History and Tradition


Originally written for the Vol.7-No.2 edition (October 18, 2013) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Trail running, with its way of allowing runners to sense the dirt and fallen leaves beneath their feet and to challenge themselves on hills, has recently been gaining popularity in Japan.

On October 19 and 20, the Gokayama Doshumichi Trail Running Tour will be held on the historical trail between the temples of Gyotokuji in Gokayama and Zuisenji in Inami, all within Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture. The course is about 30km and runs through mountains roughly 1,000m (3,280 ft.) tall. The event is a preview of the Gokayama Doshumichi Trail Race (tentative name) that will be held in October 2014 as part of the celebration events commemorating the 10th anniversary of Nanto City’s incorporation.

Doshumichi is an old path that is said to have been used for many years by Akao Doshu (1462 – 1516), the founder of Gyotokuji Temple and a disciple of Rennyo, in order to study at Zuisenji Temple. The trail passes through many mountain ridges.

A local group called “Doshumichi-no-kai” researched this road and began maintaining the trail about five years ago, clearing the overgrown path and installing approximately sixty signposts. The Trail Running Tour begins at Gyotokuji, enters the trailhead by the World Heritage Village of Suganuma in Gokayama, runs along mountain ridges, and then arrives in Inami, an area known for its tradition in woodcarving. Along this “backbone of Nanto City” there is a marker for the geographical center of the city. The trail also passes through beautiful beech forests, and if they are lucky, runners will be able to enjoy autumn colors.

On October 19, event participants can participate in a one-hour hike in Gokayama, a lesson on Doshumichi and trail running, and a dinner party. On October 20, runners divide into groups led by guides and run the Doshumichi. Next year’s main event will be a timed race, but this year’s run is not timed.

Visitors also have a variety of sightseeing opportunities. The main gate of Gyotokuji Temple has an unusual thatched roof. The adjacent Doshu Itoku Kan houses treasured items associated with Rennyo and Doshu. Next to Gyotokuji is the Iwase family residence, a 300-year-old house that is the largest gassho-style house in Gokayama and nationally recognized as an Important Cultural Property. Suganuma itself is a very small riverside village of only nine houses, but has two museums and opportunities to taste life in traditional Japan.

Visit the official Gokayama Doshumichi Trail Running Tour website (Japanese only):

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now


Originally written for the Vol.6-No.2 edition (June 1, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

“Nunobashi Kanjoe,” a ceremony performed in Tateyama, Toyama, has been registered in the 3rd “Heritage for the Future” list by the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan, the first in Toyama Prefecture.

Nunobashi Kanjoe began in the Edo Period, when women were not allowed into the sacred mountain of Tateyama. Nuno-bashi (Nuno Bridge) symbolized the boundary between this life and the afterlife. The women wore white robes and crossed the bridge blindfolded. After reciting prayers, they crossed back over the bridge. This ceremony was believed to be a path for salvation.

The practice was discontinued in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912) due to the anti-Buddhism movement, but was recreated 136 years later, in 1996 at the National Cultural Festival. Thereafter, the ceremony was also performed in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2011.

This past September, roughly three thousand spectators watched seventy participants from all over the country — mainly in their fifties and sixties – walked across the white cloth spread over the red bridge, accompanied by gagaku (traditional Japanese court music). At a joint event, the women’s group at Ashikura Temple provided local specialty foods such as rice cake and a stew of carrots, taro, and fried tofu.

The “Heritage for the Future” program was started in 2009 to impart cultural and natural heritage for future generations, and ten projects are selected each year. Last year, there were 33 applications from 22 prefectures. Nunobashi Kanjoe was praised for its originality, and the way the entire region has worked together to pass on traditions.

The next ceremony is scheduled for 2014.

