by N Yamada
Ever since the movie “Your Name” was set in Gifu, the area has become really well known. From Gifu Castle (home of the famous warrior Nobunaga Oda) to UNESCO World Heritage Site Shirakawa-Go, there are lots of places where you can learn more about the history and traditions of Gifu. Now, let me recommend you my five favorite historic spots in Gifu.
1. Seki Yamanami
Have you ever seen completely black deep-fried chicken? The special fried chicken in Seki city is blackened by two special local ingredients – Shiitake and Hijiki.
I like to get my fried chicken fix at an izakaya called Yamanami, which has been running for over 40 years!
What’s great about this izakaya? It’s open during lunch – really rare for an izakaya! Plus, there are hotels nearby so it’s easy to have dinner at Yamanami, stay the night, and continue your journey the next day.
Inside the restaurant, there are two kinds of seats: the counter seat lets you chat with the master chef easily, while the Kotatsu cushioned seat gives you a sense of calm. Personally, I like sitting at the counter and admiring the row of delicious local sake sourced from all over the country.
Back to the black deep-fried chicken. Although it’s a little pricier (1,380 yen for a set meal), the portions are big. A set meal comes with black deep-fried chicken, rice, savory egg custard, pickles, miso soup, dessert and a drink. Don’t you think it’s worth it?
The deep-fried chicken at Yamanami comes in a Torinanban style – you can dip your chicken into the tartar sauce provided for a delicious sour punch. I can’t help thinking about the chicken here. The crispy skin is fragrant with the flavor of Shiitake and Hijiki, and the meat inside is so juicy! Mmm!
What else is unique? The miso soup that comes with the set meal is red miso – a tradition of Gifu prefecture. You’ll be able to find this thick and slightly spicy red soup in many shops in Gifu.
Besides the black deep-fried chicken, you can also try the eel, Japanese beef Ochazuke-style, hot pots and tempura. If you are a fan of Japanese food, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the food here!
Ukai is a traditional fishing method for catching Ayu (a type of fish) in the Nagara River, which flows through Gifu. With a history of about 1,300 years, this fishing method is not only famous locally, but also overseas!
The unusual fishing method involves a cormorant swallowing Ayu and then spitting the fish out. The best time to catch Ukai in action is in summer as it’s a seasonal tradition in Gifu.
Have you seen a Ukai boat with a bonfire? The sight of it slowly moving across the river is really captivating!
The Ukai boat is distinctively slender. In ancient times, an usho (the man who controls the cormorant) boards a simple wooden ship, lights a bonfire, and gets the cormorant to catch Ayu.
If you want to witness Ukai upclose, you have to hop on to this sightseeing boat. The gentle bobbing of the boat as you stop to watch Ukai makes you forget about time! It’s actually pretty therapeutic.
Want to learn more about Ukai? The specialized Nagara gawa river Ukai Museum on the banks of the river is the place to visit!
Besides learning about the history of Ukai via a real diorama and a gigantic screen in the hall, do visit the exhibition room to get more information on the equipment used, the life of the usho, and the ecology of the cormorants and Ayu.
Ukai in the Nagara gawa river has been designated as an "important intangible folk cultural asset" of the country and recognized by the Imperial family. The Imperial family also donates the Ayu which they have caught.
Come here to enjoy Ukai on a cool summer evening!
Ukai at Nagara River
1-2 Minatomachi, Gifu City
May 11 – Oct 15
If you are visiting Gifu in autumn, don’t miss Nobunaga Festival. This large-scale festival – one of the biggest in the prefecture – is held every autumn in honor of Oda Nobunaga who ruled over Gifu.
During the festival, traffic is regulated on the main street from Gifu station to Yanagase Shopping District. The streets come alive with people parading the street as Sengoku Samurai, including Oda Nobunaga riding a horse, and troops carrying matchlock guns.
Keep your eyes peeled for a line of young warriors. Young men will be dressed as warriors from the Sengoku era, carrying powerful matchlock guns.
Wakamiya Avenue facing the Yanagase Shopping District is transformed into a pedestrian street with zero traffic! Besides the parade, do visit the interesting market selling Gifu specialties. I love to snack at the takoyaki and yakisoba stalls. Oh! Do be prepared for crowds!
Isn’t autumn a great holiday season? On a nice day, it’s perfect to spend a whole day enjoying the festival – walking on the street, exploring the market and watching the parade.
Nagarabashi-dori, Wakamiya machi street, Yanagase , Gifu-shi
Events and festivals
Take a stroll along Udatsu Street in Mino city and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the Edo era. Designated as an ‘Important traditional buildling group preservation district’, this old street is 1km long.
The historic houses lined up along the two sides create a scenic landscape.
As you walk, pay attention to the roofs. Ancient merchants like to luxuriously decorate the Umatsu (firewalls) between roofs to show off their wealth status. So if you see a high Udatsu, you’ll know why!
This house used to belong to the Imaji family, a paper wholesaler. The interior is now a historical museum.
I was surprised to see that the historic interior of the house is still intact. When entering inside, the Mise (a place where the clerk waits on customers) is the first to catch your attention. Then, you’ll see the kitchen and the living room.
Don’t forget to step outside into the beautiful courtyard. Just sitting here and enjoying the scenery, which changes with the seasons, makes me feel utterly at peace. Personally, I recommend you come here in autumn to enjoy the autumn leaves.
Mino, Gifu Prefecture
5. 美濃和紙 (Mino Washi)
Did you know? Washi making has been around in Mino city since 1,000 years ago. The traditional craft item has been registered as UNESCO's ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’. Mino Washi is delicate, reflecting the way Japanese people carry themselves.
Are you interested in trying papermaking? You can do so at Mino Washi-no-Sato. I’m glad even today, craftsmen who make paper by this hand-made old-fashioned method are still thriving in Mino city.
Take a look at this washi with autumn leaves. The leaves are placed between thin paper. After drying, the paper looks transparent with leaves.
This is yet another spectacular piece of work. Doesn’t this look like clouds on a paper so thin it’s transparent? Making thin paper is extremely difficult. You need great technique and delicate craftsmanship. It’s an art!
Washi isn’t just for making paper. You can even make pouches like this, dolls and lanterns. When it comes to Washi products, you certainly can feel the effort and warmth of handmade goods.
The souvenir corner of Mino Washi no Sora is great for buying beautiful Mino Washi for souvenirs (from several hundred yen). Another option is the shop on Udatsu street, which I mentioned earlier.
You can pick up various goods including origami paper, postcards, letter set, lanterns and accessories made of Washi.
These artworks are full of Japanese tradition and make perfect souvenirs. Do buy some home!
Shozo 1851-3 Mino City, Gifu Prefecture