These last few months in Toyama

In October 2017, the state of Oregon held a trade mission to Asia, led by Governor Kate Brown and Alexis Taylor, director of the Department of Agriculture. The trade mission’s objectives were to create and maintain precious relationships across the Pacific Ocean. During this trade mission, a “Friends of Oregon Reception” was held in Tokyo on October 11th. As Oregon’s sister-state for over 25 years, Toyama Prefecture sent Public Enterprise Administrator Hidetoshi Sunuma as well as International Affairs Division section manager Kawamura and myself to greet the Oregon mission.

Photo with the governor

Mr. Sunuma was able to have short discussions with Governor Brown, as well as Chris Harder, the director of Business Oregon, and Amanda Welker, Global Strategies Officer for Business Oregon. The reunion was warm and friendly, reflecting the relationship between the sister states. The reception featured food from Oregon, and all the participants received bottles of wine from a Willamette Valley vineyard.


During the reception, Mr. Sunuma had the opportunity to talk about the Toyama Museum of Art and Design that had opened on August 26th, 2017 in Toyama City, overlooking Kansui Park. Affectionately called TAD, the brand new museum features a world-class modern art collection with pieces from Picasso, Miró, and Toulouse-Lautrec,104006_05 as well as design collections, from posters to chairs. TAD is also home to the Onomatopoeia Rooftop, a collection of play equipment for children designed by Taku Satoh, inspired by the sounds used in onomatopoeias. The museum is an architectural marvel, and its wide glass windows give a panoramic view of the breathtaking Tateyama mountain range.


TAD’s first opening exhibit was called “LIFE-In search of paradise,” and explored the meaning of life in 8 chapters: Innocence, Love, Daily Life, Emotions & Ideas, Dreams, Death, Primitive, and Nature. This exhibit included powerful works from around the world, and my favorite was March of the Clowns by American artist Albert Bloch.


The second opening exhibit just came to a close and was called “Art and Design, dialogue with materials.” Focusing on art and design, this exhibit included a piece called COLOR OF TIME by French architect and designer Emmanuelle Moureaux, which became extremely popular on Instagram, with its hallway of colored digits. This event also coincided with the International Hokuriku Kogei (artisan crafts) Summit and showcased some of the works submitted to its Worlds Kogei 100 competition.


Kogei, which roughly corresponds to artisan crafts in Japanese, have always been a very important part of the history of Toyama. Takaoka Metalware and Inami Woodcarving are some of the more famous crafts in Toyama Prefecture, but one cannot forget Shogawa Woodturning, Ecchu Washi (traditional Japanese paper), and Takaoka Lacquerware. These time-honored traditional crafts and techniques are still alive and well, and the International Hokuriku Kogei Summit held in Toyama honored that sentiment.


On November 30th, 2017, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry designated Ecchu-Fukuoka Sedge Hats as a traditional craft. These hats were made in the area centered around Fukuoka, a town in what is now Takaoka City, starting in the 15th century, and were used all over the country by farmers seeking protection from rain and sunlight. Today, 80 people still create these sedge hats but most are in their 70s and 80s, worrying about the lack of apprentices who would be able to continue the tradition.



Kogei and the Ecchu-Fukuoka Sedge Hats still have a future. “This national designation as a traditional craft is not just a decoration,” asserts Ecchu-Fukuoka Sedge Hat Promotion Association Chairman Satoshi Takata. “It means that the country has endorsed this craft as deserving to thrive. I want us to use this opportunity to challenge ourselves to develop new products and find new markets. We will evolve, taking into account the times and the demand, while protecting the good things about traditional techniques.”


Finally, on a personal note, I was able to meet officials from Oregon for the first time during the trip to Tokyo for the Friends of Oregon Reception. I hope to one day visit the state, and I am looking forward to helping relations between Toyama and Oregon in the future!


Source (Reference Articles and Photos): Toyama Just Now (818, 838)




New Station Building Opens in Takaoka

Takaoka Station

Originally written for the Vol.8-No.1 edition (April 15, 2014) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

On March 29, the new building named “Curun Takaoka” opened at Takaoka Station in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture. The name for this new entryway to downtown Takaoka comes from the Japanese word kurun which can mean both “Are you coming?” and “whirl around.” The amalgamation of letters in “Curun” also have English significance: “c” is for “creative,” “u” is for “urban,” and the word “run.”

Takaoka’s local industries can be seen in the building, such as the aluminum curtain wall. The first floor features a waiting room with displays showing departure information for JR lines, Man’yo Line (tram) and buses, a ticket booth, and a Man’yo Line station. While the Man’yo Line station was previously outside the Takaoka Station building, it is now more convenient for transferring passengers. The waiting room has a mailbox of the famous anime/manga character Doraemon. (Creator Fujiko F. Fujio is from Takaoka.)