The Tateyama Museum is open all-year (except New Year’s holidays), and visitors can learn about Tateyama’s traditional religions, history, and nature. The main exhibit areas introduce the nature and religions of Tateyama, and feature a mandala, dioramas, and films. Then, visitors can experience “heaven” and “hell” in the themed areas.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.8 edition (November 25, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

The haichiyaku system of medicine delivery has a history of over 300 years in Toyama. Beginning this coming January, it will be officially established as a project of the Ministry of Health of Mongolia. The program first began when the non-profit group Vansemberuu-Mongolia, supported by the philanthropic organization the Nippon Foundation, started the “Promotion of Traditional Medicine in Mongolia” project in 2004. Since then, medicine kits have been delivered to twenty thousand households (approximately 100,000 people).

Toyama’s haichiyaku system of selling medicine has a unique “Use first, pay later” feature. In this method, a full medicine kit is left in the home, and then on the medicine peddler’s next visit, they would collect payment only for the medicine that was used, and replenish the box. When the Mongolian government consulted with the Nippon Foundation in 2004 on how to improve their public health system, they turned their attention toward the haichiyaku system. After discussions with pharmaceutical businesses in Toyama and the Toyama-Mongolia Friendship Association, the haichiyaku system was put into effect in Mongolia. Twelve types of traditional Mongolian medicine such as digestive medicines and fever medicines, a medical thermometer, bandages, cotton pads, and adhesive bandages are included in each of the medicine kits. Each box is valued at approximately 10USD. Doctors and nurses deliver these to area households, and later collect payment and replenish supplies. Upon these visits, people also have the opportunity to discuss their medicine or health.

Handbooks with explanations of medicine and instructions on preventive medicine are also available, and the use of first aid and preventive medicine is spreading. The medicine kits are proving to be effective in improving and maintaining the health of Mongolians; districts report up to a 45.2 percent decrease in doctor requests from nomadic households. The Mongolian government noted the success of the program and decided to take control of it as an official government program. This will mark the first time an international cooperation project of the Nippon Foundation will be transferred into a state program. The Mongolian government plans to make deliveries to sixty thousand families within fourteen years, and aims to eventually reach all nomadic citizens (about 170,000 families).

Every year since 2006, Mongolian doctors have been visiting Toyama to study the haichiyaku system. This October, a group of fifteen Mongolians – including doctors who will be delivering medicine kits to nomadic families – visited Toyama. After training at the prefectural government, they visited clients with staff from the Mizuhashi Household Medicine Cooperative, and were able to observe how medicine delivery and payment collection is done. The Mongolian trainees also visited the University of Toyama’s Institute of Natural Medicine, Toyama Health Park, and pharmaceutical companies.

With the success of the haichiyaku system in Mongolia, other countries – Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos – have started or are planning to start implementing similar programs as well.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.6 edition (August 2, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

The Takaoka City Historical Preservation Plan has earned recognition from the Japanese government as a Historical City under the Historical Town Creation Act (Rekishi Machizukuri-hou). It is the first in Toyama Prefecture, and second in the Hokuriku Region. (The first was Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture, in January 2009.) There are now a total of 26 cities and towns with this “Historical City” designation. Combined with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) scheduled for 2014, an increase in tourism is anticipated.

The Historical Town Creation Act, signed in November 2008, gives recognition to the historical preservation plans of the cities, towns, and villages, and supports projects that nurture local history and traditional culture.

Takaoka City, located in the northwest of Toyama Prefecture, is the prefecture’s second-largest city after Toyama City. During the Nara Period (710-794), Takaoka became the capital of Etchu Province, and the famous Man’yoshu poet Otomo no Yakamochi was once the governor. In 1609, Maeda Toshinaga, the second head of the Kaga Domain, built Takaoka Castle and developed the surrounding area. Soon after, Maeda Toshitsune further stimulated the area’s industry. Combined with the efforts of the townspeople, Takaoka grew to be a commercially successful city.

In present-day Takaoka, folk arts such as Takaoka copperware and lacquer ware have been passed down, and festivals such as the Takaoka Mikurumayama Festival and the Fushiki Hikiyama Festival continue to be celebrated. In addition, Takaoka retains historical architecture such as the National Treasure temple of Zuiryu-ji, and in the traditional Yamamachi-suji and Kanaya-machi districts.

