2022.03 Discover Toyama’s Ancient Heritage of Craftmanship, Through the Metalwork and Lacquerware of Takaoka [PR]
Takaoka: a city formed by nature and craftsmanship
Takaoka City is a center of commerce and craft but is also rich in nature, with mountains to the west and Toyama Bay to the northeast. Amaharashi Coast is within the Noto Hantō Quasi-National Park, on Toyama Bay. From the long stretch of white-sand beach, you can see the Meiwa Rock, framed against the backdrop of the majestic Tateyama mountain range. It is a view that has inspired poets since ancient times.
Takaoka was founded in the early 17th century when the military commander Maeda Toshinaga, the second head of the powerful Maeda family of Kaga (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture), built Takaoka Castle. The moat and original stone walls of the castle remain in Takaoka Kojo (Old Castle) Park. The parklands convey the beauty of each season, with cherry blossoms in spring and rich autumn colors in fall.
Explore Takaoka’s craft heritage
You can see many traditional crafts in Takaoka such as Takaoka copperware, Takaoka lacquerware, and Etchu Fukuoka Sugegasa, but you can also experience these crafts up close and try your hand at making something. In recent years, the traditional techniques have been adapted to create products with cutting-edge designs that suit modern lifestyles.
Takaoka copperware ranges from small, decorative items such as ornaments, Buddhist ritual implements, and flower vases, to large Buddhist bells and statues. At Nousaku, you can enjoy a guided tour of the foundry and make a tin sake cup to take home. The showroom and store of Kanaya has a wide range of stylish homeware products and accessories made using traditional techniques. There are many opportunities to try your hand at traditional crafts at workshops across the city. Experiences range from making your own lacquerware pendant to creating an original copper coaster.
Takaoka is recognized as one of the top lacquerware areas in Japan. Takaoka lacquerware has been used for chests of drawers and armory equipment and developed unique techniques such as aogai-nuri (inlaying fine slivers of shell to create decorative motifs), yusuke-nuri (using rust lacquer to create scenes of animals and people), and chokoku-nuri (carved wood coated with lacquer). The Takaoka Regional Industry Centre and other facilities have workshops where visitors can experience the crafts and galleries where they can see them.
In Japan, where rice cultivation is a thriving industry, sugegasa hats are a traditional handicraft that has offered protection against the rain and sun to farmers engaged in rice cultivation, for over 400 years. The town of Fukuoka in Takaoka City prospered as a wholesaler of these woven hats around the latter half of the 17th century, and now 90% of all sugegasa in Japan are produced in Takaoka.
Stroll traditional townscapes
Takaoka has several well-preserved townscapes, where you can see typical buildings from the Edo period (1603–1867). Strolling these streets is like stepping back in time.
The elegant townscape of the Kanayamachi district is rich in architectural heritage. It is designated an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings, and features well-preserved streetscapes with a beautiful contrast between the timber lattice facades of the townhouses and the cobblestone pavements. At the Metal Casting Museum, housed in a traditional townhouse, you can learn more about the 400-year history of the local metalworking industry and its casting techniques.
Another well-preserved townscape is the Yoshihisa Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings in the northern part of Takaoka. The streets of Yoshihisa are lined with the wide, traditional wooden houses of rice merchants. During the Edo period the government rice storehouses for the whole province were in Yoshihisa, and the area was vibrant with trade.
Takaoka’s magnificent temple architecture
The magnificent temples of Takaoka are a testament to the importance and influence of the area, since the Edo period (1603–1867). Many prospered under the patronage of the powerful Maeda family who ruled the region in the Edo period and display the skilled craftsmanship of Toyama.
Unryuzan Shokoji Temple was established in the 15th century, and was the main temple of the Shinshu school of Buddhism in Etchu province (modern day Toyama Prefecture) The 12 buildings of the temple complex, including the main temple building, the main hall, and the shoin (study), have been designated Important Cultural Properties. Over time, the buildings became damaged and fell into disrepair, but conservation and repair work since 1998 has restored them to their magnificent late-Edo-period form.
Takaokayama Zuiryuji Temple was built in memory of Maeda Toshinaga (1562–1614), the second daimyo of the Kaga domain, and the founder of Takaoka City. This Zen temple has a grand layout, and construction took around 20 years, completing in 1663. The Sanmon Gate, Buddha Hall and Dharma Hall are designated as National Treasures, while structures including the Somon gate, meditation hall, and a tea ceremony hall, are designated Important Cultural Properties. The temple is considered an exemplary example of Zen Buddhist architecture of the early Edo period.
The Great Buddha of Takaoka is a bronze seated statue of Amida Nyorai (the Buddha of Infinite Light), at Hotokusan Daibutsuji Temple. At 16 meters (around 52 ft.) high, it is one of the largest Buddhas in Japan. Construction of the Great Buddha began in 1907, using the best casting technology of Takaoka. Statues of the Amida Triad and Buddhist paintings are displayed in a hall within the pedestal of the Great Buddha.
Experience Toyama’s rich food culture
With its location on the coast of the Sea of Japan, Toyama’s cuisine has a reverence for seafood and rice. Its stunning landscapes, which have drawn poets since ancient times, have also influenced the area’s sweets.
One of Toyama's famous gourmet foods is masuzushi. It is a circular pressed sushi made with trout seasoned with salt and vinegar, that uses techniques handed down since the Edo period (1603–1868). The delicacy became popular after it was given as a gift to Toyama’s ruling family. It is still a popular gift to bring back from Toyama and is sold at specialist stores and restaurants across the region.
Toyama’s seasonal sweets reflect the beauty of the local landscape. Ohnoya, a long-established confectionary shop has been in business since 1838, and offers a variety of seasonal sweets using local ingredients. Ohnoya’s line of sweets includes traditional Japanese confectionery related to the Manyoshu, Japan's oldest collection of poetry. Tokonatsu is a popular sweet inspired by the snow on top of Mt Tate, as celebrated in an ancient poem.
Getting to Takaoka
Takaoka is in Toyama Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan. It takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes from JR Tokyo Station to Shin-Takaoka Station by Hokuriku Shinkansen. From JR Osaka Station or JR Kyoto Station to Shin-Takaoka Station via Kanazawa Station by limited express train, it takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Getting around Takaoka is easy on foot, and you can use trams, buses, taxis and rental bicycles to explore the city.
Takaoka tourism portal site
Toyama Cultural Heritage