The Samurai Warlord Who Helped Create Gifu City
By John Asano
Oda Nobunaga was a powerful samurai warlord in Japan during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States period) in the late 16th century. He is often called the first great unifier of Japan, as he conquered about a third of the country during his quest of unification before his death.
Nobunaga was born in nearby Owari domain (modern day Aichi Prefecture) and soon rose to fame due to his military conquests and victories. He is recognised as one of Japan’s greatest rulers.
Gifu City in Gifu Prefecture in the heart of Japan and Oda Nobunaga have a strong connection. Gifu City existed long before Nobunaga, but it was called Inokuchi back then. The city has always played an important role in Japan’s history due to its strategic location in the middle or heart of Japan. “Control Gifu and you control Japan” was a common phrase used during the Sengoku period.
Samurai warlord Oda Nobunaga, from nearby Owari (Aichi Prefecture) knew this and set about taking control of the area. Nobunaga conquered Gifu Castle then known as Inabayama Castle and changed the name of both the castle and town to Gifu (岐阜).
The name is an interesting one and has a pretty cool meaning. He took the first character (岐) gi from Qishan (岐山), the legendary mountain from which most of ancient China was unified. The second character (阜) fu means “base of the mountain” and comes from Qufu (曲阜), the birthplace of Confucius. Nobunaga chose to use the newly renamed castle and its mountain (Kinkazan) as his base of operations in his mission to unify and control Japan.
Gifu City was where he realised his dream and its possibilities. It became the first stepping stone in his grand plan of unification of Japan after centuries of civil war. Nobunaga quickly established his lavish palace at the foot of Mount Kinka and a castle town flourished around the castle and mountain. A Portuguese missionary at the time describes Gifu as a “bustling Babylon” rivalling any grand city of the time in Europe.
Oda Nobunaga is no longer around but you can find traces of him all around Gifu City. The first thing you notice as you step outside from JR Gifu Station is the Golden Statue of Nobunaga in front of the station. You might also catch a glimpse of the many green Gifu Nobunaga buses leaving the bus terminal at the station.
Gifu Castle is still atop Mount Kinka but it is a modern day concrete reconstruction. The lavish palace also no longer exists but the city is carrying out extensive excavation work. You can see some of the ruins and foundations they have already found.
Near Gifu Park, check out the famous Great Buddha of Gifu one of the three Great Buddha of Japan. Nobunaga even had his own family temple in nearby Nagara called Sofukuji Temple. The temple houses artefacts and belongings from the famous man and his son.
The locals love him in this city and he is regarded as a local hero and almost founding father like figure. They celebrate him every year by holding a festival called The Gifu Nobunaga Festival. It is held in October and features a samurai warrior parade down the main street of Gifu City.
If you are a fan of samurai culture and Japanese history, then you should definitely pay this historic city a visit and trace the roots of the famous Oda Nobunaga.
Gifu City is located about 2 hours away from Tokyo via Shinkansen and JR train from Nagoya. Take a JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya, followed by a short 20 minute JR train from Nagoya to Gifu Station (Tokaido Line).
If you are interested in Nobunaga, check out the TV Drama “Nobunaga Concerto” currently showing on Fuji TV on Monday nights from 9:00 pm.