Hike to Gifu Castle

Today is an interesting day as I get to explore two of Japan’s most beautiful castles in the Chubu region. The first one, Gifu Castle or Gifu-jo, as it is called in Japanese, rests atop Mt. Kinka, located in the city of Gifu in Gifu Prefecture.

The castle was initially established here as a fortress by Nikaido Yukimasa under orders from the Kamakura Shogunate in 1201 CE. It was then known as Inabayama Castle. The fortress was later renovated into the polished structure we see today by Saito Dosan who became master of the castle in 1539.

In 1567 Oda Nobunaga invaded Mino and took control of Inabayama Castle from Saito Yoshitatsu, the grandson of Saito Dosan. After the conquest he moved his headquarters here from Komaki Castle and renamed the castle to Gifu-jo.

Kyoto to Gifu Castle

I was staying at the Keihan Kyoto Grande in Kyoto. After an early breakfast we caught the Hida Limited Express to Gifu. It takes about an hour and a half on the Express train. You can also catch the Shinkansen on the same line, which is about 30 minutes faster.

The Hida limited express train service operates only one service a day from Osaka to Takayama via Gifu.

It was a beautiful morning as we got down at Gifu Station. The station first opened in 1887. It was then named Kanō Station and was primarily used for transporting goods. In late 1888, it was upgraded to a passenger rail station, at which point its name was changed to Gifu Station.

Gifu JR Station contains the Gifu Tourist Information Office on the 2nd floor and a number of shops and cafes including MOS Burger and Mister Donut. Like most urban stations, Gifu Station has two exits. On the South exit there is not much to see except for a unique triangle shaped structure that doubles up as the entrance gate to the station.

On the north side of JR Gifu Station, right outside, lies a golden statue of Oda Nobunaga, standing gracefully over a high pedestal as if looking over the city. You can also find bus boarding platforms for all of the bus lines nearby. To get to Gifu Castle you need to wait for the bus that boards at Bay #12 or #13.

While waiting for your bus you might also catch a glimpse of the many green Gifu Nobunaga buses leaving the bus terminal at the station. The city has strong connections with the warlord Oda Nobunaga which I will go over briefly further down in my journal.

Gifu city existed long before Nobunaga. It was called Inokuchi back then. The city has always played an important role in Japan’s history due to its strategic location in the heart of Japan. “Control Gifu and you control Japan” was a common phrase used during the Sengoku period (1467-1568 CE).

The Sengoku Period, also known as the Warring States Period, was a turbulent and violent period of Japanese history when rival warlords or daimyo fought bitterly for control of Japan. It was in these chaotic times when Nobunaga conquered Gifu Castle, up-till then known as Inabayama Castle and changed the name of both the castle and town to Gifu.

The choice of name was an interesting one. He took the first character (岐) gi from Qishan (岐山), the legendary mountain from which most of ancient China was unified. The second character (阜) fu means “base of the mountain” and comes from Qufu (曲阜), the birthplace of Confucius. Nobunaga chose to use the newly renamed castle and its mountain (Kinkazan) as his base of operations in his mission to unify and control Japan. Oda Nobunaga is no longer around but you can find traces of him all around Gifu city.

After a bit of a wait we got on the bus to the Castle. After a short ride of 20 minutes or so, the bus dropped us off on a sidewalk near the base of Kinkazan.

From the bus stop itself you can view the castle sitting gracefully atop the Kinkazan mountain. From there we walked to Gifu park, located at the base of the mountain. Previously called Inabayama, the graceful mountain has long served as the representative symbol of Gifu.

In 2006, the park was selected as one of Japan’s Top 100 Public Historical Parks. Though Mount Kinka was strategically important for military purposes, living in the castle atop the mountain would have made daily life very difficult. As such, many important rulers built their main residences at the base of the mountain in modern-day Gifu Park.

Gifu Park is blessed with stunning nature and is the perfect place to enjoy the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves in fall. The best season for viewing autumn leaves is from mid- to late November.

