Enjoy a 3 day and 2 nights trip to Nanto City in Toyama Prefecture - Visit Johana, Inami, and UNESCO World Heritage Site Gokayama

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A 2 and a half hour trip from Tokyo Station. Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Shin-Takaoka Station, then transfer to the JR Johana Line to head south through the tranquil Tonami Plains until you arrive at the final stop at Johana Station in Nanto City.
This trip, centred around the historically & culturally rich town of Johana, will allow you to experience the full charm of the city of Nanto, from the numerous rows of woodcarver's workshops in Inami, to the quaint sloped-roof villages at Gokayama.

Table of contents

Day 1: A trip around the town of Johana, where the spirit of Edo is kept alive through the Hikiyama Festival

After a roughly 50 minute journey on the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Shin-Takaoka Station to Johana Station, you'll alight in Johana town proper. Johana prospered thanks to its silk trade during the Edo period (1603~1868), and many rows of the houses those riches built, with their lattice doors, white plaster walls and stone-paved paths, are still standing today.

Johana Hikiyama Hall

The best spot to visit first would be Johana Hikiyama Hall. We recommend that you check out the documentary about Johana's Hikiyama Festival that screens in the hall's lobby.

The festival is a 300 year old tradition. It begins on the 4th of May every year and climaxes the next day with the main event, an almost otherworldly parade where 6 festival floats march through the streets led by the 'Iori Yatai' floats, whose advance is accompanied by song and the playing of flutes and shamisens.

The floats of the Hikiyama Festival, designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, are a highlight
The floats of the Hikiyama Festival, designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, are a highlight

According to the director, "the floats are derived from ancient Kyoto culture, while the music is derived from ancient Tokyo culture", which makes this parade a chance to see a fusion of the cultures of East & West Japan. In 2016 this festival was among 33 selected by UNESCO to be designated as Intangible Cultural Heritages. Before walking through the streets of Johana yourself, why not check out some footage of the festival floats as they parade through the town.

The floats are covered in extravagant decorations. See the subtle craftsmanship of the woodwork and Johana lacquering

The floats are covered in extravagant decorations. See the subtle craftsmanship of the woodwork and Johana lacquering
The floats are covered in extravagant decorations. See the subtle craftsmanship of the woodwork and Johana lacquering

Basic information on Johana Hikiyama Hall

Address
579-3 Johana, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1864
Telephone number
0763-62-2165
Business Hours
9:00am-5:00pm
Closed
The New Year holiday (Dec. 29 to Jan. 3)
Fees
Adults - 520 yen, High School/University Students - 310 yen, Middle School or Younger - Free Admission
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Johana Hikiyama Festival

Date
4th-5th May every year
Time
9am-11pm (The pre-festival on the 4th begins in the evening)
Telephone number
0763-62-1201(Nanto City Tourism Association)
Official Website
Official Website (English)

Now let's take a quick walk from Johana Hikiyama Hall in the centre of the city.
As you stroll around you'll see no shortage of spots that will draw you in, from the rows of traditional Japanese storehouses to the retro old-fashioned bathhouses with their copperplate walls.

Zentoku-ji Temple

First, let's visit the temple that Johana was first built around. Constructed 540 years ago, the grounds are home to 370 year old drooping cherry trees. When the trees blooms in the spring, the temple hosts the 'Weeping Cherry Tree Festival', where they open up the usually off-limits 'Shikidaimon Gate' for visitors.

Johana originally developed as a temple town around Zentoku-ji
Johana originally developed as a temple town around Zentoku-ji

Zentoku-ji is also home to over 10,000 'treasures'. These treasures consist of articles connected to the great priest Rennyo and items donated by the Kaga Domain's Maeda Clan. These treasures are put on display and explained in July every year during the temple's 'Mushiboshi Sermons'.
Furthermore, in an act of astonishing dedication the temple hosts 2 sermons a day, in the morning and afternoon, every single day of the year without fail. Anyone is free to sit in and listen, so it's definitely worth visiting during those hours.

Zentoku-ji's main building. Here anyone can sit in on the temple's twice-daily sermons.
Zentoku-ji's main building. Here anyone can sit in on the temple's twice-daily sermons.

