Gifu Castle: Inside Japan’s Majestic Mountainside Castle

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By Cher

Gifu Castle Strategic Location

Gifu Castle is located in the heart of the city of Gifu, atop Mount Kinka in Gifu Park. The castle overlooks the Nagara River and once overlooked the Kiso River as well. Prior to a major flood in 1586, the Kiso River flowed just north of the castle. This gave Gifu Castle defense from two major rivers. Gifu Castle also stood along a major road connecting Kyoto to eastern Japan during the Edo period. This strategic location enabled Gifu Castle to control transportation and commerce through the area.

The Origins of Gifu Castle

Gifu Castle was first built as a mountaintop fortress in 1201 during the Kamakura period. It was originally called Inabayama Castle. The area around the castle was called Inokuchi.

In 1567, the famous warlord Oda Nobunaga captured Inabayama Castle for his base of operations. Oda renamed Inabayama Castle to Gifu Castle. He also renamed the surrounding town Gifu. Under Oda’s rule, Gifu Castle town became a thriving economic and cultural hub. Oda renovated and expanded Gifu Castle as his wealth and power grew.

Gifu Castle under Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga completely transformed Gifu Castle during his tenure. He renovated the existing medieval structures and built new grand buildings befitting his stature. The expanded castle included a five-story keep, multiple baileys with turrets and gates, and extensive stone walls. Nobunaga built an impressive castle town at the base of Mount Kinka to support Gifu Castle. The bustling town included a lively marketplace and accommodations for samurai, merchants, and craftsmen.

As Oda Nobunaga expanded his rule during the Sengoku period, Gifu Castle became the center of political and military activity. Nobunaga implemented new economic policies from Gifu Castle that helped unify trade and enabled his rise to national power. He also built strong stone fortifications at Gifu Castle to withstand sieges. Gifu Castle was said to be impenetrable during Nobunaga’s reign.

The Fall of the Oda Clan

After Nobunaga’s death in 1582, his successors lost control of Gifu Castle. Nobunaga’s grandson Oda Hidenobu briefly ruled Gifu Castle until the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. The Oda clan aligned with the losing Western Army in this major battle, leading to over 250 years of Tokugawa shogunate rule. Gifu Castle was abandoned and left in ruins after the defeat.

Gifu Castle

Rebuilding Gifu Castle

For centuries after the fall of the Oda clan, Gifu Castle remained abandoned on Mount Kinka. Its ruins became covered in vegetation. In the late 1800s, Gifu citizens started movements to rebuild parts of Gifu Castle. Major restoration efforts began in the 1950s using modern construction methods.

The current Gifu Castle structure was rebuilt using reinforced concrete and finished in 1956. It replicated the original Gifu Castle design from Nobunaga’s time. Gifu Castle once again became an iconic symbol of the city.

Visiting Gifu Castle Today

Today visitors can explore Gifu Castle’s interior and grounds. The castlebuilding contains a museum and observation areas. Gifu Castle Archives Museum on the lower floors covers the history of the castle and the Oda clan. Visitors can see armor, weapons, art, and artifacts from the Sengoku period.

On the top floor observation deck, visitors get a panoramic 360-degree view over Gifu City. The vantage point offers views of the Nagara River, downtown Gifu, and on clear days as far as Ise Bay. Visitors can also take in scenic views from the castle’s viewing points and pathways along the stone walls.

The castle is dramatically lit up every night until 11 pm. The illuminations give the castle a different character and are popular with locals and tourists. In summer, the castle stays open in the evenings for a limited time. The extended hours allow visitors to see Gifu Castle under the night sky.

Accessing Gifu Castle

Gifu Castle sits at the peak of Mount Kinka within Gifu Park. Visitors have several options for reaching the castle.

The easiest option is taking the Mt. Kinka Ropeway cable car from the base of the mountain directly to the castle entrance. The ropeway runs every 20 minutes and the journey takes just 4 minutes.

For those wanting to walk, there are hiking trails leading up Mount Kinka to Gifu Castle. The hike takes about 20-30 minutes from the base of the mountain. Visitors can combine hiking with the ropeway by taking trails between the different ropeway stations.

Gifu Castle is also accessible by bus from JR Gifu Station or Meitetsu Gifu Station. Buses run regularly to the ropeway station or Gifu Park near the castle.

Gifu Park

Gifu Park surrounds Gifu Castle on Mount Kinka. The spacious park totals over 1,300,000 square meters. In spring, Gifu Park has beautiful blooming cherry blossoms. Visitors can stroll under the pink cherry tree tunnels leading up to the castle.

The fall foliage at Gifu Park is equally impressive. Maple trees turn vibrant shades of red and gold in November. The colors contrast beautifully with the stone walls of Gifu Castle.

Other Attractions Nearby

The area around Gifu Castle contains other historical attractions. At the base of Mount Kinka, visitors can explore the Gifu Castle Town Historical Area. Recreated buildings give a taste of the former castle town. Other nearby museums cover subjects like swords, folkcrafts, and local history.

Just a few train stops from Gifu is Inuyama Castle, also connected to Oda Nobunaga. Inuyama Castle remains an original structure from 1537 and is one of Japan’s oldest castles. The castles can easily be visited together in one day.

The Nagara River near Gifu Castle offers cruises and riverside activities. Cormorant fishing takes place on summer nights, recreating the traditional fire-fishing technique. The area also has hot springs for relaxing after sightseeing.

Significance as a Symbol

Over 800 years after its initial construction, Gifu Castle remains an important symbol. The castle represents the city of Gifu and its long history. It is a proud local landmark that connects the present city back to its past glory under Nobunaga.

Gifu Castle draws in tourists from across Japan and internationally. Both the exterior beauty and interior artifacts make Gifu Castle a fascinating site to visit. Exploring Gifu Castle and its surroundings provides a deeper understanding of medieval Japan and the Sengoku era.

For people visiting Gifu today, Gifu Castle is an iconic sight that often features in holiday photos and travels memories. Even for Gifu residents, the majestic castle brings local pride and connects back to the region’s history and heritage. More than just a tourist attraction, Gifu Castle is the historic heart of the city.

After exploring the white-walled Gifu Castle, continue your Japanese castle tour at the mountaintop Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, renowned for its strategic hilltop location and historic stone walls

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