This is the location of the former entrance to ODA Nobunaga’s residence.
Period artifacts such as passages and stone fences uncovered in archaeological excavations have been preserved and are displayed here.
You can see a passage made of rare giant stone construction, the remains of something like soil barriers, and fragments of foundation stones for staircase-shaped waterways.

On the east side of the park, there is a vermilion Three Storied Pagoda standing among the trees on a mountainside. It was built in 1916 in commemoration of Emperor Taisho’s accession to the throne.

Sanroku Station

In order to reach the castle, you can either take a 3-minute gondola ride on the Kinkazan Ropeway or hike your way up the mountain via one of the 4 different trails of varying steepness.

Souvenir shop inside Sanroku Ropeway Station

Kinkazan Ropeway takes you from Gifu Park to a midway stop of Mt. Kinka in 4 minutes. During the ride, you can enjoy the dynamic primeval forests covering Kinkazan, the beautiful stream of Nagara River, and the cityscape of Gifu. For a limited period in summer, the ropeway runs until nighttime for night enthusiasts.

The round trip cost us 1080 yen per person. You can also buy single ride tickets just to go up and then hike down the mountain via numerous marked trails.

Tenka Daiichinomon Gate

Centuries ago, the mountain was protected as a hunting ground for the Owari Clan, preserving the trees from being used to build the area as it grew from a small town to a large city. Today, the forest is designated as a national forest, giving protection to the over 700 types of plants and 80 types of birds that can be found on the mountain.

Gifu Castle was originally built by the Nikaidō clan between 1201 and 1204 during the Kamakura Period. Originally called Inabayama Castle, Gifu Castle has gone through a great number of repairs over the course of several generations.

Even though Gifu Castle was considered to be an impenetrable castle, it was once taken over by a mere sixteen men.

In 1601, Gifu Castle was destroyed and the castle towers and turrets were moved to Kano Castle. The castle eventually fell into disrepair and vanished from Gifu’s skyline. The castle we see today was reconstructed using ferroconcrete in 1956.

Shrine outside Gifu castle

Time clock outside Gifu Castle

Inside the castle, there are three floors with exhibits representing the castle’s past. With maps, weapons, pictures and other artifacts on display, visitors can recreate the story of Gifu Castle. On the top floor of the castle, an observation deck, visitors can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding area, including the Nagara River and Nagoya.

Exhibits inside Gifu Castle

Oda Nobunaga was a powerful samurai warlord in Japan during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States period) in the late 16th century. He is often called the first great unifier of Japan, as he conquered about a third of the country during his quest of unification before his death.

Nobunaga was born in nearby Owari domain (modern day Aichi Prefecture) and soon rose to fame due to his military conquests and victories. He is recognised as one of Japan’s greatest rulers.

Gifu City was where he realised his dream and its possibilities. It became the first stepping stone in his grand plan of unification of Japan after centuries of civil war. Nobunaga quickly established his lavish palace at the foot of Mount Kinka and a castle town flourished around the castle and mountain. A Portuguese missionary at the time describes Gifu as a “bustling Babylon” rivalling any grand city of the time in Europe.

Today, the citizens of Gifu City continue to honor Nobunaga and his contributions to the city, such as through the Gifu Nobunaga Festival – the city’s most important autumn festival held on the first full weekend of October. Parades of samurai and other historical figures, among additional events, keep his memory very much alive.

The top floor, a watchtower with a ledge running around its perimeter, is a fantastic vantage point from which to look down upon the city in a 360-degree panoramic view! From the turret you can get unhindered views of Nagara river, famous for cormorant fishing. To the east is the magnificient view of Mt. Ena and the Kiso mountains. To the north you can view the mountain range of Norikura and the Japan Alps. To the South you can view the vast expanse of the grand plains of Noubi with a view of the Kiso river serenly flowing into the Ise Bay.

At various points throughout the year, the castle is also open to night viewing, providing an awe-inspiring view of the city.

