Visiting Gifu Castle

During last autumn’s research trip to Japan, I spent the night in Gifu (city and province), which lies northeast of Kyoto and near the southernmost end of the Japan Alps.


(The characters on the post read “Gifu”)

I arrived at Gifu Station in the afternoon, with just enough time to visit the castle before it closed at sunset. I’d been looking forward to the trip, because during the later part of the 16th century, Gifu–and Gifu Castle in particular–was the mountain stronghold of Oda Nobunaga, a Japanese Daimyo (feudal lord) who also appears as a character in my Hiro Hattori / Shinobi Mystery novels.

The castle sits on a hill overlooking Gifu Park, a 15 minute bus ride from Gifu Station:

Gifu Castle The castle is that tiny white building on the crest of the hill, near center frame.

Although you can hike up to the castle, I didn’t arrive in time to make the hike, so I opted to ride the ropeway (a car suspended from an overhead cable). Like many ropeways in Japan, the one in Gifu has lovely tickets:

 Kinkazan Ropeway Ticket

They even have a walking map of the castle area on the back:

Walking Course at Gifu Castle

The ropeway ride takes about five minutes. From the top, it’s another 15 minute walk to the castle — most of it uphill, and most of that up flights of stairs. The path to the castle follows the old approach that switchbacks up the hill, an easily defensible path that Oda Nobunaga no doubt used to great advantage.

Path to Gifu Castle (1)

The castle itself comes into view a couple of minutes after you leave the ropeway:

Gifu Castle (2)

Though it’s clear from that first glimpse how far you still need to walk to get inside!

Signs along the way describe the history of Gifu Castle and the feudal lords who controlled it. They’re written in English as well as Japanese, making Gifu Castle an interesting site for Western tourists. (Many Japanese historical sites have signage in Japanese only, so unless you read the language, you need to do your research before you go.)

There’s also a lovely reproduction of a painting showing Gifu Castle in its heyday, during the 16th century:

Painting of Gifu Castle

While walking, visitors can enjoy lovely views of Gifu City, spread out below the castle hill:

Gifu From Ropeway

And, of course, the castle itself, which remains in sight for most of the walk.

Gifu Castle (4)

Like many Japanese historical sites, admission to the castle is very reasonably priced (300 yen, about $3, which also includes admission to the secondary castle museum nearby). Inside the castle, visitors can view a number of exhibits, including swords, armor, and even early firearms (some from the 16th century, and others which are reproductions of period arms and armor). You can also walk out onto the balcony that encircles the upper level of the castle, which has spectacular views of Gifu:

View South from Gifu Castle (1)

I left the castle just in time to catch the sunset from the ropeway as I descended. 

Historically, Gifu is an important province, in part because it served as Oda Nobunaga’s base of operations during the later half of the 16th century. I was glad I took the time to visit – and I’ll share more photos from inside the castle in future posts.

Have you ever visited Gifu? Or any Japanese Castle?