A covered passageway on the second floor connects the station to Wing Wing Takaoka, a facility that includes a hotel, library, high school, and parking lot. Eight of the pillars have bronze panels with flower designs, a product of Takaoka copperware. The passageway also faces a cafe, bakery, convenience store, and a yakitori (skewered chicken) restaurant. Inside the building, there are shops that sell local products such as masu-zushi (pressed sushi), kamaboko (steamed processed fish cake), Takaoka copperware, and Takaoka lacquerware.

The underground level also has a variety of stores and restaurants. In addition, a stage area complete with audio and lighting equipment will be used for performances and events. More public areas will open on June 1, including gallery spaces.

“This facility is at a crossroads of public transportation such as trains, trams, and buses. In one year, the Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) will begin stopping at Shin-Takaoka Station approximately 1.5 km (1 mi.) away. We hope to synergize to make downtown Takaoka a more vibrant place,” says a Takaoka Station Building representative.

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now

Sheridan Japanese School Visits Toyama

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!

The World Festival of Children’s Performing Arts in Toyama 2012

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.3 edition (July 31, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

With the motto of “We Build the Future,” the World Festival of Children’s Performing Arts in Toyama 2012 is held from July 31st through August 5th in a variety of venues around Toyama Prefecture. From outside Japan, there are 17 groups participating from 17 different countries. From Japan, there are 16 groups from ten prefectures from outside of Toyama Prefecture, and 44 groups from within the prefecture. In addition to giving audiences a variety of performances from around the world, this is also a valuable opportunity for children to overcome language barriers to interact with each other and deepen international understanding.

The great appeal of this festival is that it gives people the ability to see a wide range of performing arts such as dance, drama, and musicals, by high-level children’s groups. Among the participants are groups from Iwate Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture, and Fukushima Prefecture, who had to overcome disruptions and adversities as a result the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The 44 groups from Toyama Prefecture perform a diverse array of genres including western-style dance, drama, Japanese dance, brass band, traditional Japanese music, western music, physical expression, choir, folk song, instrumental music, sword dance, and opera. In the opening performance on July 31st, seven member groups of the Toyama Western Dance Association perform “WE ARE FRIENDS!” in a joint performance.

Among the notable performers from overseas is Bohemia Ballet from the Czech Republic, who is not only be performing “Ballet Gala” comprised of short pieces, but is also doing a joint performance of “The Little Match Girl” with Kasai Ballet of Toyama Prefecture.

Children Theatre Sorvanets is from Luchegorsk in Primorsky Krai, Russia, which is a sister region of Toyama Prefecture. The group is performing “Silver Hoof,” a Russian folktale.

The Yurungai Dance Theatre from Australia is made up of Aborigine youth. They are performing “The Little Black Duck,” which uses contemporary Aborigine street music to tell a traditional story.

For more information, visit the website (Japanese only).

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

Takaoka City Receives National Recognition as “Historical City”

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

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

Takaoka Cast Metal Becomes a Registered Tangible Folk Cultural Property

Originally written for the Vol.4-No.5 edition (March 14, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Temple bells, bronze statues, flower vases, and tea utensils – the city of Takaoka produces ninety percent of Japan’s copperware products. The Takaoka Casting Museum’s Takaoka Cast Metal Manufacturing Tools and Products have been selected to be registered on the Tangible Folk Cultural Property (yūkei minzoku bunkazai) list, the first in Toyama. This registration system by the Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs guarantees protected status as a Japanese cultural legacy.

Cast metal in Takaoka dates back to the Edo period, and the Museum’s Takaoka Cast Metal Manufacturing Tools and Products comprises of 1,561 items. There are 1,482 manufacturing implements such as tools for making molds, bellows used for casting, and chisels for finishing touches, and 79 finished products that showcase Takaoka casting techniques, ranging from pots and vases to Buddhist altar equipment and modern art pieces.

The collection exemplifies the root of Takaoka’s copperware industry, the production techniques of cast metal. They belonged to metal carving artist Kanamori Eiichi, who was from Takaoka and was a Living National Treasure as a Preserver of Important Intangible Cultural Properties.

The Takaoka Casting Museum opened in spring of 2005. There is a particular beauty to the tools used by the cast metal artisans, made to fit the hands that would wield them.

In 1611, Maeda Toshinaga, the second head of the Kaga Domain, invited seven casters and built a cast metal workshop in order to help stimulate the area around the castle. This marked the beginning of a long history of cast metals in Takaoka. In 1975, Takaoka copperware became a Traditional Craft of Japan.

Kanaya-machi is the district in Takaoka that is the birthplace of its cast metal industry. Latticework houses elegantly line the streets. You can appreciate the weight of four hundred years as you walk on the stone pavement. At the Ootera Kohachiro Shop of Metal Craft Goods & Café & Gallery (established 1867), you can find sparkling traditional crafts, wind chimes, and tableware. The shopkeeper also looks to the future, hoping for Takaoka Copperware that would suit modern lifestyles. At the cast metal workshop Risaburou, you can not only view and buy items, but you can make a reservation to create your own cast metal work.

Spend some time taking a leisurely walk around the Kanaya-machi neighborhood for the museums, galleries, and workshops, and experience the world of the cast metal artisans.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now