This Town Is Japan’s Tiny Version Of Venice
When you think of crystal-clear canals cutting through a city’s streets and traditional architecture that will leave you churning through your camera batteries, Japan may not be the first place that springs to mind. While iconic and otherworldly Venice may be more renowned for this description, the small Japanese town of Gujo Hachiman could just give it a run for its money – with added cherry blossoms.
Located just over an hour from Nagoya by both bus and train, Gujo Hachiman – nestled in Gifu Prefecture – is an off-the-beaten track gem well worth the journey. The city centre is small and able to be conquered on foot. Or, if you feel like visiting sights outside the city centre, you can hire a bicycle from the tourist information office for less than a tenner. But what exactly is it about Japan’s very own water city that makes the trip worth it?
Gujo Hachiman: City Of Waterways
To start with, the scenery is low-key mind-blowing. Think rolling mountains framing a lush green valley, with a river snaking through the middle. Taking a wander through Gujo Hachiman is like stepping back in time to a Japan of ages past. The streets are lined with traditional buildings, fishermen draw their catches from the river and the locals shout “good morning” to each other as they bustle past. And that’s all before we get to the famous canals, which bubble along beside stone-paved streets and rice-paper doorways. If you’re lucky, you might even get the chance to see the koi fish who call the canals home pop up to the surface.
As a river city, Gujo Hachiman prides itself on its pristine waterways, which function much the same as they have since the city was founded in the 16th century. The water from the many canals, fountains and waterways is still used to wash vegetables, rice and even laundry. And you can 100 per cent drink from the aforementioned fountains without any worries as the townspeople take great care in ensuring that the water is fresh and clean.
Apart from the iconic canals, Gujo Hachiman is also home to a number of things to do, see and taste. As you can probably guess, the locals are particularly fond of water-related activities and can often be found swimming in the river when summer rolls around. The city is also famous for the Gujo Odori, a massive summer dance festival that takes places over 31 nights between July and September. The festival first started in the 17th century and is characterised by a specific style of traditional dance that is favoured during festival night. Of course, like many of Japan’s summer festivals, there are food and games aplenty to explore after you’ve had your fill of dancing.
A Taste Of Classic Japan
Don’t worry: if temples, gardens and castles are more your style, Gujo Hachiman has you covered there too. Start your day at the Jionzenji Temple, which is home to a gorgeous zen garden featuring a pond, cascading waterfall and maple trees that change colour depending on the season.
Afterwards, you’ll want to head over to Hachiman Castle, the wooden fortification around which the town of Gujo Hachiman was created. The castle itself sits on a hill overlooking the town below and provides some seriously killer views over Gujo Hachiman and the surrounding mountains. Perfect opportunity for an Instagram shot? We think so!
But, did you know that Gujo Hachiman just so happens to be the leading producer of replica food in Japan? Yup, you read that right, much of the plastic replica food you’ve seen displayed outside of café doors and restaurant windows across Japan are made right here in the Venice of Japan. And you bet the locals are incredibly proud of this fact.
There are two main replica food makers in Gujo Hachiman, both of which offer experiences for visitors wanting to get hands on with the town’s most famous export. The first, Sample Village Iwasaki, was the original workshop in the city and is located on the outskirts of town. The second, Sample Kobo, operates two stores in the city centre and guides will happily take you through the process of making your own replica cup of ice cream or tempura pieces. Talk about a unique souvenir.
See what we mean? Gujo Hachiman might be a small town but it’s definitely not lacking when it comes to ways to dive deep into traditional Japanese life. Move over Venice, Gujo Hachiman is coming through. It’s official: we’ll see you at the airport, cos we’re headed to Japan.
(Lead image: Gujo Hachiman via Lottie / Flickr)