Marvel at the Magnificent Floats: Spring Festivals of Toyama

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.2 edition (April 22, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

The Mikurumayama Festival will be held in Takaoka on May 1st. Seven floats will parade around central Takaoka; each is unique and represents a different neighborhood. The famous metalwork and lacquer work of Takaoka can be seen in the beautiful floats. This festival’s origin dates back to when Maeda Toshiie received a carriage from the daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There will be a light-up exhibition of the floats on April 30th, the night before the festival.

On May 3rd is the Etchu-Yatsuo Hikiyama Festival in the town of Yatsuo in Toyama City. With a history that dates back to 1741, this festival is symbolic of the area’s traditional Edo-period culture. Six floats adorned with dolls, ornaments, and carvings are pulled around the hilly town. At night, the floats will be decorated with lit lanterns, and the festivities include a lion dance.

The Johana Hikiyama Festival has a 300-year history, and will be held on May 4th and 5th. Six dazzling floats will make their way around town, making distinctive creaking sounds.

Both the Mikurumayama Festival and the Johana Hikiyama Festival are designated Important Folk Cultural Properties of Japan.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now


See the Bright Colors of Spring: Tonami Tulip Fair

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.2 edition (April 22, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

A million tulips of 500 varieties will be exhibited at the 60th Anniversary Tonami Tulip Fair, which begins today and runs through May 5th. The theme this year is “Bridging the Future with Tulips.” The main grounds will be Tonami Tulip Park, but there will be several off-site attractions as well.

From April 22nd to the 30th, there will be buses available from Tonami Tulip Park to the tulip farms. Toyama is the largest tulip producer in Japan, and the farms stretch for 7 hectares (17 acres).

Tonami Tulip Fair will also feature a Dutch-style garden modeled after the Keukenhof Garden in Lisse, Netherland, in acknowledgment of the sister city relationship between Tonami and Lisse.

The asteroid probe capsule “Hayabusa” will be exhibited at the Tonami Art Museum through April 25th. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is also lending a variety of other equipment such as parachutes and heat shields that have actually been in space, along with models and photographs.

The Tonami Tulip Gallery, now celebrating its 15th year, will have special tulip collections. The new varieties of black tulips and the “International Exchange through Tulips” exhibition with tulips from around the world look particularly interesting.

For a more hands-on experience, visitors can try their hand at tulip arts and crafts, such as making flower baskets, handkerchiefs, pressed flowers, and gel candles. For those with a sweet tooth, there will even be tulip sweets such as cakes with tulip petal jam and tulip soft serve.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

Experience Panama Canal Style Locks on a Sightseeing Boat: Fugan Suijo Line

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.2 edition (April 22, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

The Fugan Suijo Line has begun regular service for this year, and will continue through November. These sightseeing boats travel roughly 7 kilometers (4 1/4 mi.) from Fugan Canal Kansui Park to the bayside Iwase neighborhood, going through Nakajima Locks along the way. First opened in 2009, “Sora” is the first solar-powered passenger ship in Japan, and “Momiji” is also an environmentally-friendly electric boat. They carried 12,490 passengers total in 79 days of operation last year.

Nakajima Locks, about 20 minutes from Fugan Canal Park, uses the same system as that of the Panama Canal. It was built in 1934, and was designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan in 1998. Passengers have a 10-minute break at Nakajima Locks, where visitors are encouraged to explore the control room of this historical facility.

Back on the boat, passengers can have the unique experience of being in the locks, as the water is lowered in what might be called a “water elevator.” One of the routes continues to Iwase, though there is also the option of choosing the route that goes back up the “water elevator,” returning to Fugan Canal Park.

Generally only operating weekends and holidays, the Fugan Suijo Line is also available during the week for special events. It was a popular method of cherry blossom-viewing, and will also be open all week for the upcoming Golden Week.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

Firefly Squid Season Kicks Off

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.1 edition (April 8, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

For Toyama, one sign of spring is the start of hotaruika (firefly squid) season. From April 9th to May 5th, sightseeing boats in the City of Namerikawa will take customers out to Toyama Bay for the opportunity to see the glow of firefly squid up close.

Firefly squid are a small species of squid that are only 4 to 6 cm (about 2 in.) long, and have over a thousand bioluminescent organs on their bodies that emit a magical blue-white light. Although they can be caught in other places, Toyama Bay is the only place where large numbers of firefly squid gather near the shore. Roughly 15 km (over 9 mi.) of this coast is designated by Japan as a Special Natural Monument.

The sightseeing boat leaves at 3:00am, and visitors are able to watch firefly squid being caught. When the squid come in contact with the nets, the stimulation causes them to emit light, creating a mysterious glow that spreads over the surface of the sea. On the way back, visitors can even see the beautiful sunrise over the Tateyama Mountain Range.

Another way to see the firefly squid is at the Firefly Squid Museum, which offers a firefly “show” that runs through late May. In their special water tank, a net is pulled to reveal living, shining firefly squid. There is also a spring where sea water from 333 meters (1000 feet) deep is pumped up, and visitors can directly touch firefly squid and other sea creatures.

Firefly squid are truly unique creatures and are not to be missed on a spring visit to Toyama.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now