Gifu #6: Gifu Lanterns (岐阜提灯)

Gifu’s 6th and most recent postcard are of Gifu chochin, paper lanterns lavishly decorated and often seen during summer festivals around the prefecture. Several workshops that make them are in Gifu City, but as my visit there was cut short by the rains, I was only able to see them displayed around town.

They can also be bought in souvenir shops, though they’re pretty expensive.


A simple example of one


And a slightly better picture of one

So that concludes my Gifu posts! You can read about my Gifu trip here.

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Gifu #5: Gujo Odori (郡上おどり)

Gifu’s 5th postcard depicts the Gujo Odori, or the month-long dance festival in Gujo City. This festival takes place throughout the month of August, featuring dancing at night at different places around the city. During the peak of Obon, August 13-16, the dancing lasts all night. It is a dance that anyone can join in, so is especially fun for tourists since you can get the chance to try it yourself!

My original plan was to stay the night in Gujo to be able to see the dancing myself, but because of the rains, we had to change our plan significantly, and therefore couldn’t stay the night. We were able to see the castle and walk around town, but not watch any of the dances. Still, there are some great videos on youtube featuring every night’s dances that are fun to watch! There are also demonstrations of the dances at Gujo’s City Museum held multiple times a day, for those unable to watch the actual festival!


Lantern depicting the odori


Sign about it


And a pamphlet

You can read more about the festival here, and my trip to the Gujo Area here!

2015.01.20: I recently came across a video series called Journeys in Japan by NHK. It’s a bit long, but this video explores the waterways of Gujo and the meanings of the Gujo Hachiman Odori. It is very interesting!

Gifu #4: Takayama Festival (高山祭)

Gifu’s fourth postcard depicts a famous festival here in Japan in Takayama, which is held once in the Spring and once in the Fall every year. It is ranked as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan, and you can read more about it here.

Since I went to Gifu in summer, I obviously didn’t get to see the actual festival. However, there is still a number of ways to experience this festival even if you can’t be there during the two times a year it is being held!

One such is at the Yatai Kaikan (Float Museum) next to the Hachiman Shrine. About 4 floats of the usual 11 are displayed on a rotation at this museum, with descriptions of each and little stories about them. Other festival items, including historical items no longer used, can be seen, and a video about the festival can be watched.

Another place to experience Takayama festivals is at the Matsuri no Mori Festival Museum which displays life-sized replicas of each of the 11 festival floats, including working karakuri marionette dolls, which are a big part of the festival. These dolls are usually operated by hand, but at the museum they are operated mechanically so as to give many demonstrations throughout the day.

Since Matsuri no Mori is not in walking distance of the city (most take a bus, about 15 minutes), we chose to see the Yatai Kaikan. Also, we were able to see a few of the buildings where the floats are kept throughout the city.


One of the areas floats are kept


Yatai Kaikan Entrance


Inside the Yatai Kaikan


One of the bridges featured in the festival

 

Takayama is a really beautiful area. Of course, it’s ideal to go during the actual festival to see it in person, but if that is impossible, there are still many ways to enjoy the festival! You can read more about my trip to Gifu and Takayama here!

Gifu #3: Cormorant Fishing (鵜飼)

This postcard is my biggest disappointment of the entire set. Gifu’s third postcard features ukai, or cormorant fishing on the Nagara River. Men train u, or cormorant birds, to fish for ayu, then bring the caught fish back to the boat instead of eating them. The men and birds go out on boats almost every evening from about May to October to fish the river, except when torrential and record-breaking rains sweep into Gifu RIGHT as I get there, thereby canceling the event and preventing me from seeing the ONE thing I was most excited to see! ARG! (As you can tell I am slightly disappointed. Slightly.)

As a result, the closest I came to actually seeing the cormorants or the river was this:


Yeah. Woo.

It might not be this year, or next year, but I WILL be back to Gifu City to actually see Ukai, and I will post about it them! Meanwhile, you can assuage your curiosity with a youtube video here, or this fantastic blog post about it here. And if you want to hear more whining about missing it, check over the rest of my Gifu visit at my personal blog here.

Gifu #2: Sarubobo Doll (さるぼぼ)

Gifu’s second postcard features the bright red Sarubobo Doll. Sarubobo (which translates to “baby monkey”) are red, faceless, human-shaped dolls traditionally made by grandmothers for their granddaughters as dolls, and for their daughters as charms for a good marriage and good children. Traditionally red, now they come in all colors and sizes, and can be found all over Gifu, but especially in Takayama and the Hida region. The white kanji on the tummy is “HIDA”, while the writing on the little purse its holding is “Omamori”, the general name of amulets, charms or talismans sold at shrines.


A giant Sarubobo by Takayama’s Hachiman Shrine

These were found in the shop at Gujo Castle


Now you can buy many different colors, each of which has different meanings. But I still got a red one… I like the traditional ones the best!

You can read more about Sarubobo at wikipedia here. There is also a Sarubobo Shrine in nearby Gero Onsen. I didn’t have time to go to Gero, but you can see some pictures of this shrine here! It looks really neat! Next, Sarubobo can be bought all around Gifu prefecture, but if you want to try your hand at making one, join a course at Hida no Sato in Takayama! Read more about that here. Finally, you can read more about Sarubobo and my Gifu trip here!

Gifu #1: Shirakawa-go (白川郷)

I recently went on a road trip to Gifu Prefecture, and was able to see and do a lot related to my postcards! I’ll be posting the full set of 6 cards in the upcoming posts, starting with Gifu’s first postcard, depicting the famous Shirakawa-go!

Shirakawa-go is an extremely famous area in the Gokayama region of Northern Gifu. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring Gassho-zukuri style farmhouses, some of which are over 250 years old! Gassho-zukuri are traditional style thatched-roof farm houses whose roofs resemble hands together in prayer like a Buddhist monk, hence the name. These thatched roofs are rare and becoming rarer in Japan, as people forget how to make and care for them. To thatch a roof is also a community-wide effort, and as many cities, towns, and villages around Japan are losing their younger generations to big cities like Tokyo, and the remaining residents become older, thatching a roof becomes more and more difficult. So there are very few places around Japan that still feature this style of house that people still live in.

Shirakawa-go is famous with tourists both Japanese and foreign. You can stay in some of these farmhouses, and this is popular especially in winter, when the town is covered in a light blanket of snow and the houses are lit up at night. Even in summer though, the area is very beautiful!


Just imagine the snow there…


Paths, streams and rice fields among the houses


I lost the sun in this picture


Looking out over the town from a viewpoint

Shirakawa-go is reached easiest from the nearby city of Takayama, also famous for its festival and the subject of a postcard I’ll be posting about soon. However if you don’t have time to go all the way up to Shirakawa-go, but still want to see Gassho-zukuri houses, there are several places in the prefecture you can see them, including at the Hida Folk Village in Takayama City, and at the Otaki Caves near Gujo City. You can read more about the area here at Japan-Guide. I also posted a blog post about my trip to Gifu on my personal blog, which you can read here if you’re interested!

2015.01.20: NHK World’s exploration of World Heritage Sites includes this video on Shirakawa and surrounding villages. Not only does it show some interesting details of the Gassho-zukuri style houses, but also highlights the community way of life, especially when everyone gets together to thatch a new roof. I found it very entertaining and enlightening, and encourage a watch!