Basic information on Zentoku-ji Temple

Address
405 Johana, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1863
Telephone number
0763-62-0026
Hours
9:00am-5:00pm
Closed
No holidays
Fees
400 yen (This will get you a guided tour)
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Sermons (Daily)

Sermons (Daily)
Morning Service: 6:30am-7:30am
Regular Service: 2:00pm-3:30pm
*Anyone is free to attend and listen.
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Ima-machi Street

Heading out the temple gates at Zentoku-ji and walking right will take you to Ima-machi Street. With its traditional earthen storehouses, white plaster walls and stone pavements, this street has a refined atmosphere and is said to be the most popular of Johana's many streets & alleys. The 4 incredibly photogenic storehouses on Ima-machi Street were built by the Nomura Family, who ran the Nomura Bank, and their plaster walls and latticework make them powerful symbols and reminders of ancient Johana.

Located right behind Johana Hikiyama Hall, this spot is right on the festival floats' parade route. It's no wonder then that the stone pavement here seems to faintly bear the marks of old wheel tracks. Just seeing them brings to mind the image of those 7 metre tall, 6 ton floats as they silently creak along the pavement.

The still-standing latticed and fortified storehouses of Ima-machi Street. Floats parade by here during the festival.
The still-standing latticed and fortified storehouses of Ima-machi Street. Floats parade by here during the festival.

Basic information on Ima-machi Street

Access
579-3 Johana, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1864
Official Website
Official Website (English)

Katsurayu - A handicrafts shop

If you head further down the street you'll see an old-fashioned looking building come into view on your right. This is Katsurayu, established on the site of an old bathhouse. Nowadays it's a unique little shop that sells handmade accessories while also serving as a gallery of sorts.

Formerly a bathhouse, Katsurayu's old-fashioned copperplate walls give the place a retro feel.
Formerly a bathhouse, Katsurayu's old-fashioned copperplate walls give the place a retro feel.
Access
590 Johana, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1864
Telephone number
0763-62-0661
Business Hours
10:00am-4:00pm
Closed
No scheduled holidays

Recommended accommodation - A rural inn & restaurant to inspire your stay in Johana

Tucked away in a quiet yet beautiful rural area not far from the heart of Johana, Maki No Oto is a tiny little inn where you can enjoy some french cuisine and wood-fired rice, relax in the bath while looking out over serene scenery, and much more (reservations limited three groups per day).

Seasonal vegetables picked from a private garden. Their vibrant colours make them a treat to look at too.
Seasonal vegetables picked from a private garden. Their vibrant colours make them a treat to look at too.

Formerly farmers on this land, the owner and his family run this inn together and take pride in both their hospitality and their cooking, which is made from fresh seasonal ingredients that include vegetables picked from their private garden.
Please visit their website for more details on accommodation plans and prices.

The owner of this establishment had the good fortune of growing up amidst this gorgeous scenery
The owner of this establishment had the good fortune of growing up amidst this gorgeous scenery

Basic information on Satoyama Auberge Maki No Oto

Address
140 Noguchi, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1844
Telephone number
0763-62-3255 (Reception hours 10am-6pm)
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Day 2: Welcome to Inami, where woodcarver's workshops line the stone-paved streets

Located about a 20 minute bus ride from Johana, step into the streets of Johana, originally developed as a temple town around the famous Zuisen-ji Temple. Inami is actually well known in certain circles for its wood sculptors.

Zuisen-ji Temple

The history of woodworking in Inami can be traced all the way back to the fire that burned down Zuisen-ji Temple in 1763. In order to rebuild it, a wood sculptor by the name of Sanshiro Maekawa was dispatched from Hongan-ji Temple in Kyoto to teach his craft to the local carpenters. And so began Inami's wood carving tradition.

Since then the temple has undergone multiple reconstructions and accumulated many fine examples of Inami woodworking. Countless examples of these exquisite carving techniques remain standing to this day for us to view at the main hall, the Taishi hall and the temple gates. In particular, Maekawa's own 'Unsui-ippiki-ryu' (dragon) is a work with such subtle yet bold craftsmanship, and even now it watches over us from atop the temple's front gates.

Sanshiro Maekawa's 'Unsui-ippiki-ryu' is on the front of Zuisen-ji's temple gates
Sanshiro Maekawa's 'Unsui-ippiki-ryu' is on the front of Zuisen-ji's temple gates

Basic information on Zuisen-ji Temple

Address
3050 Inami, Nanto City, Toyama 932-0211
Telephone number
0763-82-0004
Hours
9:00am-4:30pm
Closed
No holidays
Fees
Adults - 500 yen, Middle school and younger - Free
Official Website
Official Website(Japanese)

Nanto City Inami International Wooden Sculpture Camp

Every 4 years in Inami, wood sculptors from around the world are invited to create works of art in full view of the public. During the 'Nanto CIty Inami International Wooden Sculpture Camp', you can watch these artists as they create sculptures from raw timber. The 2019 camp will be the 8th edition of the event.

