Tuesday, July 26, 2011

郡上八幡 - Gujo Hachiman - mountains, rivers, dances, castles, and an incredible weekend escape

I dispense with explaining why I haven't posted for a long time and spare myself and you any boring and sad excuses.


So Gujo Hachiman (郡上八幡) is in Gifu Prefecture, about an hour and a half or so by bus from Nagoya. It's a town in a mountainous valley where three rivers meet with a rich cultural history, especially known for its Gujo Odori, or dance festival. This is exactly what Ginny and I hoped to see and participate in two weeks ago.

Ginny was invited to the wedding of one of her coworkers at Peppy Kids' Club. After the Sunday morning Japanese class at the Nagoya culture center, I came on the bus to meet her when the wedding had finished. After twisting through the mountain passes, going in and out of countless tunnels, the bus dropped me off on the side of the highway. The first thing that greeted me before Ginny was the blazing sun, burning through the clearest sky I'd seen since Hawai'i. Once Ginny found me, we faced a dilemma: where to stay the night.

Although I had made a reservation at a cyclist terminal for that night, the terminal was in the next town, up the river, a distance of about 6 kilometers or so. Under the relentless fiery eye in the sky, the hike up the valley proved a real test of stamina, and tried especially Ginny's determination, as a migraine was brewing in her heated skull. We trudged along the country roads winding alongside the Yoshida River, which would have otherwise been a real joy to wander along. Nevertheless, our persistence paid off and as the afternoon was growing late, we finally caught sight of the terminal.

After a nice steamy dip in the public bath and a cool down in our room, we borrowed a couple of bicycles and began the journey back down the river into Gujo Hachiman once again. The dance would be beginning at nightfall. We had packed my jinbei (甚平), or men's summer-wear and yukata (浴衣) - women's summer-wear - to fully join in on the festivities, and I had bought some geta (下駄), Japanese wooden-clogs, that morning, a necessary accessory for the dancing, as you will see. Unfortunately, I had attempted to wear the geta all morning to break them in, and in turn the geta rewarded me with several painful blisters. Still, once we reached the center of town, the festival was just starting to pick up and the dancing began.

[Ginny finds heaven - the sign behind her reads 'poteto' - and french fry food stand]

[people begin gathering as the music starts]

[the dancing begins]

[a band of children playing]

[after a couple of dances, I got pretty hot and sweaty, so I took a break and recorded this]

[lights along the Yoshida river]

[After a few more dances, Ginny gets ready to go again]

After an exhilarating (and exhausting) evening, we hopped on our bikes again and headed back along the very dark country roads up to the cycling terminal where we were staying. Unfortunately, at one point, it was so dark we took a wrong turn and started going up a mountain road. It was pitch black and a little spooky, but we weren't exactly sure that it was the wrong way. Luckily someone stopped in their car and set us right. The rest of the ride in the moonlight and starry sky was very pleasant.

The next day, we had to walk back into town to eventually get on the bus to head home. With the sun much better shrouded behind clouds, this walk was much more pleasant than the one the day before, with lovely views of the valley, river, mountains and local community.

[in the distance, you can see the Gujo Hachiman Castle, a famous local landmark]

[the castle again]

[we would soon take a nice dip in this river, but first we had to hike up a small mountain to get a closer view of the castle]

[from the top of the castle, we were presented with extraordinary views of the town and valley]

[after a nice long dip in the river, a couple last pictures in the town before going]

We'll soon be back

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