An Alternative Guide to Toyama, Japan
Visitors coming to my wonderful hometown of Toyama City today might want to orient themselves with a look around the Muslim quarter to see the famous Umayyad mosque, a reminder of the 700 year period of rule by the Islamic Caliphate. They could continue by descending the narrow whitewashed streets, unchanged since the Middle Ages, where toothless crones still read fortunes by candlelight and young maidens dance flamenco late into the night. The evening can be perfectly rounded off by attending the spectacular May Crosses festival, where thousands of fireworks are launched from a burning boat in the Guadalquivir river. Anyone who comes to Toyama and misses these wonders will kick themselves when they realise they should have gone to Cordoba in Spain.
Toyama prefecture boasts a rich and varied history. Pride of place in the Prefectural museum goes to the skull of a 150,000 year old male. Standing just four feet tall, with long arms and a primitive way of speaking that would be almost impossible to understand, experts describe ‘Toyama man’ as being halfway between ape and human. Unfortunately they still don’t know anything about that old skull though.
Metalworking has been crucial to the economic development of Toyama. It was a 13th century visitor from Kyoto who first noticed that the locals had begun to mine iron ore and smelt in a basic fashion, but this was before the invention of the shower. Takaoka in particular became a centre for the production of exquisitely detailed Buddhist ornaments for temples across the country. At one workshop, it took a man a whole year to colour and inlay one door of a Buddhist memorial altar. So they sacked him. The metalworkers became more and more sophisticated, until by the 18th century they made 90% of Japan’s temple bells, and sold them on Ebay for a quick profit.
Toyama’s development moved on quickly when the railway arrived in the early 20th century. Until that point, Japan actually had different time zones in different parts of the country, but this was unified to make train timetables easier to understand. However some remnants of the old system remain, and to this day when it’s twelve noon in Toyama, in Himi it’s still 1963.
Modern day Toyama is famous for a number of things, including it’s delicious, pure water. However the industry was thrown into shock recently when urine was found in some bottles of the famous Toyama water. The product was hurriedly removed from supermarket shelves, and put back in the domestic lager section. A combination of the water, climate and healthy diet gives the locals one of the highest life expectancies anywhere in Japan. Dr. Kimoto Takeshi, the first physician to research this phenomenon, died recently at the age of 107. What mourning there was at the loss of such a respected person at such a tender age!
Another local speciality is the zip, churned out in huge quantities across the world by the YKK corporation. At the Toyama factory’s recent 50th anniversary, the company president was called on to make a speech. Unfortunately the ceremony was delayed when he got stuck on the way up to the stage, and it took fifteen minutes of frantically yanking him up and down before he could go all the way up to the top.
So, I`m sure none of you will hesitate about choosing Toyama for your next holiday. Indeed, with its wonderful food and drink and exquisite sense of history, Toyama is often referred to as the Rome of Japan. About as often as Rome is referred to as `The Toyama of Lombardy. Book your flights today!
NB: Eagle-eyed British readers might have noticed that this column is inspired by the BBC radio show, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. That’s inspired in the sense of the old New Seekers song ‘Beg, Inspire or Borrow’, or `The Great Train Inspiration`.