| John Asano
The Top 5 Winter Illuminations in Gifu
Winter is here, which can mean only one thing. It’s time to enjoy the spectacular winter illuminations around Japan. Gifu is home to a number of fantastic seasonal light shows which typically run from December until early into the new year. Grab your winter coat and join us as we highlight some of the best winter illuminations on offer in Gifu.
Nobunaga Plaza at JR Gifu Station
The Nobunaga Plaza in front of JR Gifu Station in Gifu City starts to look festive from early December with a colorful light show with a cultural touch. The area is illuminated in the evening with soft lights and decorated with Gifu’s famous paper wagasa (Japanese umbrellas), and Gifu chochin (Gifu lanterns). The plaza is named after the famous samurai warlord, Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who made Gifu Castle his base of operations during his quest to unify Japan during the Warring States period (1467-1615). The centerpiece of the plaza is a statue of Nobunaga coated with 3 layers of gold leaf.
Every weekend from December 1, until February 26, 2023 Every day from December 23, until January 3, 2023 Every day from March 3, until March 12, 2023 Lights out by 10 p.m.
From Nagoya, take the JR Tokaido Line to JR Gifu Station. Head straight out of the station’s North Exit and the Nobunaga Plaza will be right in front of you.
Kiso Sansen Park in Kaizu City
Kiso Sansen Park which is located in Kaizu City is the largest urban city park in all of Japan. It straddles Aichi, Gifu and Mie prefectures with parks located at 13 different locations, including this one in Kaizu.
The park is one of the best flower parks in central Japan but is also home to a fantastic free winter illumination display in the colder months. Every winter, they put on a spectacular winter illumination featuring over 600,000 lights that brightly illuminate the park creating a wonderfully festive atmosphere.
The annual event is called The Winter Light Stories Illumination with the bright lights covering various sections of the park. For a bird’s eye view of the illuminations, ride to the top of the park’s 65-meter-tall observation tower.
November 26 until December 25, 2023 Lights on: 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Entry to the Observation Tower is ¥630 for adults and ¥300 for children.
The easiest way to get to the park is by car. From Nagoya, take the Higashimeihan Expressway to the Yatomi IC. The park is only about a 15-minute drive from the IC. You can also reach the park via a bus from Kintetsu Ishizu Station in Gifu. From Kintetsu Nagoya, take the Kintetsu Nagoya Line to Kuwana and then change to a Yoro Railway train to Ishizu Station. It takes about 70 minutes and costs ¥870. From the station, you can take a Kaizu City Community Bus to Kiso Sansen Park in about 17 minutes.
Hida Takayama is a beautifully preserved castle town deep in the northern mountains of Gifu Prefecture. The narrow streets of the old historic district are lined with wooden merchant houses dating from the Edo period (1603-1868). The area becomes a romantic paradise in winter when covered in white snow and soft winter lights. In the downtown area, the Nakabashi Bridge is wonderfully illuminated.
Just outside of town, The Hida Folk Village, also known as Hida no Sato, an open-air museum exhibiting over 30 traditional houses from the region is illuminated for a limited time during winter. The beautiful lights create a truly magical experience that should not be missed.
Hida Folk Village Illumination: Mid-January to Late-February, 2023 Open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
¥700 for adults and ¥200 for children.
From Nagoya, take the JR Hida Limited Express train to Takayama, which is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. The picturesque train ride through the mountains of Gifu takes around 140 minutes. The historic district is a short walk from JR Takayama Station.
The Hida Folk Village is a 20-30 minute walk from JR Takayama Station or a 10-minute bus ride on the Sarubobo Bus from the Takayama Bus Center.
The Santera Mairi at Hida Furukawa
The Santera Mairi (Three Temples Pilgrimage) at Hida Furukawa is a traditional winter light-up event that should not be missed during the colder months.
The Santera Mairi has a history of over 300 years and is held every year on January 15th. The highlight of the event is the hundreds of red and white candles which gently illuminate the white-walled storehouses located along the Seto Canal in the old historic district. Hundreds of snow candles and lanterns are lit across town creating a warm, romantic winter atmosphere.
Traditionally, the event was held for young men and women to meet and hopefully find love. Today, participants at the event leave a candle and make a pilgrimage to three Buddhist temples in Hida Furukawa - Enko-ji, Shinshu-ji, and Honko-ji to pray for love and romance.
January 15, 2023 *yearly Lighting of the ice sculpture candles and candles along the Seto Canal starts from 4:00 p.m.
Hida Furukawa is conveniently located just up the road from its big brother Hida Takayama. From Nagoya, take the JR Hida Limited Express train to Takayama, which is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. At Takayama change to a local train on the JR Takayama Line and get off at Hida Furukawa. The downtown area where the event is held is only a short 5-minute walk from the station.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Shirakawa-go Light Up Event
The mountain village of Shirakawa-go is home to a collection of traditional houses built in a style known as gassho-zukuri. The steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has around 100 large and small gassho-zukuri houses, with some of them over 250 years old.
The 2023 Shirakawa-go light-up event is held on selected Sunday evenings during the winter months of January and February. During the light-up event, many of the beautiful gassho-zukuri farmhouses are lit up from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
To attend the event, you must make a reservation in advance. We recommend a stay overnight at one of the historic farmhouses to fully experience and enjoy this wonderful event.
January 15, 22 & 29, 2023 February 5, 12 & 19, 2023 Lights on: 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The best way to get to Shirakawa-go is by highway bus. Gifu Bus operates multiple direct buses per day to Shirakawa-go from the Meitetsu Bus Center next to Nagoya Station. The trip takes around 3 hours and costs ¥3000-¥4000 one way depending on the day of travel. Please note that if you are traveling to the light-up event by regular bus, you will not be able to return home because the last bus departs Shirakawa-go before the start of the event.
Winter is truly a wonderful time to be in Japan with the crisp clear air, white snow, and wonderful winter illuminations. We hope you enjoyed the five spots we introduced in this article and see you out there under the bright lights.