It is a town of low, dark, wood-and-plaster buildings, paved lanes, and running water. The windows of the buildings are narrow and slatted. The lanes, too, are narrow, steeply walled, and end in dimly lanterned eating places or in small stone bridges that arch over splashing streams. It was like an Edo-era stage set.
Alan Booth Looking for the Lost, 1995
The tourist office sells a ¥1500 ticket providing access to nine places of interest around town. The best of these is the Hakurankan (博覧館), on the northern side of the Yoshida River, a ten-minute stroll from the tourist office. This excellent museum has four sections detailing the town’s history, arts and crafts, connection with water, and folk dance.
A good fifteen-minute climb from the Hakurankan, past several attractive temples, is Gujō-Hachiman-jō (郡上八幡城). This photogenic replica of the old castle was rebuilt in 1934 on the stone foundations of the less elaborate original structure. From its ramparts you’ll see that the town resembles the shape of a fish, the elegant concrete span of the motorway accenting the tail. South of the Yoshida-gawa, a ten-minute walk from the tourist office, is Jionzen-ji (慈恩禅寺), a sixteenth-century temple with a lovely attached garden Tetsusō-en, which looks particularly spectacular in autumn.
Rafting trips are available year-round downriver at Minami with Outdoor Support Systems. In summer, you might be tempted to take a swim in the sparkling river. Anglers with long poles and tall straw hats can be seen along both of the town’s rivers trying their luck for the ayu (sweetfish) and trout for which the region is famous. Also seek out the town’s natural spring, dubbed the Fountain of Youth, or Sōgi-sui (宗祇水) – it’s located down the stone pathway that leads to a pretty bridge over the Kodara-gawa, about five minutes’ walk northwest of the tourist office.Read More
Bon Odori festivals are common across Japan, but nowhere is the dance so firmly rooted in the life of the community as at Gujō Hachiman, where the Gujō Odori has been going since the 1590s. Nearly every night from mid-July to early September, from about 8pm to 10.30pm in a different part of town (the tourist information centre can tell you exactly when and where), the locals don their yukata and geta and dance in the streets.
People dance in circles around a tall wood-and-bamboo structure from which a singer, drummers, flute player and a chorus call the tune. There are ten kinds of dances and the singer will call their name out before each one commences. Watch the hand and feet movements of those in the inner circle, as these are the people who learned these steps as children – then follow along!
During the O-bon holiday in mid-August, dancing goes on all night and thousands crowd the town to take part. Don’t worry if you can’t find a bed, since there’s always a place for revellers to rest during the night-long festivities – again check with the tourist office.