Gifu Castle, Gifu, Japan

You can see Gifu Castle from the train as you approach this small city. It sits on the apex of Mount Kinka, and while the castle is “merely” a concrete reconstruction of what was once one of the strongest castles in the country, it has a fascinating history, and an even more mesmerising interior.

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Originally named Inabayama Castle, overlooking the city of Inokuchi, both castle and city were renamed once Oda Nobunaga took charge in 1567. This statue of Nobunaga stands at the entrance to Gifu Park, at the base of the Kinka Ropeway – a cable car service which carries passengers to and from the castle should they not wish to climb the mountain.

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The walk is fairly easy, with a well-laid and wide path, if you’re inclined toward exercise, and views of the castle reward climbers at several points. It’s a very pretty building, and even though not a jot of it is from the original, an awful lot of effort has gone into making it look authentic.

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Even the eaves are skilfully moulded, and roof tiles have been recreated with great care. But while all this is attractive, it’s not what Gifujō is really about. You see, the castle now serves as a museum. An excellent museum.

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By the Castle’s entrance is this wonderful example of a wa-dokei, or Edo-period clock. It’s also known as a daimyo-dokei, a 20th century term coined by clock collector Guro Kamiguchi to refer to clocks so elaborate and expensive that only Daimyo or the extremely wealthy could afford them.

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Inside the castle is a superb collection of Sengoku period weaponry, armour, ammunition and tools.

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I was quite taken with the mother-of-pearl inlay on the shaft of this spear.

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Due to Oda’s use of ninja in warfare, the museum has a good collection of ninja tools and weaponry, as well as samurai and daimyo equipment. Oda’s grand plans for unifying an entire country required a great deal of information, and he had no hesitation in utilising ninja to obtain it. Data gathered by ninja scouts was instrumental in Oda’s success at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560.

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If these telescopes and other goods don’t look especially Japanese, that’s because they aren’t; they were gifts from the Dutch.

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There is an observation deck surrounding the top of the castle, affording spectacular views out in all directions. The city of Gifu is sprawled out below, Mount Kinka’s roots sprouting from it as though the mountain erupted out of the buildings one morning.

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The Nagara River (Nagaragawa) runs alongside the mountain. With views such as these you can see how Gifu was considered such a powerful castle: there would be absolutely no sneaking up on it without being seen. Kinka rises from miles of flat land, which is then itself surrounded by mountains. The position is tremendously defensible.

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The volume of information which is available – in English – at the museum is tremendous. So much effort has gone into research and then translation, and Gifujō really deserves more tourists than it receives. With so many items to exhibit, the collection actually spills over into a separate museum building beside the castle, entry into which is covered by the ridiculously reasonable cost of admission to Gifujō.

Visiting Gifujō:

From either JR Gifu Station or Meitetsu Gifu Station, take bus N80, N32, N86 or the Counter-clockwise City Loop to Gifu Park / Gifu City Museum of History. The pathway to Gifu Castle or the Kinka Ropeway is a short walk.

Admission: 200円. The Mount Kinka Ropeway is 600円, or 1050円 return.

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