Nanto City


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

With an eye toward the opening of the new shinkansen (bullet train) extension to Toyama in spring of 2015, two new tourist buses began operating this month to make sightseeing spots easier to access.

The “Toyama Buri Kani Bus” (“Toyama Yellowtail Crab Bus”) will do one round-trip between Toyama Station and Himi (in western Toyama Prefecture) on weekends and holidays through March. A one-way trip takes 1 hour 25 minutes and costs 1,000 yen. It is also possible to only go as far as Shinminato (35 minutes) for 500 yen.

Himi is well-known for its fish, and the tourist bus arrives at Himi Banyagai, a mall/market with fresh seafood direct from nearby ports as well as sushi, Himi udon, and Himi beef. There is even a hot spring bath and footbath! On the way, bus passengers will pass over the Shinminato Ohashi – the largest cable-stayed bridge on the Japan Sea side of the country – and be able to enjoy views of Toyama Bay and the Sailing Ship Kaiwomaru. And from Amaharashi Coast on a sunny day, visitors can see the Tateyama Mountain Range towering over Toyama Bay.

Those going to Shinminato in Imizu City can walk around the canals of Uchikawa, visit the fish market at Fisherman’s Wharf, and see Hojozu Hachimangu (Shrine). There are also various reservation-only plans for both Himi and Shinminato that include lunch (3,000 to 5,000 yen total) featuring local specialties such as shiroebi (white shrimp), crab, and yellowtail.

The “World Heritage Bus” does four round-trips between Takaoka Station and Shirakawa-go (Ogimachi) in Gifu Prefecture, with stops in the villages of Ainokura and Suganuma within Toyama Prefecture. As with the “Toyama Buri Kani Bus,” the “World Heritage Bus” will also run weekends and holidays through March. Part of the route uses highways, making travel convenient. For example, it will only take 1 hour 15 minutes (1,200 yen one-way) from Takaoka to Suganuma, and 1 hour 55 minutes (1,800 yen one-way) to Shirakawa-go.

 Ainokura is a village of about 20 buildings in gassho-style, with traditional steep, thatched roofs designed for the snowy winters in this region. (Gassho means “hands in prayer,” and the architectural style resembles that shape.) Suganuma is a smaller village of about 9 gassho-style buildings. Both offer beautiful mountain village settings, and it is easy to forget even the passage of time. These historic villages were inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1995.

Another possible stop is Johana, known as the “Little Kyoto of Etchu (the old province before Toyama).”  The traditional streets around Zentokuji Temple are atmospheric, and include a weaving studio and the Johana Hikiyama Museum where you can see festival floats on display all year.

For more information on the “Toyama Buri Kani Bus,” visit the Toyama Chiho Tetsudo website (Japanese only):

For more information on the “World Heritage Bus,” visit the Kaetsuno website (Japanese only):

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now



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

Sheridan Japanese School students meet with Takaoka Minami High School students at Great Buddha of Takaoka

Sheridan Japanese School students meet with Takaoka Minami High School students at Great Buddha of Takaoka

Originally written for the Vol.7-No.1 edition (April 4, 2013) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

On March 14, 21 students (8th-11th grade), 2 parents, and 3 teachers from Sheridan Japanese School spent a day in Toyama as part of a longer trip around Japan. At Sheridan Japanese School, a charter school located in Yamhill County, Oregon, all students study Japanese language and culture. However, this was the first trip of its kind for the school.

The eager group arrived from Osaka by train in the evening of March 13. The next morning, Japanese Program Director Andrew Scott and two students met with Toshiyuki Hiyoshi, Director-General of the Tourism and Region Promotion Bureau. They discussed active sister state activities, including the teacher exchange program that has Ms. Akiko Nakano from Toyama currently teaching at Sheridan Japanese School. No one in the group had been to Toyama before, and the students also expressed their excitement at seeing tourism sights and of course, eating hard tofu. (Gokayama tofu is known for its extra firmness.)

