Toyama Specialty Products

The original version of this article was written for the Vol.6-No.1 edition (April 13, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

I apologize for the long absence! It has been very busy around here.

An event that may be of particular interest to you was the JET Festival on February 19th. This is an annual international event organized as a joint effort by all the CIRs of Toyama (ten of us this year) here as part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program. Of course, many ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) on the JET Program helped out as volunteers, and also many others in the community lent a hand as well. There were stage performances, themed rooms, international treats, a kids’ corner, and booths – and we of course made sure to have a booth for Toyama’s sister state of Oregon! The Oregon booth was mostly staffed by my husband (raised in Oregon) and a local ALT from Ashland. We handed out many Oregon brochures and told attendees about the beautiful nature and rich culture in Oregon, and about the United States in general. It was all a very successful event.

Another thing I worked on that I wanted to share with all of you are the new “Toyama Brand” videos. They are short ninety-second segments about products that are endorsed by Toyama Prefecture, from firefly squid to Paro Therapeutic Robot. While I had nothing to do with making these professional videos, I did do the translations for the English subtitles. There are eleven videos, and they can all be viewed on YouTube.

We are finally getting cherry blossoms this week in Toyama, but this is an especially timely topic this year, as it is the 100-year anniversary of the 3,000 cherry blossom trees gifted to Washington D.C. from Tokyo.

Finally, we wanted to let you know that the 16th Annual Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest will be held in Portland this Sunday, April 15th. We wish all of the students the best of luck.


Originally written for the Vol.5-No.9 edition (January 13, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Kan-buri (literally “cold season yellowtail”) fishing is synonymous with winter in Toyama Bay. This winter, the season officially started on November 26th, and by December 12th, 11,970 fish had been caught. The blue-green spines, fat silvery-white bellies, and stripes of yellow line the fishing areas. They average about 10 kilograms (22 lbs.) each, and some are over 15 kilograms (33 lbs.).

In order to heighten trust that the fish are the authentic famous kan-buri from Himi City, Toyama, certificates of sale by the Himi Fishermen’s Cooperative are stuck on each fish and shipped in blue boxes with a trademarked graphic. These measures were established beginning this season in order to counter the problem of fish falsely being sold as Himi kan-buri. It has now been established that the label “Himi kan-buri” can only be claimed for buri caught by fixed shore net within Toyama Bay and sold for auction at the fish market in Himi. In addition, even fish caught in Toyama Bay may not be certified if they are too small, ensuring a high quality for fish with the “Himi kan-buri” label.

Buri are known as the “King of Toyama Bay.” The Himi coast has the largest continental shelf in Toyama Bay, and is a good spawning ground for fish. Beyond this, there are deep sea valleys rich in plankton. Fixed shore nets are placed on the slopes, and they catch the buri that come here to feed on smaller fish. The buri are then immediately placed in ice to preserve freshness and flavor, and are speedily taken to the fish market to be sold. You could say that the good taste of “Himi kan-buri” is a result of special skills and techniques as well as the dedication of the people involved in the industry.

The buri of Himi has been famous since long ago in history. Maeda Toshiie (1539 – 1599) of the Kaga Domain used to order for the buri to be salted and sent to Kyoto (then-capital city). In the Edo Period, buri was sent to Shinshu (present-day Nagano) and Owari (present-day Aichi) for New Year’s celebrations on what was known as the “Buri Road.”

In Toyama, there is a custom for a new bride’s parents to gift a whole buri to their son-in-law’s family at the end of the first year of marriage. Half of the fish is then returned, and both families enjoy a single buri and wish for good fortune.

In a country famous for seafood, the fish in Toyama is especially well-regarded. We hope that you will be able to try some soon!

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.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

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

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

Originally written for the Vol.4-No.4 edition (February 25, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Since 2005, Kinki University and Horioka Fisheries Cooperative has been raising torafugu using cold, fresh water pumped out from deep in Toyama Bay.  After three years, the torafugu grew to a foot long and two to three pounds.  Also noteworthy is that researchers succeeded in increasing the breeding of the highly prized roe-bearing males to fifty to eighty percent higher than normal.

A surprising variety of torafugu products are currently available.

Recently, the “Tora-cola” drink has gone on sale.  A key ingredient is collagen extracted from the torafugu.  The drink has no preservatives, is low in calories, and is good for the skin.

Also on sale is a nabe (pot) package, which includes a variety of torafugu products such as sashimi, fillet, fin, and ponzu (a citrus-based sauce).

Since last spring, visitors have driven from afar to the City of Imizu to try the torafugu sweets.  These unique mochi snacks come in different flavors, such as sweet red bean paste and custard.

Other torafugu products currently being developed include instant rice gruel and madeleine cakes.

Through these products, Horioka Fisheries hope to popularize Kindai-Horioka torafugu throughout Japan.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now