Explore Central Honshu
With its old white-walled storehouses by the canal, sake breweries and temples decorated with intricate woodcarvings, charming FURUKAWA (古川) is like a compact version of Takayama, without the crowds. The sleepy riverside town comes alive during its annual spring matsuri. You can see what the festival is like at the Hida Furukawa Matsuri Kaikan (飛騨古川まつり会館), five minutes’ walk west of the station. Here you can inspect three of the nine yatai, as well as watch a three-dimensional film of the festival and a computer-controlled performance by one of the puppets decorating the yatai. Local craftsmen work here, too. The drums used in the festival are in an open hall on the square in front of the main hall. Also on the square is the Hida Craftsmens Cultural Hall, or Hida-no-Takumi Bunkakan (飛騨の匠文化館), which has displays highlighting local carpenters’ art and skills, showing how buildings are made from jointed wooden beams without the use of nails. A ¥1000 ticket covers entry to both museums.
Immediately south of the square is the Shirakabe-dozō district, where a row of traditional storehouses stands beside a narrow, gently flowing canal that is packed with carp. From here, a five-minute walk east along the canal will take you to Honkō-ji (本光寺), an attractive temple decorated with the intricate carving and carpentry for which the town is famous. From the temple, return to the town centre along Ichino-machi-dōri, where you’ll find the two-hundred-year-old candle shop Mishima (三嶋); a candlemaker gives regular demonstrations. On this street, you’ll also find Furukawa’s two sake breweries – Kaba (蒲) and Watanabe (渡辺); both will happily let you sample their products whether you buy or not.
One of the region’s liveliest annual festivals, the Furukawa Matsuri (April 19 & 20) celebrates the arrival of spring with grand parades of wonderfully decorated floats (yatai). The highlight is the Okoshi Daiko procession, which starts at 9pm on April 19 and runs until about 2am: led by over a thousand people carrying lanterns, hundreds of men, clad only in baggy white underpants and belly bands, compete to place small drums, tied to long poles, atop a portable stage that bears the huge main drum, which is all the while being solemnly thumped. The men also balance atop poles and spin around on their stomachs. Extra late-night trains and buses run on festival days between Takayama and Furukawa. The yatai and mikoshi processions happen during the day.