Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

A Trip Along the Famous Nagara River

Photo: Japan Australia on Flickr

A Trip Along the Famous Nagara River

John Asano

The Nagara River has long been famous for its beautiful clean pristine waters with many historic towns built along its famous banks. We recently decided to take a trip along this beautiful river from its source in Gujo, Gifu Prefecture to its mouth in Kuwana, Mie Prefecture, where the river meets the sea.

The Nagara River is famous for being one of Japan’s “Three Clear-Flowing Rivers” as well as being named one of Japan’s “100 Famous Waters”. The river measures 166 km in length and is a popular tourist destination in Japan. You can enjoy many cool activities along the Nagara River including visiting old historic towns, eating delicious ayu (sweetfish) and watching ukai (cormorant fishing).


Photo: Japan Australia on Flickr

Join me as I highlight the main tourist attractions and connection to the Nagara River in each of the towns we visited. First stop on our journey is the picturesque riverside town of Gujo Hachiman in Gifu Prefecture.

Gujo Hachiman (Gifu Prefecture)

Gujo Hachiman is often called “The Little Kyoto” of Gifu Prefecture for its history and culture with an amazing array of temples packed into its small compact streets. The authentic small town gives you a great taste of old Japan with its traditional way of life and unique culture that has changed little over hundreds of years. The town is famous for its crystal clear waters which run through the town and are a local symbol and treasure. The waters found in the canals, fountains and waterways are still used by the locals for bathing, washing rice and vegetables. You can experience them for yourself at Sogi Spring and Igawa Lane, as well as at one of the many drinking fountains where you can taste the delicious water. Other highlights of the town include Gujo Hachiman Castle, Jionzenji Temple and the Gujo Bon Odori Dance in the summer.


Photo: Japan Autralia on Flickr

Mino (Gifu Prefecture)

A short 30 minute drive from Gujo Hachiman is Mino; a historic old town along the Nagara River famous for its Mino Washi (traditional Japanese paper) and beautifully preserved Edo period houses in the Udatsu no Agaru historic district. A great place to learn about Mino Washi is at the Mino Washi Museum, where you can not only learn about washi but try your hand at making it yourself. The locals in Mino have been making this traditional paper for over 1,300 years now and it is a great source of local pride. The paper industry thrived in Mino due to the clear water from the Nagara River and abundance of paper mulberry. Mino Washi was even registered as an Intangible Cultural Property of UNESCO in 2014.

Photo: Japan Australia on Flickr

Gifu (Gifu Prefecture)

Gifu City is located on the Nagara River which is a beloved symbol of the city along with Mount Kinka and Gifu Castle. Gifu City is only a short 30 minute drive from Mino. The Nagara River is home to many ayu (sweetfish) which are fished in a traditional manner in Gifu using cormorant birds. This traditional way of fishing called ukai, has been conducted on the Nagara River for over 1,300 years now and has been protected by samurai warlords to the Imperial family. In the old part of town called Kawaramachi near the Nagara River you can sample Nagaragawa Onsen, which is a collection of natural hot springs known for their high iron content and health benefits. A great place to test the waters out is Hotel Park, where you can enjoy a soak in the open air bath (rotenburo) and admire Mount Kinka, Gifu Castle and the Nagara River.

Photo: Japan Australia on Flickr

Mizuho (Gifu Prefecture)

Mizuho City is located close to Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture and is a short 30 minute drive from Gifu City. It is famous for its persimmons, called the “King of Fruit” in Autumn. The orange colour of the fruit represents fall in Japan along with the ginkgo trees and maple leaves. The fruit are sweet, big and tender and take pride of place in Mizuho. While in town, make sure you also check out the nearby Sunomata Castle, which is located along the banks of the Nagara River. The reconstructed castle is nicknamed “The One Night Castle” because according to legend, it was said to have been built in one night. The castle offers stunning views of the Nagara River and you can even see as far as Mount Kinka and Gifu Castle in Gifu City.


Photo: Japan Australia on Flickr

Kaizu (Gifu Prefecture)

Kaizu City is a place where three great rivers in Japan all meet. The Nagara, Kiso and Ibi Rivers all meet here in Kaizu which is zero meters above sea level and located close to the border of Aichi and Mie Prefectures, only 30 minutes’ drive from Mizuho City. Kiso Sansen Park in Kaizu is Japan’s largest urban national government park and is home to a fascinating interactive museum dedicated to the three great rivers. Here you can learn all about the history, climate and nature of the area, as well as how Hirata Yukie and his samurai transformed the area to prevent flooding. If you are feeling hungry after learning all about the rivers, stop by the local michi no eki (roadside rest area) for some local Kaizu specialities such as yomogi (Japanese mugwort). I can highly recommend the yomogi soft serve ice-cream that is delicious and refreshing.

Photo: Japan Australia on Flickr

Kuwana (Mie Prefecture)

Kuwana in Mie Prefecture is my final stop and is only a short thirty minute drive from Kaizu in Gifu Prefecture. Kuwana is where the Nagara River meets the sea by flowing into Ise Bay. It is an old town that was one of the post stations on the famous Tokaido Road that connected Kyoto with Edo (modern day Tokyo). These days Kuwana is famous not for its history but amusement parks, shopping malls and hot springs. One of my favourites is Nagashima Spa Land, which is one of the biggest amusement parks in Japan. You can also indulge in some retail therapy at Jazz Dream Nagashima located next door. Close by is the flower park, Nabana no Sato, which is a theme park dedicated to flowers located on the island of Nagashima in Kuwana. The park is famous for its seasonal flower shows and spectacular winter illuminations.


Photo: Japan Australia on Flickr

The six towns we stopped at on our journey are only 30 minutes’ drive from each other, so it is a pleasant trip. The total journey from Gujo Hachiman in Gifu Prefecture to Kuwana in Mie Prefecture is around 100 km by car. I would recommend spending at least a full day in both Gujo Hachiman and Gifu City to explore all that they have to offer. Safe Travels!