These majestic sculptures are truly awe-inspiring. Incredibly, it's totally free to come and watch as they're made.
These majestic sculptures are truly awe-inspiring. Incredibly, it's totally free to come and watch as they're made.

Yokamachidori Street

If you take a walk down Yokamachidori Street leading towards Zuisen-ji Temple, you'll see countless woodcarver's workshops lining the streets.
Here, in this place where young craftsmen from across the country come to learn the trade, it could be said that town itself is walking side by side with the art of woodworking. Much like how the town's woodworking developed with the numerous reconstructions of Zuisen-ji Temple, the key to carrying the craft on into the future lies in the process of creation.

The master cuts the wood down into a rough shape, then the apprentice carves the final product; this tried and true system is still alive and well here. So it might surprise you when you spot a sign hanging from a woodcarver's workshop saying "Come on in!". You might think that an invitation like that is only supposed to be for acquaintances, but you'll be surprised at just how open the woodcarver's workshops in Inami really are. You creak open the front door and are greeted with a "Good morning!" as you step inside. The craftsman continues his work and invites you to watch. This common scenario really makes you appreciate the sophisticated & open-minded nature of Inami's woodworking culture. In these woodcarver's workshops, you can immerse yourself in a comforting sense of quietude between the gentle swings of their mallets.

Even if they're hard at work inside, if a sign like this is up you're free to head in and watch
Even if they're hard at work inside, if a sign like this is up you're free to head in and watch

Basic information on Yokamachidori Street

Address
Inami, Nanto City, Toyama 932-0211 (Yokamachidori Street)
Official Website
Official Website (English)

Recommended Experience - Enjoy a guinomi sake cup making workshop

After hearing about the woodcarving workshop available in Inami, I stopped by for a visit right away. Under the guidance of their artisans, you can use genuine woodworking tools to create your own wooden sake cup by hand. They also have a little program set up where you can head to the Wakakoma Brewery on Yokamachidori Street afterwards to try out some local sake.

At this woodcarving workshop you can make your own sake cup.
At this woodcarving workshop you can make your own sake cup.

Guinomi sake cup making workshop

Telephone number
0763-62-1201 (Bookings reception - 8:30am - 4:00pm)
Booking
Minimum of 2 people (Max 8 people, bookings must be made 3 days in advance, before 4:00pm)
Workshop hours
5 times a day 10:00am~ / 11:30am~ / 1:00pm~ / 2:30pm~ / 4:00pm~
Closed
The New Year holiday (Dec. 28 to Jan. 5)
Fees
3,000 yen per person (Approx. 60 minutes allotted)
Official Website
Official Website (English)

Basic information on Wakakoma Brewery

Address
360 Inami, Nanto City, Toyama 932-0211
Telephone number
0763-82-7373
Hours
9:00am-7:00pm
Closed
No scheduled holidays
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Day 3: Just a quick & easy trip from Johana takes you to the villages of Gokayama, a World Heritage Site

Officially recognised as a World Heritage Site, the villages of Gokayama are noteworthy for their traditional 'gassho-zukuri' style sloped roof houses, which were constructed during the Edo (1603-1868) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras. Back then the area would be inaccessible during the winter, but with the advent of public transportation it's now connected to Johana by the Route 304 highway, and can be reached with just a 20 minute bus ride.

The 'World Heritage Bus' connects Takaoka, Johana, Gokayama and Shirakawa-go
The 'World Heritage Bus' connects Takaoka, Johana, Gokayama and Shirakawa-go

Gokayama

The Gokayama area consists of 2 villages, Ainokura and Suganuma, and the understated beauty found in the scenery there makes it one of Japan's most beloved spots. Gokayama exemplifies a living, breathing World Heritage Site, from the people living in the well-maintained thatched roof houses, to the rice fields, the ponds, the forests and more. The fact that the villages are alive and well is why there are rules that ask visitors to refrain from entering the area in the early morning and after sunset.

The name 'Gassho-zukuri' comes from the word 'gassho', meaning 'hands clasped in prayer', which is what these roofs are said to resemble. The roofs are sloped at a steep 60 degree angle, which allows them to withstand huge snowfalls of up to 3 metres.
There are buses departing from Johana to both Gokayama and Shirakawa-go, so you can easily visit these World Heritage Sites at your leisure.

