on the bus either from #12 and #13 bus stops. Some buses stopping at the #11 bus stop such as Hidarimawari(Counterclockwise) Loop will also lead you to Gifu Park.
2. Bus Lines to Gifu Park
There are two exits from JR Gifu Station, Nagaragawa Side and Kanou Side. Nagaragawa Side seemed to be the right exit and I was correct about that. Then there is a huge bus terminal. It says Gifu Park buses depart from #12 or #13 platform but when I was there Hidarimawari Junkan(左回り循環) Loop bus departing from #11 platform was the quickest. So I took the bus.
The bus fare was 210 yen flat fee. More than twice as much as Hamamatsu’s loop Kururu. After about 10 to 15 minutes I got off at Gifukoen Rekishihakubutsukan-mae(岐阜公園歴史博物館前) bus stop. It is indeed a tongue-twisting name for overseas tourists. For starters, Gifu Park(Koen) is a good place to start the tour for major Gifu attractions. In and out of Gifu Park there are lots of nice places to kill time before you enjoy viewing the nighttime cormorant fishing (Ukai).
3. Kawaramachi Street
Before visiting Gifu Park, I headed for the Kawaramachi Street with lots of traditionally styled buildings. First I walked toward Nagaragawa-bashi Bridge then there is a small park bridging the main street to Kawaramachi Street. Kawaramachi Street thrived since the days of Warring State Period during mid 16th century as a river port town along Nagaragawa river.
From the park you can see the traditional styled warehouses. I walked toward these old houses and then there is a narrow alley leading to the Kawaramachi Street. Not all buildings are old. Some are reconstructed but with Machiya(old houses with narrow width and long depth) style.
During summertime these houses are adorned with Gifu lanterns. Gifu is one of the major producing areas of decorative paper lanterns usually for obon festivals when the spirits of the deceased are believed to return home. The reason why old houses at Kawaramachi area have narrow entrance with a long interior just as any traditional houses along the old highways in Japan is that property tax was levied according to the width of the front entrance during Edo Period(1603-1868).
Kawaramachi Street: Machiya style houses with Decorative Paper Lanterns, Map
4. Ukai Boat Ferry
Summertime Operation: July 18 – August 31
At the western end of Kawaramachi Street runs Nagaragawa River. On the eastern side of the river there is a ticket office for Ukai Viewing.
Ukai, or cormorant fishing is traditional way for fishing utilizing the cormorant’s skill for catching the fish without digesting. The master makes the cormorant spit the fish up. This fishing method dates back at least 1,300 years ago. Cormorant fishing used to be much more prevalent but today this fishing is observed in limited areas in Japan. Gifu is by far the most well known place in Japan.
I found a daytime ferry using Ukai viewing boat for only 100 yen. According to the ticket office the ferry runs from Nagara Bridge riverside area to Ukai Museum.
Ukai Boat Ferry only for 100 yen. Map
Ukai Viewing Boat for Cormorant Fishing generally costs about 2,000 to 3,000 yen. So I couldn’t believe my eyes that I can ride on Ukai viewing boat for only 100 yen. This is because this particular boat is used as a ferry to take customers to the Ukai Museum upstream. The duration is about ten to fifteen minutes.
The ferry reached the other side of the river upstream where there is a new museum for Cormorant Fishing
5. Nagaragawa Ukai Museum
Nagaragawa Ukai Museum is a new museum opened in 2012, to promote the art and tradition of Cormorant Fishing. It is a good museum to learn about cormorant fishing before viewing the ukai in action.
I did not have so much time because I had to return to the Nagaragawa riverside where I started. I took 11:45 ferry back to Nagara Bridge area.
Nagaragawa Ukai Museum, Map
6. Machiya Style Restaurant
After returning to Nagara Bridge area, I had lunch at Ikedo(池戸) a Machiya Style Cafe. Ikedo: Map
I asked the cafe staff if there is an easy trail down from Mount Kinka where Gifu Castle is perched on. One of them told me that Nanamagari Trail is the easiest way down. But once I approached the mountaintop area I discovered that it was the right choice to not go down on that trail. This will be explained in detail in Part 2.
In my Gifu report Part 2, I will talk about my visit to Gifu Park, Mount Kinka Ropeway, Gifu Castle and some good museums.
*1 It is believed that Oda Nobunaga renamed the town as Gifu(岐阜) by taking the first character from Qishan(岐山) and the second character from Qufu(曲阜). Qishan is the mountain in China where King Wu of Later Zhou Dynasty laid its fort as a base to conquer the Shang Dynasty more than 3,000 years ago. Shang Dynasty was ruled by a tyrant. The origin of second character Qufu(曲阜) is the birthplace of Confucius.