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Sightseeing and Leisure

The firefly squid (hotaruika in Japanese) are one of the more famous parts of Toyama Bay. One can barely escape the posters with cobalt blue lines during a visit to Namerikawa City. Being able to see the real thing, however, is an entirely different problem. The firefly squid stay deep in the bay during the day, and only rise up at night, throwing themselves onto the shore between March and June. This means that trying to catch a glimpse of the creatures may lead to sleepless nights waiting for small lights on a beach.

Fortunately, the city of Namerikawa organizes tours where tourists can go out at sea in a pleasure boat and watch the fishermen as they collect the firefly squid from the fixed fishing nets, a traditional way of fishing in the region with a history of over 400 years. 2 other CIRs and I embarked in our section manager’s car at 1:30 am to participate in this tour and see the firefly squid with our own eyes.

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After a quick information session in the Hotaruika Museum shop, where many souvenirs and foods are sold during the day, we walked out to the fishing port at 3 am for a ride on the pleasure boat. It was a chilly March night, but everyone aboard the boat was excited, from kids to grandparents, and everyone in between.

We arrived in front of the first fixed net system just in time to see the boat’s crew start reeling it in. The boat floats sideways into the net as the fishermen pull it and move the catch towards the edge, where another boat waits. Once the two boats are close enough, the fishermen use hand nets to scoop the firefly squid out of the fixed net system, all while leaving bycatch in. The tour goes by two fixed nets before bringing the tourists back to shore.

We only caught a peek at the light at the first net, but the second net is where the magic came to life. The glowing squid were creating a line around the net, and everyone was excited to catch glimpses of the blue light. For around twenty minutes, we watched the fishermen gather the squid with hand nets before placing them in boxes. The unmistakable bright blue of a few squid seemingly flying in the air was an amazing spectacle. One man threw a few squid towards us, which the children gleefully caught and started playing with. One even got some ink on his fingers before he threw it back out to sea.

 

The season is still early, and so far there haven’t been many firefly squid rising up to the surface, but that may mean the bulk will come later! I’m very glad I was given the chance to see this natural phenomenon first hand, and hopefully I’ll get to see it again!

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Gokayama

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): http://www.chitetsu.co.jp/?p=9362

For more information on the “World Heritage Bus,” visit the Kaetsuno website (Japanese only): http://www.kaetsunou.co.jp/new/sekaiisanbus.pdf

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now

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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): http://www.fields-co.jp/gokayama/2013/

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now

Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb

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

On Sunday, June 23, cyclists will be able to race toward the clouds along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in the mont-bell Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb 2013. This event is organized by an executive committee composed of members from Toyama Prefecture, Tateyama Town, and the Toyama Cycling Federation.

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is usually closed to personal vehicles for nature protection purposes, and this is the first time a cycling event open to the public will be held there. One of the aims is to create further promotional appeal for the Alpine Route as a sports tourism destination.

There are two options for the Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb: a “long course” and a “nature ride course.” The “long course” traverses 22.3 km (13.9 mi.), and begins at Bijodaira Station (977m/ 3,200 ft. elevation) and finishes at Murodo (2,450m/ 8,040 ft. elevation). The route climbs 1,473 m (4,833 ft.) at an average 6.6% incline, offering a challenging ride for advanced cyclists. The “nature ride course” is 7.6 km (4.7 mi.) and climbs 520 m (1,706 ft.) at an average 6.8% incline from Midagahara (1,930m/6,332 ft. elevation) to Murodo, and is geared toward less experienced cycling enthusiasts and mountain aficionados.

On the “long course,” participants will be able to see the dramatic change in scenery from Tateyama cedar and beech forests to small alpine plants. The “nature ride course” begins with magnificent views of Midagahara and Dainichidaira, which are recognized as important wetlands by the Ramsar Convention. A unique feature of the Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb is that unlike most hill climb events in Japan that simply go through forests, this event offers sweeping mountain views. In addition, participants may even see snow toward the end of their rides; along Yuki-no-Otani on the approach to Murodo, walls of snow 6 to 7 meters (20 to 23 ft.) usually still remain around this time of year.

Start time for the “long course” is 5:30 a.m., and 6:00 a.m. for the “nature ride course.” The event is scheduled to end at 8:00 a.m., and regular buses between Bijodaira and Murodo will be suspended for the duration of the event. The participant limit is 100 people per course. “Long course” registrants need to present a record of a previous cycling event.

The entry fees are 50,000 yen for the “long course” and 55,000 yen for the “nature ride course,” and include one night accommodation, two meals, and bicycle transportation back, and bus transportation.

Official event website: http://www.tateyama-inc.jp/hillclimb/

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now

“Tatemon” at the Jantokoi Festival in Uozu City

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

We are having a very hot summer here, and even overnight lows sometimes never reach below 80F/27C. But summer is a time for festivals and fireworks everywhere in Japan, with over a dozen within Toyama Prefecture. And in Japan, even average, small-city fireworks are spectacular displays. This summer, I went to the Furusato Ryugu Festival in Namerikawa City and the Jantokoi Festival in Uozu City, which both had outstanding fireworks shows over the bay.

In sister state news, we have a major announcement: we are reinstating the exchange teacher program, which had been suspended for several years. Ms. Akiko Nakano of Toyama Prefecture will be spending the next year and a half in Oregon, teaching at Sheridan Japanese School! We are thrilled to have this development in sister state relations, and excited for Ms. Nakano and everyone at the school. We would like to thank Sheridan Japanese School and the Oregon Department of Education for all of their support.

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:
www.scot-suzukicompany.com/en/.

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): www.sukiyaki.cc.

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now