Gokayama’s historic Gassho-style thatched-roofed farmhouses were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the cultural category in 1995. The two settlements of farmhouses – Ainokura and Suganuma – are a humbly beautiful remnant of what can be called Japan’s original landscape. The melting snow in spring, the new greenery and the balmy summer scenery each give the quaintly beautiful village a slightly different look, while the sight of the farmhouses nestled in the deep winter snow will evoke a sense of cosiness amid the still winter landscape that will warm your heart. It’s well worth staying in one of the many historic houses that have been opened as guest houses – waking up to the unspoiled morning scenery of the village will leave you feeling invigorated.
Many of Toyama’s folk songs from ancient times remain known to this day. Kokiriko-bushi, a much-loved folk song in the Gokayama District, is said to be the oldest folk song in Japan. It has a nostalgic melody played on the sasara, a traditional Japanese percussion instrument made of bamboo plates strung together. Another iconic Gokayama folk song is Mugiya-bushi. This song is accompanied by a traditional dance where dancers wear montsuki and hakama, carry traditional swords and wear woven bamboo hats, giving the impression of ancient warriors. The Mugiya-bushi dance is performed at events such as the Gokayama Mugiya Festival and Johana Mugiya Festival in September. Other notable folk songs are Etchu Owara-bushi, a folk song from Yatsuo that is famous for its use in the Owara-kaze Bon Festival, and Serikomi Choroku, a folk song from Uozu. Hearing these songs will add a local flavour to your trip.
Toyama has many long-standing traditions of hikiyama, massive festival floats that are pulled through the streets. Many of these traditions have been around since the Edo Period (1603-1867), and much attention is paid to craftsmanship such as metalworking and lacquering. A particularly iconic festival is the Takaoka Mikurumayama Festival, which began when Maeda Toshinaga, the second lord of the domain to which Toyama belonged during the Edo Period, presented the people of Takaoka with a mikuruma that his father, Maeda Toshiie, had received from powerful daimyo Toyotomi Hidetoshi. The festival is a great spectacle, with seven of the most lavish mikuruma in all of Japan being paraded through the streets. Other notable festivals are the Johana Hikiyama Festival in Nanto, a festival where a procession of floats led by an Iori-yatai float (a float resembling a traditional teahouse) creates an exciting atmosphere, and the Yatsuo Hikiyama Festival in Toyama, where gorgeous hikiyama floats are paraded through the streets. These festivals came about through rich traditions, culture and craftsmanship, and are a point of pride among those who have carried on the tradition. If you get the chance, don’t miss out on seeing these awe-inspiring cultural experiences up close.