JAPAN HERITAGE Nagaragawa: A flood of activities to entertain visitors

October 21, 2011

People say time changes everything. But this does not seem to apply to the Nagaragawa river, flowing 166 kilometers through Gifu Prefecture in central Japan.

Literally "a long and good river," it remains a natural treasure and a nearly organic part of the everyday life of the people who live along its banks. For untold generations, parents have been teaching their children how to live with the river--how to swim, how to fish and most importantly, how to play.

The river's source can be found in the Dainichigatake mountains in northwest Gifu Prefecture. The area abounds in natural resources and the river is home to numerous varieties of fish, not least of which is the ever-popular "ayu" (sweetfish).

There are many ways for visitors to enjoy the river. Check out Gujo, a lovely city nestled among mountains and rivers.

No matter where you stroll in Hachiman district of the city, you'll hear the comforting murmur of flowing water.

This is an old castle town and the meeting place of the Nagaragawa and one of its tributaries, the Yoshidagawa.

Climb to the tower of Hachiman Castle and look down--the sight of the two rivers merging is beautiful indeed. Feeling a bit more active? The town is also a starting point for adventurers who come to canoe down the Nagaragawa.

For the kids, summer is the best of all times--laughing, jumping, swimming and catching ayu in the river.

And everybody, young and old, has fun at the Gujo Odori, a dance festival held from July through September.

Not interested in boating or dancing? Well, maybe "ukai," traditional cormorant fishing, is more to your taste. Practiced in Nagaragawa since the Heian Period (794-1185), the fish-gulping birds do their thing from May 11 through Oct. 15.

When Charlie Chaplin visited Japan, he viewed the spectacle and was enchanted. You could be, too, as you watch from a boat as fishermen, known as "usho," manage their birds. After the birds pull the fish from the river, you'll have the chance to eat the catch.

Like many pristine areas, the Nagaragawa region has not been free of controversy and the inroads of man and machine. A hotly contested dam project near the mouth of the river was completed in 1995.

Despite government promises that water quality would not be affected, conservationists say the water has been degraded as predicted.

* * *

To get to Gujo-Hachiman Station from Tokyo Station, take a bullet train to Nagoya, a 100-minute ride using the Nozomi service.

From Nagoya, take JR Tokaido Honsen Line to Gifu Station, a 20-minute ride. From there take the JR Takayama Honsen Line to Mino-Ota Station, a ride of 40 minutes. Switch to the Nagaragawa Tetsudo line and travel to Gujo-Hachiman Station, which takes about 90 minutes.

For those interested in watching cormorant fishing on the Nagaragawa river, visit the Gifu City Ukai Kanransen Office, a 15-minute bus ride from Gifu Station.

Visit (gujokankou.com), (www.city.gujo.gifu.jp), (www.gifucvb.or.jp) and (kankou-gifu.jp/en/index.html).

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The Nagaragawa river in Gifu Prefecture is famed for a centuries-old style of fishing in which a fisherman maneuvers fish-gulping cormorants, a show that even impressed Charlie Chaplin. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Nagaragawa river in Gifu Prefecture is famed for a centuries-old style of fishing in which a fisherman maneuvers fish-gulping cormorants, a show that even impressed Charlie Chaplin. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • The Nagaragawa river in Gifu Prefecture is famed for a centuries-old style of fishing in which a fisherman maneuvers fish-gulping cormorants, a show that even impressed Charlie Chaplin. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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