If you are a fan of samurai culture and Japanese history, then you should definitely pay this historic city a visit and trace the roots of the famous Oda Nobunaga.

Also, in the Kinkazan Squirrel Village, visitors can play with and feed squirrels while learning about the four species inside the Squirrel Village.

If you have time, don’t take the ropeway to the top. Take one of the 4 trails to the top of Kinkazan. It’s generally cool and quiet, making for a nice walk. Nearby the base of Mt. Kinkazan is also a small temple with a huge Buddha made from lacquered paper

Thanks for reading! Please consider leaving your comments or reviews. From Gifu I made my way to Inuyama Castle to catch one of the oldest original castles at sunset.

Nobunaga Festival | October
The locals love him in this city and he is regarded as a local hero and almost founding father like figure. They celebrate him every year by holding a festival called The Gifu Nobunaga Festival. It is held in October and features a samurai warrior parade down the main street of Gifu City.

Open Hours (subject to change)

March 16–May 11: 9:30am to 6:00pm
May 12–October 16: 8:30am to 6:00pm
October 17–March 15: 9:30am to 5:00pm

Night Viewing (subject to change)

April 28 – May 6: until 9:30pm
July 14 – August 31: until 10:00pm
September 1 – October 14: until 9:30pm (Sat, Sun and holidays only)
October 15 – November 30: until 6:30pm


1201 CE

Built by

Nikaido Yukimasa

Original name

Inabayama Castle

Ropeway Cost

1080 yen / round trip
620 yen / one way

After 6:00 p.m. during the panorama night view period:
Adults – 900 yen / round trip

The thrilling Tojinbo Cliffs

This day is special to me, today I can safely proclaim to be the second Indian to visit all 47 prefectures of Japan. The first Indian to explore all 47 prefectures is obviously my wife Mani san. I had been wanting to visit the cliffs since the day I witnessed the thrilling cliffs of Sandanbeki in Wakayama. My JR Pass was going to expire soon, so I made up my mind to drop in at Tojinbo today.

Tojinbo is a series of basaltic cliffs located within the Echizen-Kaga Quasi-National Park in Sakai, northern Fukui, bordering Ishikawa. Pronounced Toujinbou, the rugged, precipitous cliffs stretch for over a kilometer, and is designated as a precious natural monument.

I was a bit tired traveling more than 2000 km in the last couple of days. From Nara, it was a leisurely 40 minute ride to Kyoto. The trees on the hills along the route had started turning red with the advent of fall.

At Kyoto, I took the Thunderbird Limited Express to Fukui. Even though the Thunderbird is not a Shinkansen, the interiors are nothing less than one.

The train ride to Fukui goes along a hilly region and for most part of the journey we were traveling inside tunnels. It had started to rain strongly and I was keeping my fingers crossed hoping for a better weather at Fukui.

I reached Fukui at 1 pm. The weather here was much better. The tourist information booth had been shifted to a new place because of renovations. It took me a bit of time searching for the relocated office. Once I was there, the lady at the counter told me to catch the train to Awaraonsen Station and take a bus from there. There is another way using the Echizentetsudo-Mikuni-Awara Line to Mikuniminato Station, but it’s not a JR line. Both routes cost similar and take up almost similar time but I chose to go to Awaraonsen as it was a more preferred route.

At Awaraonsen, just outside the station is a bus ticket counter where one can purchase a round trip ticket to Tojinbo. One can save a few Yen by buying the round trip ticket that costs ‎¥1000. One way ticket to Tōjinbō costs ‎¥750 each way.

The bus for Tojinbo leaves every hour so I had to kill some time at the station. I wandered around the place but its a small town with nothing interesting around the station. There is a Seven-Eleven store inside the station premises, and that’s it.

The bus arrived at 2.40 pm. The cliffs are popular with foreigners and the bus stops are announced in English as well as Japanese.

It was about 3.30 pm by the time I reached the Tojinbo bus stop. The cliffs are at a 5 minute walk from the bus stop.

