Last week, on Thursday and Friday, TUJ sponsored a trip to Gifu, a mountainous area in central Japan. We had many stops, even to an onsen, and it was well worth going.
Here is our first stop: Matsumoto Castle. This is considered a cultural and historic landmark in Japan, and was breathtaking in person.
We arrived at Matsumoto Castle first on our trip. Even though it started to rain, TUJ student Dina Pakstis couldn’t help but enjoy how beautiful the castle was.
Temple Japan student Carlos Casademont realizes just how big the castle is. And this was just the gate!
Temple Japan students Megan Smith, Dan Foster, Carlos Casademont, and Dina Pakstis all pose with a samurai and the mascot of Matsumoto.
We were greeted right outside of the gates by a staff member dressed as a samurai. It looked quite heavy, but none the less amazing!
With many of the places on this tour, we discovered that you always have to take off your shoes (as would you normally in any home). Thankfully, they provided slippers if you didn’t like to walk in your socks.
The view of Matsumoto from one of the higher floors of the castle. Our trip also included entry to the Matsumoto Museum, which houses many artifacts found in the castle.
TUJ student Rachel Schifman admires some of the artifacts that were found in the castle.
Megan Smith, Carlos Casademont, Rachel Schifman, Dina Pakstis and even myself were able to make it all the way to the top of the castle, even though the stairs were incredibly steep!
A statue in Matsumoto featuring multiple toads. In Japan, many toads are considered a sign of good luck.
Our next stop after Matsumoto was drastically different. It had managed to drop about 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit in that time, and there was lots and lots of snow! This shot was taken in the Otaki Limestone caves. They were very wet!
Make sure to wear waterproof shoes when going through here. The cold, rain, and overall dampness of the cave made most of the students really look forward to the onsen that evening.
Outside of the cave, it was clear that there was a lot of water around this cave. These icicles were huge!
TUJ student Dina Pakstis was chipper as always, even though it was absolutely freezing outside. “Those icicles are awesome!”
These statues greeted us on our way down from the caves to our starting point. There were at least 15 of them, and their size is deceiving; they were close to two feet tall!
Our last stop that evening was the onsen in Gifu. It was such a joy to be in a place that was so warm, heated floors, and of course, smelled like sulfur. No, it’s not someone’s sandwich or any smells from the bus, but quite literally the onsens smell like sulfur. I had never known this, so I honestly thought that it may have been my lunch.
The onsen here was divided into a men and women’s area, each of which had many baths to choose from. It was so great that they were open all night, so you could go whenever you liked!
The onsen provided everyone in their room with yukatas to wear to and from the onsen. They were incredibly comfy and kept you warm.
The onsen actually had two restaurants, one of which the TUJ group ate at. We were given a traditional Japanese meal each day, which had some amazingly tasty entrees.
Unfortunately, we had to depart the onsen the next day. Here is the entire TUJ group, all refreshed from a nice soak in the onsens.
Our next two stops were to towns in the Gifu and Hida areas. This town was very small, and had many historical buildings in it. The scenery, however, was truly amazing. You could see snow-capped mountains all around.
While the group was in one of the towns, a group of men were fixing one of the hay and grass roofs of the homes. This type of roof was used quite often historically, and is amazing that they still use it today.
Kay James, a Temple Japan student, poses next to some painted figures outside of the shops. One of the faces is actually made up completely of kana characters!
Tiny bits of spring were coming into the little town, despite the snow. The streams were flowing at full speed, indicating that the snow would soon be melting.
Kay James, a TUJ student, admires a giant ice home. “It’s still cold!” (I couldn’t tell if she was talking about her ice cream, or the ice home…)
Our last stop was another town, in which we were given a tour of one of the historical government houses, in ENGLISH. Here was the gate to the building.
The TUJ group listens to one of the staff members discuss the history of the government building.
Here was one of the larger rooms in the government building. We learned that the tatami mats had different meanings. The nicer mats were made for the rooms of the higher positioned ranks, while the weaker mats were made for servants areas.
Kay James, Dina Pakstis, and Megan Smith walk around the halls of the government building.
TUJ student Nick Watanabe stops to get a perfect shot of the government building.
This garden featured the symbol of the family here, which consisted of a wave pattern in semi-circles. During the tour, this pattern was seen many times around the building.
Overall, the trip was fantastic. Once you go in the onsen, you will never want to get out. I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone who wants to experience more of Japan, but on a budget and with friends!