When I joined the JET Programme, I was placed in Uozu City in rural Toyama Prefecture. Like most people, I hadn’t heard of it since most foreigners only hear of cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Hiroshima. Living there, I was lucky enough to enjoy the clear water and beautiful surroundings each and every day. One of the sites I was lucky enough to visit on a tour was Gokayama in Nanto City, all the way on the other side of the prefecture from where I lived. Gokayama is one of Japan’s 17 world heritage sites. (A world heritage site is any place UNESCO deems as culturally or naturally significant.)
Here in Gokayama, there are many things to see including Ainokura Gasshodukuri Village, a museum with a stuffed sea lion named Todo-chan, and any one of ancient temples in the area. There are also many fun activities that you can join including papermaking, woodcarving, senbei making and soba making. Here are a couple of the activities my group and I joined in on our day trip to Nanto.
“Washi” is Japanese-style paper and as a former art student, I was very interested in this process. You are given all the tools needed to strain the pulp needed to create your own postcards for a reasonable price. At the time that I had gone, an assortment of colorful leaves was available to add a natural touch to each of your postcards (3 pieces per set of postcards you make). It takes some time for the washi to dry, so you are able to walk away and eat lunch or see other things. The finished product can be mailed to your friends but honestly, they look just as nice when placed in frames in your own home.
We were also treated to a performance by sasara players. A sasara is a traditional wooden instrument that is used during traditional dances and folk song performances in Gokayama. You may also see sasara used at some of the festivals around town. My group was given a bag of wooden pieces to make our own mini-sasara instrument. It took both hands and one foot to aid in the construction of this piece! After completion, the room was full of the sounds of wood clapping together.
Please visit Nanto if you want to immerse yourself in a traditional Japanese experience that won’t be found elsewhere. I myself would love to go again someday to participate in senbei making! I have no doubt you’ll meet some really nice people when you do visit. I loved my time in Toyama Prefecture and I hope that more people are able to share that feeling. Next time you take a trip to Japan, step away from the busy cities and head to the mountains of Gokayama.
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