With the financial support of the national government, Takaoka will be working on a total of 28 projects over the next ten years to preserve and improve the city’s historical legacy. The wide variety of projects include: maintenance repair work on Zuiryu-ji roofs, reconstruction of the observation tower at the Fushiki Weather Station Museum, building a road from the new shinkansen (bullet train) station (2014 expected completion) to Zuiryu-ji, construction of a Mikurumayama (festival float) Museum, and a survey of historical landmarks related to the Maeda clan.

Takaoka City hopes that residents will have more love and pride for the history of their hometown, and create a city that can better communicate to visitors about its history, traditions, and culture.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

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

From August 18th through the 30th, the Wooden Sculpture Camp will be held at Zuisen-ji (Temple) in the Inami area of Nanto City. The theme is “Connecting the World through Wood Carving,” and this event has been held once every four years since 1991. However, this year’s sixth camp will be the first to occur at Zuisen-ji, the origin of the famed Inami wood carvings.

Participants this year include ten overseas woodcarvers, each from a different country from all over the world such as Hungary, Bulgaria, and Chile. There will also be three woodcarvers from within Toyama Prefecture, and two more from within Japan. Observation of the process from raw source wood to sculpture completion will be open to the public, and through the thirteen days of the camp, both the public and the artists will have an opportunity to deepen international understanding by learning about other countries’ peoples, traditions, and cultures. A unique feature of this program is that it is not a contest in a competitive format, but is truly a “camp” where the main goal is for invited artists as well as observers to be able to interact with different cultures.

The log that will be used is camphorwood, about 1.8 meters (6 ft.) long and 50 centimeters (20 in.) in diameter. Observers can take in the aroma of wood and watch from up-close the skilled artists work with chainsaws, mallets, and chisels, and feel the passion and thrill of wood carving. Zuisen-ji, the event’s location, was built in 1390 and is the largest temple in the Hokuriku region. The combination of this historic wooden structure and the artistic wood sculptures should be a stimulating environment for international cultural exchange.

The completed artwork will be on display at Zuisen-ji through September 4th, and at the Inami Cultural Center from September 7th through the 18th.

In addition, a large variety of events will be held in conjunction with the Wooden Sculpture Camp, such as a photo contest and an international cooking event. On August 28th, there will be an attempt to be listed in the Guinness World Records by building the world’s longest wooden bench of 621 meters. The current record is 613 meters (Poland), and “621” is significant in that this year is the 621st anniversary of the founding of the old Inami Town (independent before the 2004 merger).

The English-language website for the Wooden Sculpture Camp is currently under construction:

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

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

On Sunday, July 10th, the Man’yoshu symposium “Yamato to Koshi: Exploring the Poetic Sentiment of Otomono Yakamochi” will be held in Le Theatre Ginza in Tokyo. This event is the result of a cooperative effort between Nara Prefecture and Toyama Prefecture, both of which have a relationship with Man’yoshu poetry.

Man’yoshu is the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry, and contains 4,516 poems over 20 volumes. The area where the most poems take place is Nara. However, Toyama Prefecture can claim the poet Otomono Yakamochi, who wrote 223 poems while governing Etchu Province (present-day Toyama Prefecture) from the year 746 to 751. Yakamochi went on to compose a total of 473 poems, but with about half of them having been composed in Etchu Province, the period of time he spent there is considered to have been influential on his unique style.

At the Tokyo symposium, there will be lectures, readings, and performances of traditional Japanese court music. The panel discussion (“A tribute to the homeland”) will feature the Governors of Nara and Toyama Prefectures, Shogo Arai and Takakazu Ishii, respectively. There will also be displays promoting tourism in Nara and Toyama, and local products will be for sale.

In Toyama, the Man’yoshu symposium serves as an event to anticipate the opening of a Toyama Prefectural literature center, scheduled to open next year. It will be a resource for literature inspired by Toyama’s nature and geography, and will also feature film, manga, and anime. Of course, there will be many displays and exhibits related to Man’yoshu poetry, and the hope is that visitors will be able to feel Man’yoshu’s connection to the present day.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

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