With a more lax visa policy and the entry of Jetstar Japan into the country, Japan continues to be one of the most in-demand destinations among Filipinos—and it shows by simply counting the number of flights between the Philippines and Japan. Browsing on social media, there’s always a friend or relative who is going to or is currently in Japan.
But as it appears, Filipinos venture into the usual cities—Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka—where there are direct flights from Manila and Cebu; few go beyond these destinations. Based on my experiences alone, I know that Japan has a multitude of less frequented places, where culture, nature, and beauty thrive, and among these is Gifu Prefecture, located in Central Japan.
Despite having limited time, we were able to explore three of its must-visit highlights—its jewels—namely, Shirakawa-go, Takayama, and Gujo-Hachiman.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go lies on the Shogawa River Valley amid a mountain range that spans from Gifu to Toyama. Its main attraction is its largest village called Ogimachi, which features clusters of native farmhouses called gassho-zukuri. Some dating as old as 250 years, these farmhouses are not only majestic structures but feats in architecture as well—they can withstand harsh winters, providing their occupants with safe spaces to work and live.
We spent time meandering across the village, and we found out that most of the houses had been transformed into museums, restaurants, and small shops, making the village a tourist attraction almost entirely.
Among the gassho-zukuri we went into was that of the wealthy Wada family, which allowed us to appreciate on the house’s structure and memorabilia.
Afterwards, we were treated to an excellent traditional Japanese lunch, also inside one of the gassho-zukuri.
How to get there: At the entrance of Ozigawa is the bus terminal that serves at the transport hub for the entire Shirakawa-go. The terminal has bus trips to and from Takayama, Nagoya, Kanazawa, Toyama, and Takaoka.
Lying on the mountainous Hida region in Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is a city renowned for its beautifully preserved old town. Comparisons have often been made between the city and Kyoto, although the former is more sparse and has a more rural charm to it.
Upon arriving in Takayama, we proceeded to Takayama Jinya, which served as the city’s local government office under the Tokugawa Shogunate—back when the Hida region was a vital source of timber. We admired the museum’s tatami-laden rooms, which used to function as offices, conference rooms, and surprisingly, living spaces.
Unfortunately, the rain intensified as we went across the city’s gorgeous old town, though we were able to take a few snapshots.
How to get there: Takayama has a station on the JR Hida line, linking the city to Nagoya, Matsumoto, and Toyama. There are also buses from Tokyo and Matsumoto to Takayama.
Gujo-Hachiman is a small yet remarkable riverside town founded in the 16th century. It is known best for its pristine waterways, the Gujo Odori Festival that happens every summer, and food replica production.
The morning we were in Gujo-Hachiman, we went into a workshop that manufactured food replicas, which are displayed on restaurant windows all across Japan. We tried our hand in making a snow-ice replica, and it was a fairly easy and enjoyable task.
Afterwards, we headed for the town proper. First stop was the visitor center, which gave us an interactive preview of the dance performed during the Gujo Odori Festival.
We spent most of our time walking along the quaint town, admiring its temples, museums, and houses. Along its streets were its clean waterways—the town’s pride—which, as demonstrated to us, are a source of potable water for drinking and domestic use.
Staying in Gujo-Hachiman for a night, we were able to try out its small restaurants too—and everything they served were not only a feast for the tummy but a feast for the eyes as well.
How to get there: Gujo-Hachiman is linked to the rest of Japan via its railway station one kilometer west of the town center. Highway buses from Nagoya and other places in Gifu also stop in the town’s two bus terminals.
Jetstar Japan flies from Manila to Nagoya up to four times weekly. For “all day, every day, low fares,” book flights at jetstar.com. For promos and updates, follow Jetstar Asia on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.