The village of Ainokura at Gokayama, one of two villages here that are designated as World Heritage Sites.
The village of Ainokura at Gokayama, one of two villages here that are designated as World Heritage Sites.

Basic information on Gokayama Ainokura Village

Address
611 Ainokura, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1915 (Gokayama Ainokura Village)
Telephone number
0763-66-2123(World Heritage Site Ainokura Gassho-zukuri Village Preservation Foundation)
Hours
8:30am-5:00pm(Please refrain from visiting between sunset & early morning)
Closed
No holidays
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Basic information on Gokayama Suganuma Village

Address
578 Suganuma, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1973 (Suganuma Gassho-zukuri Village)
Telephone number
0763-67-3008 Suganuma World Heritage Site Preservation Association
Open hours
April~November - 8am-5pm/December~March - 9am-5pm
(*)Parking lot open until 4pm (please refrain from visiting between sunset & early morning)
Closed
Dec. 31 and Jan. 1
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Murakami House(Important Cultural Property - Gassho-zukuri)

This ancient Gokayama building is said to have been built around 400 years ago. The house is both a dwelling and a place of industry, as they produce many useful materials inside. The top floor is home to a silk farm, the dirt floor is used for making washi paper, and nitre (used in the creation of gunpowder) is produced under the floor of the building.

Murakami House is a fantastic place to get a glimpse of life in ancient times; floors 1-3 have several thousand items on display that have been in use since the Edo period. You can even listen to stories from the head of the Murakami household about the house's history, such as the house's status as vassals of the Kaga Domain, what life in winter was like, how they produced gunpowder for weapons, how there used to be 20-25 people living there, and much more.

We listened to the head of the Murakami household as he discussed life in a 'gassho-zukuri' house.
We listened to the head of the Murakami household as he discussed life in a 'gassho-zukuri' house.

Basic information on Murakami House

Address
742 Kaminashi, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1914
Telephone number
0763-66-2711
Opening hours
8:30am-5:00pm (Winter (Dec-Mar): 9am-4pm)
Closed
Tuesdays & Wednesdays (But open on national holidays), New Years Holiday, and other days without prior notice
Fees
Adult - 300 yen / Elementary & middle school students - 150 yen
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Gokayama washi paper making workshop

Another thing you absolutely must experience in Gokayama is the art of making washi paper, which was formerly a winter industry.
The high quality and highly coveted paper that is 'Gokayama Washi' is made from special 'Kozo' mulberry trees, and as you'd expect from paper that was used to make sliding doors that needed to protect from rain, wind and snow, its strength and flexibility is second to none. Nowadays it's used for things like furniture, accessories and even restoring ancient documents.

You can experience the winter industry of Gokayama at this washi paper making workshop
You can experience the winter industry of Gokayama at this washi paper making workshop

Basic information on Gokayama washi paper making workshop

Address
148 Shimonashi, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1923
Telephone number
0763-66-2016 (reservations required)
Hours
8:15am-5:00pm
Closed
Tuesdays (but open on holidays), also closed on Sundays and holidays between Dec-Apr
Fees
1 sheet - 700 yen
Official Website
Official Website (Japanese)

Recommended accommodation - If you're looking to enjoy some fresh mountain vegetables & river fish alongside a cup of locally brewed sake, Gokayama is the place to stay

At the World Heritage Site of Gokayama you can enjoy some old-fashioned local cuisine of wild vegetables and river fish while sat around the hearth, indulge in a relaxing soak after your meal in the hot springs, then retire to your room in one of the areas many types of accommodation, including 'gassho-zukuri' style lodgings, hot-spring hotels and more.

Gokasansou is one such hotel where they pride themselves on their old-fashioned hospitality and open-air hot springs. It's located close by to the Murakami House, making it a great choice for those sightseeing in Gokayama.

We recommend staying the night in Gokayama and enjoying the hospitality with some 'iwana kotsuzake'.
We recommend staying the night in Gokayama and enjoying the hospitality with some 'iwana kotsuzake'.

Basic information on Gokayama hot spring "Gokasansou"

Address
333-1 Tamukai, Nanto City, Toyama 939-1913
Telephone number
0763-66-2316
Official Website
Official Website (English)
  • Photography: Kenichi Mikuni
  • Reporter/Writer: Kou Ueki (also contributed some photos)
  • Special Thanks: Nanto City/Nanto City Tourism Association