Japan’s hidden gem: Discover the charm of the Gifu Prefecture

Gifu might surprise you in more ways than one.
Japan Intrepid TourSupplied.

Away from the bright hustle and bustle of Tokyo, two hours west by bullet train through the countryside, resides a hidden gem of Japan – the Gifu Prefecture. This destination might not be high on many bucket lists, but if you’re willing to take the path less travelled, Gifu might surprise you in more ways than one.

Gokayama Village


First stop for history buffs – Gifu Castle. Emperor Oda Nobunaga – one of the three great unifiers of the country – once lived here in what’s now known as Gifu Park. Opt to hike 329m to the top of Mount Kinka or take the shortcut instead – a four-minute high-flying cable car ride – if you’re not afraid of heights!

Sitting at the top of the mountain is a rebuild of the original castle, first built in 1201. During its rebuild in 1956, planners used historic documents and records to ensure it closely resembled the original. On the fourth and highest floor is an observation deck with sweeping panoramic views of the very flat city, Nagara River and surrounding countryside.

Nagara River Japan


Flowing through the heart of the region, the Nagara River is home to an ancient art form called “ukai” (cormorant fishing). Surviving more than 1300 years, the fishing style using cormorant birds is spellbinding and practised in 12 cities across Japan. Today, only six fishermen in Gifu City hold the title of “usho” (cormorant fishing master), with skills passed down through generations.

Working together to fish by the flames of “kagari-bi” (fire lanterns), six 10m wooden boats, each manned by a master fisherman and two boatmen, paddle down the river. They use the flames reflecting off the surface of the river to attract the fish. Swimming alongside the boat, tethered to the hand of the boat master and seeing the shimmer of the “ayu” (sweetfish) in the moonlight, the cormorants catch the fish as they come to the surface. It’s practised through the warmer months of the year (May to October), and the first catch of each season is sent straight to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo for the emperor to enjoy.


Considered the sword capital of Japan, the tiny town of Seki is nestled between two rivers with an abundant supply of river clay and coal, making it the ideal location for swordsmithing. Handmaking blades in a tradition that dates back 800 years, Seki swords are known for being unbreakable, unbendable and extremely sharp.

Head to Seki Hamono Museum for a sword-forging demonstration by the 25th and 26th generation of Kanefusa Fujiwara swordsmiths, who have manufactured swords for the Tokugawa family for generations.


Mino City is like something out of a fairytale – a tiny sleepy town filled with people dressed in spectacular traditional kimonos and carrying brightly coloured washi paper umbrellas. Start your Mino City journey at Warabee Land, a place where everything, even the floors, walls and curtains, are made from or covered in washi paper.

Yoro in Japan


Looking for the perfect place to get the full Japanese living experience? Takimotokan Yuki No Sato hotel is a traditional Japanese ryokan where you sleep on tatami-matted floors with a rice and lavender-filled pillow. It might take a bit of getting used to, but don’t knock it until you try it!

This area is steeped in Japanese folklore. Legend has it that around 1300 years ago, a poor boy was collecting firewood around Mount Yoro when he ladled some water from the waterfall to give to his ailing father. They discovered it tasted just like sake and his father’s youth was restored! While your trip may probably lack a time machine back to youth, you might be lucky enough to feel the magic of the Yoro falls – one of the best spring water sites in Japan. While adventuring through the town known for its Hida beef, visiting Yakiniku Katchan for lunch is a must. Take off your shoes, pull up a pillow and prepare to roll home afterwards because the chefs here know their way around a cut of meat.

Tsumago in Japan


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