It was a breezy evening as I walked along the cobblestone path towards the cliffs. The path is lined on both sides by many omiyage (souvenir) shops and restaurants. The restaurants serve some delicious baked seafood in the restaurants. One can also enjoy the Squid Ink Ice cream, a specialty found only in the Tojinbo area.

At the end of the path, the view opens up to the wide Japan Sea. Some wooden benches are set up here so the less adventurous guests can enjoy the breathtaking scenery right from here.

My first thoughts were that it was somewhat smaller than the Sandanbeki Cliffs but more widespread. I climbed down towards one of the protruding cliffs. The rocks in Tojinbo are named from their shapes such as Sandan Rocks (three-layer rocks), Rosoku Rocks (candle rocks), Byobu Rocks (wind wall rocks), and Oike (big lake).

The rocks are easy to maneuver through. I found myself a comfortable spot at the edge of the 25-meter-tall cliff near the Oike. These magnificent andesite rocks appear like hexagonal pillars growing out of the sea.

In between a boat would come inside the lagoon called Tojinbo Oike, carrying tourists wishing to explore the magnificent rocks from the sea. Far away, I noticed the Oshima Island and the red bridge leading to the island. There is a cruise service available, which takes about 30 min to commute between Tojinbo and Oshima. Oshima is one of the biggest islands in the Echizen coast.

I spent around an hour lost in the beautiful moment from the edge of the cliff looking into the vast vividly blue-green sea. In winter one can observe a phenomenon called “Nami-no-hana,” or flowers of waves. They occur when the waves are caught in the reefs and churn into bubbles that the violent winds then fan up in to the air. I had seen those at Sendanbaki, but today the waves were at peace. Eroded by the raging waves, the sea had made inroads along the coast creating small caves.

There were so many tourists walking up and down the steep rugged cliffs, enjoying the spectacular scenery. Some were extremely adventurous, venturing to the edges. I captured this photo of a girl looking down the cliffs.

For some reason I felt something was wrong about her. She went further down towards a lonely side of the cliff and sat down at the very edge. I could tell she was crying. She sat there listening to something on her phone.

Tojinbo cliffs also have a dark side – many Japanese come here each year to end their lives by jumping off the high cliffs, throwing themselves onto the jagged rocks.

Local legend has it that Tojinbo, a Buddhist monk was pushed out off the cliff to death by his fellow monks because of misbehavior. His angry spirit didn’t leave the sea and it had always been incredibly stormy on the day of his death that falls on 5th April. Every year his spirit is soothed by the prayers of a master monk so the waves subside. It is said his ghostly spirit has been drawing many depressed souls to commit suicide from these cliffs.

I hung around beside her for about 30 min after which she, to my relief, got up and went back towards the shops area.

The sun was gradually descending by 5.30 pm. Far away a fishing boat was sailing in the glittering waters.

I went down towards the east side where a series of steps led right down to the base of the cliffs.

I felt the cold water of the Japan Sea in my hands. In monsoon the waves at Tojinbo are more dramatic. From down there, I was awed by the surreal and eerie look of the cliffs with its gigantic columnar joint of basalt.

From the base of the cliffs I took some shots of the sea with the sun gradually descending behind thick clouds.

I wanted to catch the sunset, but unfortunately my last bus back was scheduled for 6.21 pm so I had to leave before the sun actually set. The bus stop was desolate. The bus arrived on time. It was carrying a couple of passengers. On the ride back, luckily, I was able to catch a glimpse of the sunset from the bus.

I reached Awaraonsen only to find the next Thunderbird express to Kyoto was an hour away. So I caught another train and went to Fukui. I grabbed some snacks at the station and waited for the train there. In a couple of hours I was back in Nara.

Tojinbo is a beautiful place with spectacular cliffs. It’s a great place to relax and witness the sunset. I had a wonderful time hiking up the cliff. It is sad to hear about suicides though.

An evening along Bandai Bridge

It was almost 8 pm by the time we arrived in Niigata. The JR Station, operated by East Japan Railway Company lies at the centre of Niigata city. 