Looking down at Ainokura Village, Gokayama

After this only “official business” of the day, the entire group was off to Ainokura, one of the villages of Gokayama, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the snow was long gone down in the city, it still very much felt like winter in Gokayama. Since the valleys in western Oregon do not see a lot of snow, the students were delighted to see everything covered in white. Between learning from the volunteer guide about the history of this settlement hundreds of years old, with their buildings designed to withstand heavy snow, teenagers (and teachers!?) could also be seen throwing snowballs and sliding down snow-covered hills. This is certainly a side of Japan that many Western visitors never see.

Hiking down a snowy hill

Then, it was time to go to Gokayama Washi-no-Sato to experience traditional Japanese papermaking. At first they seemed a little confused at the idea of “making paper,” but everyone seemed to be having a fun time choosing decorative pieces for their handmade postcards and soaking their hands in the pulp! Hopefully, the students have a new appreciation for the process of making washi (traditional Japanese paper). While we unfortunately did not have a lot of time and had to move quickly through our activities of the day, it seemed that many students would have liked to spend more time in the gift store at Washi-no-Sato, which sells just about anything you could possibly want that is made out of washi, from stationary and home décor to business card holders and coasters!

We enjoyed lunch at the adjacent restaurant Furusato, with menu options that included soba, udon, fish, beef bowl, and tofu.

After lunch, we headed to Takaoka City to get a guided tour of Zuiryu-ji, a 350-year-old temple and a designated National Treasure of Japan. For many students, this was their first time at a Japanese temple, and they earnestly took in the historical wooden buildings with their detailed workmanship.

Next was a big highlight for the students: at the Takaoka Daibutsu (Great Buddha), some students from Takaoka Minami High School were eagerly waiting for their American friends. Takaoka Minami is the former school of Ms. Nakano currently teaching at Sheridan Japanese School, and the students had exchanged letters and handmade guidebooks. They had not expected to actually be able to meet in person, and they were thrilled to be conversing in both English and Japanese, each side trying out their second language skills.

We hope that all of our guests had a memorable time in Toyama, and enjoyed experiencing the varied landscapes and culture of Japan. We wish the students the best in their Japanese studies!

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.4 edition (August 23, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

From Friday, August 24th through Sunday, September 2nd, SCOT Summer Season 2012 will be held at Toga Art Park in Nanto City. SCOT (Suzuki Company of Toga) is a theatre group led by Tadashi Suzuki and based in Toga, and will be performing King Lear, Greetings from the Edge of the Earth, and Cinderella. There will also be an experimental performance, Turandot: The Rise of Capitalism and the Decay of Common Sense, by young international actors who studied under the Suzuki Training Method.

King Lear, based on Shakespeare’s play, is a representative work of Suzuki. The elderly main character whose family ties had collapsed can do nothing but wait for death alone in a hospital. This play illustrates the possibility that anyone, in any time or place, could have a fate of loneliness and madness like King Lear.

Greetings from the Edge of the Earth premiered in 1991. This show takes advantage of the outdoor stage, and features magnificent fireworks against the grand nature of Toga.

Cinderella is the first work by Suzuki aimed at families, and is a modern re-telling of the classic fairy tale. A young woman who loves to write plays is treated badly by her father and half-sisters, but she receives encouragement from a kind woman and writes a play based on Cinderella. This is a story that tells the importance of working hard and keeping your hopes and dreams alive.

Turandot: The Rise of Capitalism and the Decay of Common Sense combines Puccini’s opera with traditional Italian masks. It has an Italian producer, and is performed by Chinese, Singaporean, Brazilian, Lithuanian, and Italian actors.

SCOT was born when the original group relocated from Tokyo to a converted traditional thatched-roof house in Toga in 1976. In 1982, they held the first international theatre festival in Japan, the Toga Festival. SCOT quickly gained international attention, and Toga came to be considered the “holy land” of world theatre. Currently, based in Toga Art Park situated within the inspiring artistic atmosphere of Toga, SCOT is always working on new theatrical art works. Aside from the annual SCOT Summer Season, they also host the Toga Theatre Competition, which is known as a gateway for internationally active theatre producers.

For more information about the Suzuki Company of Toga, please visit their website:

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.4 edition (August 23, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Sukiyaki Meets the World, one of the largest world music festivals in Japan, will be held in the Fukuno area of Nanto City from Friday, August 24th through Sunday, August 26th. This festival began in 1991, and was named after Kyu Sakamoto’s international hit song “Sukiyaki” (known more popularly as “Ue o Muite Aruko” in Japan) as a vehicle for spreading culture. This 22nd event features fourteen carefully selected artists and groups that are sure to heat up the stage. In addition, there will be workshops, a parade, a symposium, and a food and shopping area.

