Festivals are the lifeblood of every Japanese town and village, and many of the festivals and events in Gujo Hachiman have long histories; some date back over 450 years.
Residents and visitors alike look forward with anticipation and excitement to these annual rituals that welcome a season, give thanks for the harvest, or are simply special days of the year.
Come and experience traditions and celebrations in a way that is truly up close, accessible to anyone, and simply not possible in larger towns and cities.
Hina Matsuri, also called Doll's Day or Girls' Day, is celebrated each year on March 3rd by families with daughters. Here in Gujo Hachiman, old historical houses still display their traditional doll collections, typically antiques from the Edo period, for visitors to admire and enjoy.
The tradition of displaying traditional dolls on tiered displays has evolved in Gujo Hachiman. Dolls are now often posed in different tableaus to provide a social commentary, occasionally an ironic view of tradition, and more often, to promote the owner's business and to entertain locals and visitors alike.
Over 150 different displays are typically scattered throughout the historic centre, and if you wander about you will see dolls pounding mochi, perusing restaurant menus, and even giving a rock concert. Many visitors set a personal challenge of trying to find as many different doll displays as possible.
The 2018 Hina Matsuri festival features 170 different doll displays, and runs from February 6th until April 3rd, 2018.
As the last of the cherry blossom petals fall gently to the ground, the town comes alive for two days of colourful parades and celebration to welcome spring. This is the week-end when three different parades, each mounted by a different shrine, simultaneously wind their ways through the town's old narrow streets in the historic centre.
While the exact origin of these parades and their connection to spring has been lost to history, these three parades have formed the essence of the town's Spring Festival since the 1600's and are designated by the Gifu Prefecture government as important intangible folk cultural assets.
The colourful parades begin early Saturday and Sunday morning and continue through the day, until the evening on both days. Each parade is led by its respective shrine's priest, and is made up of children dressed in colourful traditional costumes who beat drums while trying to tame a kagura "lion", together with various traditionally dressed characters.
As the parades wind their way through the town, young girls accompanying the parade deliver blessings and symbols of good luck from the shrine to homes and businesses along the parade route.
The festival culminates on Sunday evening when two of the three parades meet at the Miyagase bridge in the heart of the town. This is when the children who have been performing in the parades are hoisted onto the shoulders of the adults, and are twirled around in a symbolic crossing of the Yoshida River, while the two kagura "lions" dance and interact with the crowd, and the characters in the parade entertain onlookers.
Of course over the two days you will also find street vendors who have set up their stalls just next to Jokamachi plaza selling tako yaki, ika yaki, and all the assorted street foods found at every Japanese festival, together with traditional children's games and assorted festival related gifts for sale.
Gujo Odori is Gujo Hachiman's most important festival, and runs from mid-July until early September (July 9th to September 3rd 2016). Each year over 300,000 visitors take part in this annual event designated a Significant Intangible Cultural Folk Asset by the Japanese government. Planning your accommodation well ahead is the secret to participating in this unique cultural event.
With Hachiman castle as the accent, this spectacular fireworks display in early August is sponsored Gifu Shinbun newspaper. The display is free to attend and is visible from just about everywhere in town.
Like every event and festival, there is more than meets the eye. This fireworks display is no exception. It involves close coordination by the organizers with the town's fire department, and careful planning since it also happens one night during Gujo Odori.
Prior to the display, the town's fire fighters volunteer their time and expertise needed to pump water up over 150 metres to the area around the base of the castle, and soak the entire area with water to help prevent forest fires from starting during the display. Then, during the display, the fire fighters volunteer their time to patrol area around the castle to put out any small fires that might occur. It is an annual gift from the town's professional fire fighters to residents and visitors alike that goes mostly unnoticed, but without which the event would not be possible.
Held annually at the Hakusan Shrine this colourful autumn festival celebrates the annual rice harvest. Dancers wearing tall bamboo branches decorated with colourful flowers attached to their backs perform various acrobatic movements that show off their coordination, fitness, and strength for the entertainment of onlookers, while over 120 musicians and singers also take part.
The Takao Shrine, as one of several autumn celebrations of the annual rice harvest, mounts a much anticipated annual amateur kabuki performance. This is when locals and visitors alike can relax and be entertained for an evening of sophisticated, but light-hearted fun.
The annual performance begins at 6 pm and continues until midnight. The play changes each year, and represents a full year of rehearsal by dedicated amateur kabuki actors. As the evening's performance unfolds on the stage, members of the audience enjoy the bounty of the harvest and snack on specially prepared bento meals, drink sake, and enjoy the luxury of an evening of traditional entertainment.
This annual performance is made possible thanks to the local Kabuki Preservation Society, local amateur kabuki enthusiasts, and a unique kabuki program run by the Gujo Hachiman elementary school.
As such, the performance is part celebration, and part exercise in preserving this unique Japanese performance art so that local youth cultivate an interest in kabuki, and continue this remarkable tradition.
Most castles in Japan are known for their early spring displays of cherry blossoms, however Gujo Hachiman's castle is better known for its spectacular autumn colours thanks to the many Japanese maples that surround the castle on all sides.
At their peak, the fiery red leaved trees resemble flames engulfing the castle, especially when they are lit up at night when the colours reach their peak in mid November. The castle is especially photogenic at this time of year.
The Gujo Hachiman momiji festival begins the end of October and continues until mid November, with the autumn colours typically reaching their peak around the 10th - 12th of November.
Held annually on the coldest day of the year (on approximately January 20th.) and again in early February, this is the day that the colourfully dyed koinobori wind socks are fixed by soaking overnight in the cold fast running water of the Yoshida River. This event is a favourite of both photographers and indigo collectors.
Visit us in person:
Kinenkan Tourism Centre
Gujo Shi, Gifu ken,
9:00 am - 5:00 pm daily
9:00 am - 6:00 pm during Gujo Odori season
Phone: 0575 67-0002