Monday, September 25, 2023

[GIFU] A Castle and a Squirrel Village

As I looked at my map of Japan, I decided that it was about time to turn more prefectures red. Since the flights were landing at and taking off from Nagoya, I had limited options for destinations easily accessible via train. Of course Gifu is probably the closest prefecture you can reach from Nagoya. In fact, it only takes 20 minutes via the regular Tokaido Line. The fare? JPY470 (~PHP180). But why should you even go to Gifu? What will you see there? Well, there are several options.

For nature lovers, the prefecture has Gero Onsen and Shirakawa-go to offer. The former is one of the country’s most popular hot springs while the latter is a historical town. My issue with this is I only had a full day to spare in Gifu and reaching those sites would require a long train ride. As such, I had to settle with the easier alternative. Gifu the city is, once again, just 20 minutes away from Nagoya. Take one of the N buses to Gifu Park for JPY220 (~PHP85) and you’ll end up at Gifu Park, at the foot of the mountain where the castle is located, in just 15 minutes.

You will see the orange pagoda and the castle higher up from the park. The centerpiece of the park is a statue of a woman constantly being sprayed on by a fountain. The park also contains the remains of Oda Nobunaga’s residence. How do you get up to the castle then? You have two options. Option number one is a hike that Google Maps said would take around 45 minutes. There are trails available but the forest cover is thick so I find it quite daunting. The alternative is the ropeway which will whisk you up there in just five minutes. The roundtrip fare is JPY1,100 (~PHP420).

Once you get off at the top, the first attraction you will come across is the Squirrel Village right next to the cable car depot. I was planning to include it in the itinerary after seeing the castle until I realized that I am not a big fan of squirrels. Skip. If you thought you’ll be exempted from hiking by taking the cable car, then you are mistaken. Going up to the castle still requires a short hike of 10 - 15 minutes, although the path up is now on solid concrete so it shouldn’t be that hard.

There are vending machines for drinks up there but the prices double, so you might want to drink before hopping on the cable car. You will get a nice view of the castle as you approach it. That is where most people take their selfies. If you get tired of the mini hike, you can rest on one of the benches overlooking the ravine that offers a panoramic view of Gifu down below. The view is awesome, I should say. You see at least two stadiums down there along with the green hills surrounding the city.

The castle itself was destroyed and just rebuilt. This seems to be the common story for most Japanese castles anyway. The interior has been converted into a mini museum with a lot of insights about its history and architectural style. Again, I wish I had more interest in these topics but I am just not there yet. Even then, it is nice to see some artifacts and detailed illustrations of the castle itself and how it looked like back in its glory days.

Since I wasn’t in the mood for history, what I appreciated the most was the topmost floor whose ornate yellow ceiling deserves its own album on your phone. Of course, you also get a 360 degree view of everything down below. Perhaps this is where you get to appreciate the serenity of Gifu vis-a-vis the hustle bustle of Nagoya. It is indeed an easy and accessible escape from the big city life if you happen to be based there and looking for some quick but easily reachable out-of-town excursion.

And so that was Gifu for me. To those who are planning to just visit the castle and the squirrel village, a day trip is more than enough to cover those two from Nagoya. I’d even say that half a day would suffice if you are just passing by en route to somewhere else.

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