We had our reservations at the Hotel Lungwood. It’s right beside the JR Station. In fact one doesn’t even need to go out of the station building. There is a corridor that connects directly to the hotel.

Niigata is the largest city on the Sea of Japan coast. The city is blessed with an abundance of nature, surrounded by sea on one side and mountains on the other. On the way we had been already treated to one of the most jaw-dropping beautiful sunsets.

After dropping our luggage at the hotel, we went out for a walk towards Niigata city’s iconic Bandai Bridge (萬代橋) , a landmark that’s popular with both local residents and tourists alike. The bridge lights up at night, showing off its beautiful workmanship.

It was about 8 pm and most of the stores had closed for the night. We walked along the wide footpath following the trusted Google Maps. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the waterfront. The current Bandaibashi (as it is called in Japanese) was constructed in 1929, spanning the Shinano River in a continuous arch of reinforced concrete. In April 2004, the bridge celebrated its 75th anniversary and was designated as a national Important Cultural Property. This same year, much of the bridge was reconstructed to resemble its original model from 1886. 

The Bandai Bridge is a prime example of large-scale concrete arch bridges from the Showa Period. The current bridge contains six arches and is made of reinforced concrete with granite siding, and was strong enough not to collapse during the 1964 Niigata earthquake which destroyed large sections of the city. Today the Bandai Bridge is considered the symbol of the city of Niigata and is one of the city’s most scenic spots, especially when lit up at night. We stood there for some time enjoying the light show.

Towards the north of the bridge one can find the Furumachi and Honcho shopping districts, and towards the south, from where we came, lies the Bandai shopping district and Niigata Station.  Below the Bandai bridge there is an underpass that takes to the other side to a verge along the banks of the river.

Along the river bank many groups of people were lying down, enjoying the cool breeze flowing across the river. A few stalls of food and beer were still open. I guess this is a very happening area of the city and lots of people come down in the evening for fun.

We got us some grilled chicken from a nearby convenience store and sat on the soft carpet of green grass overlooking the silent river.

History of Bandai Bridge

The bridge lights had gone off at 9 pm but we were in no hurry to go back. The gentle breeze from the river forced us to relax for a bit more. The bridge has a long story with historical importance. The first Bandai Bridge was constructed out of wood in 1886, during the Meiji Period, and was the first bridge across the Shinano River.  Before it, people had to use boats for daily trade which was a big inconvenience. As the first bridge across the Shinano River, it encouraged trade between communities on the opposite banks. The original bridge was 782 meters long, the longest bridge in Japan at the time, and 2.5 times the current length as the river has grown significantly narrower since. After the destruction of the first two wooden versions, the third features a reinforced concrete design. 

In March 1908, a major fire destroyed more than half of the Bandai Bridge. The second Bandai Bridge was completed in December 1909, and quickly became the transportation hub of the growing city of Niigata. The new bridge was built using planks recovered from the remains of the 1908 fire as a base, and was the same size as the original design.

Due to gradual dilapidation of the second bridge, a third version was constructed in 1929 using reinforced concrete. Because of water diversion projects along the Shinano River throughout the early 20th century, the water level at the time of construction had decreased from 770 meters to 270 meters since the construction of the first bridge. Because of this, the third bridge was far shorter yet wider in order to allow for easy passage of automobiles.

On June 16, 1964, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit Niigata, causing major damage to nearly all bridges on the Shinano River. Although the base of the Bandai Bridge on both sides sunk approximately 1.2 meters, the bridge was left intact. 

In 1985, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first bridge, new lanterns were added to the bridge to decorate the night skies. A folk-dance procession is held annually as part of the annual Niigata Festival. 

It was almost 10 pm and the area wore a desolated look. The waterfront was still simmering with the lights from the buildings on the far side of the river. We gradually made our way back to the hotel. 

Please leave your comments if you enjoyed my journal or you can read about my visit to the Niigata Manga Museum.