By Sandy Zimmerman
(Photos by Sandy Zimmerman)
While rivers and streams are being polluted in many other cities around the world, Gujo Hachiman is proud of their water. The unspoiled mountain springs are known as the purest in all of Japan! This spring water is controlled with a series of channeled waterways and stone or wooden basins running through the city. Some restaurants keep their live fish in the water basin in front of their door. Customers choose the fish they want. The townspeople also use the clean spring water from their sinks for drinking and washing vegetables. The guide opened the top of the basin to allow us to see inside the water container. Gujo-hachiman is called “The Town of Water” because several rivers flow through the center of the town.
During our walking tour, we had a chance to stop at a Kimono shop to see all of the beautiful styles with the Obi belts, sashes, and all of the items that are used with this traditional gown. The Japanese people still wear these long flowing Kimonos and, for summer, the Yukata. The Kimonos are printed with flowers, birds, Samurai warriors, fans, dragons, Mt. Fuji, and other designs. I have even seen them with Sumo wrestler’s pictures! The lighter weight cotton Kimonos are great souvenirs to wear at the pool or as a robe at home.
There are several interesting museums and art galleries in this city: Yudokan Art Gallery (origami), the Saito Museum (tea ceremony), Omodakaya Museum (folk crafts) and my favorite stop was their Hakurankan Museum. More than just a museum, the exhibits were interactive and we could experience the cities’ history, culture, and everything that makes them special! This museum was very sophisticated to be located in a small Japanese town. After spending time walking around the museum, we were treated to a live Gujo folk dancing performance. The Gujo dance is one of three major folk dances in Japan.
Gujo Hachiman is best known for its annual Gujo Odori, which lasts for 31 festive nights from mid-July to mid-September. This includes four nights of all-night street dancing involving thousands of yukata-clad dancers during the Obon Festival in mid-August. You can wear the kimono or casual attire. It is recommended, visitors arriving during the festival should make reservations for their accommodations early or you may have to stay in Nagoya or Gifu. The dance festival dates from the Edo Period (1603-1868), when the feudal lord Endo Yoshitaka encouraged the dances in order to bring his subjects together. There are ten traditional dances and visitors can take lessons in season at the Tourist Office. Gujo also hosts a Dai Kagura lion dance festival in the Spring and a Amazake (sweet sake) festival to mark the end of winter.
This is the “real” Japan, the Japan I came to see instead of modern buildings and skyscrapers! Visitors can experience a self guided tour “off the beaten path” for a view of their traditions and culture which have not changed since the early times. Even though it is a small town, you will see many historic buildings, a beautiful castle, and walk along 200 year old streets. What more could you want?