Hi everyone, sorry for the long layoff! But I’ll be back in full force from here on out :)! Though I still have a lot of posts to get to you about Takayama, I’m going to go ahead and begin this string of articles on Gifu City as well, so please follow both! This thread is a tie-in to the August edition of the Gifu Crossroads Newsletter, so check that out as well if you haven’t already.
Now then, as you might assume, Gifu City is the capital of Gifu Prefecture and is its most populous city. From a historical perspective, as I have explained several times in a number of posts already, Gifu City and the Mino area (formerly the “country” of Mino) in which it is located have played a central role in Japanese history. It is particularly famous for being chosen by the warlord Oda Nobunaga as his base for setting out to unite the Japanese islands into one nation because of its strategic location at the very heart of Japan. Nobunaga, immortalized in the gold statue that you will find in the square in front of JR Gifu Station, made Mt. Kinka and Gifu Castle (whose name, “Gifu,” he also is said to have christened) his home for seven years and during that time was instrumental in centralizing power towards the end of Japan’s long Warring States period. In any case, this is just some context for the role that Gifu City has played that should clue you in to the fact that there is a lot of tradition and history here, something that is reflected in the things you can see and do in this city!
While Hida Takayama is the transportation hub of the north, Gifu City is the transportation hub of the south, so access is incredibly easy, especially since Nagoya is so close. Using JR, it will take you a mere 20 minutes to get to Gifu Station from Nagoya Station, while you can also get to Meitetsu Gifu Station from Meitetsu Nagoya Station (though that will take you slightly longer, clocking in at around 30 to 35 minutes). And it’s also a breeze to travel between Meitetsu Gifu and Central Japan International Airport, as the Meitetsu line connects the two and allows you to make your way with no transfers and no hassle! This trip takes just over an hour, and so I highly recommend making Centrair the gateway for your trip to Gifu!
After you have made your way to Gifu City, the mode of transportation will change from train to bus, and for the purposes of this article, I am going to assume that you will be arriving at JR Gifu Station (I will detail how to go about buying bus tickets at Meitetsu Gifu Station in a following article). As I mentioned in “A Trek to Takayama,” there is a Tourist Information Office on the second floor of the station, and that should be your 1-stop destination for information on bus routes, times, and more. There is a bus-specific information center (pictured below) outside the first floor of the station next to the bus loop, but I advise you to ask your questions and firm up your route at the second floor information center, as they are better prepared to deal with foreign languages! They also have foreign language pamphlets that you can take on the second floor, and when you’re finished there, you can buy some delicacies at the stalls right just a few meters away :).
I really do want to emphasize that it is important to ask questions at the information center, because unfortunately, the bus stops around Gifu City are sorely lacking when it comes to English signage. Therefore, it would be beneficial to you to ask exactly what bus you should be taking from point A to point B, from point B to point C, and what the time schedules are for each of the buses you intend to ride on. That said, luckily, most of the places that you will make your way to in Gifu City are fairly concentrated location-wise, and so you will likely get away with only having to take one bus there and one bus back. BUT, one of the destinations I will recommend here will require you to take an additional side-trip by bus, so if you take me up on that recommendation, I suggest that you plan ahead and ask for all the necessary bus specifics!
Outside the second floor of the station is the above-pictured cooling mist that is activated whenever the temperature goes above a certain threshold (I think it was 28°C), and it is…amazing. If you are here during the summer and find yourself with a little bit of time before your bus comes, please take a couple of minutes to cool off! The summer weather in Gifu can be very hot and very humid, so little breaks here and there are welcome!
In any case, back to the bus explanation, please note that there is no need to buy a ticket (in fact, you really can’t!); all you need to do is pay ¥200 as you exit the bus (note that you get on the bus via the door in the middle and get off the bus via the door in the front of the vehicle). Next to the driver, you will see the above apparatus, and all you have to do is insert two ¥100 coins into the red-labeled slot that says “Coin” and “Boarding Vouchers.” If you don’t have enough ¥100 coins, no problem! The front end of the machine will break your ¥500 coins and ¥1,000 bills into ¥100 coins for you, so just insert a ¥500 coin into the “Coin Change” slot or a bill into the “Bill Change” slot and it will spit out the equivalent amount in ¥100 coins for you. Don’t forget to put in the ¥200 after this, though! And make sure that you do have at the very least a ¥1,000 bill, since the machine will be unable to exchange anything larger.
When you come to Gifu City, you will definitely want to visit, among other places, Gifu Castle, Gifu Park, and the Gifu Great Buddha, and these are all conveniently accessed via the bus stop “Gifu Koen, Rekishi Hakubutsukan-mae.” Luckily, getting there is very simple: any bus that stops at platforms 12 or 13 will get you there, as will the buses that stop at platform 11 that are headed towards “Memorial Center, Nagaragawa Kokusai Kaigijo” (see above sign). From there, it’s also a very short walk to the Cormorant Fishing loading dock, so you don’t even have to take a bus to get there. So as I said previously, if you intend to visit only these places, then you will be fine with this route and this route alone, but if you are interested in exploring a bit more and seeing some less-traveled spots, I recommend that you plan out your bus route with aid from the experts at the information center!
As a quirky aside, here in Gifu City they recently started running a series of “Nobunaga Buses,” buses which, as you can see from above, are plastered with Nobunaga’s image and overall maintain an old-Japan theme, best embodied by the ceiling of the bus itself! Also notice the handles, which bear the seal of Nobunaga! I’ve previously mentioned how popular Nobunaga is in Japan and especially here in Gifu…I wasn’t exaggerating :P.
I leave you for now with two images. One, my first destination that I’m making my way to as I ride the Nobunaga Bus: the Gifu Great Buddha (above). I fear that many tourists overlook this spot when coming to Gifu City, and I want to make sure that you know how grave a mistake that is! Part II of “A Gallop to Gifu” will center on this fantastic Buddha image, so look forward to some fascinating stories surrounding its history and its making! Two, something I saw in the Tourist Information Center in JR Gifu Station: the statue of a cormorant with a lantern behind. These two represent two of the things that Gifu is most famous for and two things that I hope you enjoy when you visit. I will touch upon each of these in the continuating segments of this series, so I hope you stay tuned as we leave the perhaps-less-than-thrilling transportation explanations/advice and move towards introducing the actual sites, smells, and experiences to be had!!