One of the groups performing at the event is Gnawa Diffusion, a French/Algerian band that has reunited after five years. This band has a unique style of North African music, combining the clapping and calls of Gnawa music with reggae, hip hop, and rock music. Lead singer Amazigh Kateb was an influential figure in the democratization movement in North Africa.

Pernett brings new life into Colombian music, and will be in Japan for the first time. He makes liberal use of synthesizers and effects on Cumbia, which originates from a dance brought by African slaves. The traditional gaita flute is added for a different sound and rhythm.

The Sukiyaki Denki Box is an original Sukiyaki Meets the World group. Pernett teams up with Sakaki Mango‘s thumb piano, and Norihiko Yamakita’s percussion for a unique performance.

Oki is a musician of Ainu descent, and plays the traditional string instrument, the tonkori. With a contemporary sound that uses traditional Ainu music as a foundation, he has revived interest in Ainu music.

Kiwi & The Papaya Mangoes is what happens when Ainu, Okinawan, and other traditional Japanese music meets the world! This group from Tokyo makes use of shamisen, sitar, violin, accordion, bass, drums, and guitar for an eclectic sound.

The most iconic group of Sukiyaki Meets the World is the Sukiyaki Steel Orchestra, which grew out of this event in 1995. The steel drum puts audiences in a Caribbean mood for a light-hearted, danceable performance.

This event also strives to nurture music in the community. The Sukiyaki Parade on the night of Saturday the 25th will feature the Fukuno Middle School Marching Band and a variety of other local musicians. Workshops will be held on the 25th and 26th, where participants can learn Ainu folk songs called upopo, rediscover the traditional Japanese sensibility and its relationship with other Asian cultures, and experience Gnawa music or Columbian rhythms. The symposium on the 26th entitled “Will World Music Thrive in Japan?: The World to Nanto, and Nanto to the World” will feature some of the festival performers, including Amazigh Kateb and Oki.

Visit the website for more information (Japanese only):

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.1 edition (April 13, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Cherry blossom season is finally here. Did you know that Toyama Prefecture is a “Kingdom of Cherry Blossoms,” where you can enjoy the longest season of viewing a variety of cherry blossoms? The 3,000-meter elevation difference between Toyama Bay and the Tateyama Mountains allows Toyama to have a four-month blossoming season, from the “kinkimame-zakura” in mid-March to the “takane-zakura” in late July. There are even varieties that bloom from late October to early March, which means that cherry blossoms are in bloom somewhere in Toyama for a large part of the year. Furthermore, as Toyama is located in the center of the main island of Japan, both northern and southern varieties can be seen, including all nine wild cherry blossom varieties that are found in Japan.

In 2003, fifty “Top Cherry Blossom Locations in Toyama” were selected, and this past November, the list was updated to include seventy locations. Funakawa-beri (Funa riverside) in Asahi Town has about 280 “someiyoshino” (one of the most widely planted cherry blossoms), which people can enjoy along with the sights of tulip fields, rapeseed blossoms, and lingering mountain snow. At the Fugan Canal Park in Toyama City, different types of trees bloom in spring and late autumn. In Nanto City, there is a lone cherry bloom tree known as “Mukaino no Edohigan” that is estimated to be over a hundred years old. During the blossoming period, the tree is lit up at night for a magical atmosphere.

The Toyama Prefectural Botanical Garden, another of the “Top Cherry Blossom Locations in Toyama,” will hold its first Cherry Blossom Festival this year from April 13th to the 16th. The trees will be lit up at night, and there will be a special exhibit (through April 30th) featuring the eleven varieties of cherry blossoms that were discovered in Toyama, such as the “Nyuzen otomekiku-zakura,” discovered this past December, and the “Himi kujirokiku-zakura.” Also on display will be the sapling cultivated by a student from Chuo Agricultural High School, the only one of its kind in the world.

With so many options, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy cherry blossoms in Toyama!

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