When booking a trip to Japan, most Vietnamese tourists would be excited with the sakura blossoms during spring, but the country’s winter has its own unique charm that one can discover by visiting Gifu between December and March.
Gifu is a mountainous province with fresh air and amazing landscape around two hours by train from Tokyo.
By preserving many Japanese cultural aspects, traditional festivals and crafts, the ancient villages in Gifu will bring you back to a Japan of past centuries.
The slow life of Takayama
Takayama ancient town
Takayama in the heart of Gifu stands atop a mountainous area and is quite isolated from the rest of Japan. That maybe the reason why you will feel life is slower there, especially when snow creates a magnificent picture by covering hills and rivers in white.
You will enjoy the unhurried life when walking around the clean historic streets, along wooden houses which were built around 300 years ago and have been well preserved. There are drains on both sides of the roads that bring water from the mountaintop.
There are also traditional sake factories, which you can tell by a sakabayashi -- beautiful balls made from needle-like leaves of Japanese cedar tree -- in front of each door and the alluring test-drink booths.
Drinking sake with grilled beef can be an unforgettable experience in Takayama. The town also has a special amulet called Sarubobo, a human-shaped dolls made in a variety of sizes and believed as a charm for good marriage and good children.
Shirakawa-go – the village of snow
A Takayama tour would be incomplete without a visit to Shirakawa-go, which stands in a valley around half an hour by car from Takayama center.
The village is connected to the outside world with a bridge of more than 100 meters. The community of wooden houses with steep thatch roofs near a mirror-like lake was recognized a UNESCO heritage in 1995.
During the winter, especially in January and February, all houses in the village will turn on all their lights on weekend nights, making the village sparkle like a fairytale masterpiece.
Visitors to the village will be amazed by how locals maintain their daily life through the winter, cleaning snow from the roads and their roofs and keeping on their trading activities in their normal idle speed.
The food toy industry
Japanese foods are beautiful as a piece of art.
Japanese foods are known worldwide not only because they are tasty but also for how beautiful they look. They are so cute there is even a thriving industry for making Japanese food toys, dated to the 1920s. You will have a chance to explore the art in Gifu.
Any restaurants in Japan lay out plastic, wax or silicon versions of their foods, which look just as real, to help customers make choices more easily than browsing the menu.
Several tours to Gifu allow tourists to try making several simple food samples.
Visitors to Gifu during winter can warm up with an Onsen (hot springs) bath, which feels best after a day walking through snowy roads.
There are male, female sections and one where men and women can share the same area. Tourists will be instructed through several regulations of the bath before enjoying it.
Other attractions in Gifu are Kinka mountain, Gifu castle, Seki and Nagaragawa museums, and its people.
One lovely thing about Gifu people is they really respect their nature and culture and they are highly aware of their responsibility of protecting those. Thanks to that, tourists would see very little of modern life around the province.
People in Gifu are also very nice to visitors. They give a warm smile and humble bow to any strangers. Some have said that each person in Gifu is a tourism ambassador.