Hida-Furukawa is a quietly picturesque small town in Gifu prefecture. As in its (more popular) neighbour Takayama, many timber buildings have been preserved from the Edo period (1603–1867).
A township famous for its carpenters
Takayama was built by Nagachika, of the Kanamori clan. Hida-Furukawa is rather like a younger child because it came along later – some 400 years ago – at the hands of Nagachika’s son, Arishige. The town plan was laid out in a chequerboard pattern like the former imperial capital Kyoto.
The township of Furukawa has prospered because of its high-quality timber and the incomparable skills of the local carpenters. And it’s thanks to this traditional craftsmanship that the buildings of the historic district have been so well restored.
A narrow canal, Setogawa (瀬戸川), runs through the old town for 400 metres. On either side stand old wooden houses and warehouses with immaculate white walls (shirakabe dozo). The delightfully calm atmosphere is only disturbed by the leaping carp: over 1,000 of the fish live in the canal.
Don’t be fooled by its apparent tranquillity, as Furukawa is animated several times a year by frenzied matsuris (festivals).
Furokawa’s hadaka matsuri
Every year on 19 and 20 April the Furukawa matsuri takes place, one of the three main hadaka matsuris (festivities where the participants are very scantily dressed, hadaka = naked). On this occasion, nine sumptuous historical floats are manually dragged through the city. Each float represents a district. All the locals take part in this joyful procession, playing music and dancing.
But the star attraction appears on the night of 19 April with the Okoshidaiko. From 9.30pm until dawn, a giant drum (okoshi daiko) is carried through the streets by hundreds of men wearing only loincloths.
Seated either side of the instrument, two men beat out the rhythm. Following them, twelve groups representing different neighbourhoods compete for the most prestigious position, closest to the giant drum. These crowds of scantily dressed men enliven the town centre until late at night.
Fun Facts on Hida-Furukawa
- Legend has it that local carpenters have known how to build timber houses without using any nails since the Nara period (8th century).
- Hida-Furukawa Station features in the anime Kimi no Na wa (Your Name), about a boy in Tokyo and a girl in the Japanese countryside who suddenly and inexplicably begin to swap bodies. At the top of the platform overlooking the rails is the very spot from which a scene was shot.
Small bonus for anyone who’s read this far! If you want to enjoy the atmosphere of the station, with the train arriving and departing, take a look and listen to Sounds of Japan 💕 Tell me what you think!
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