The City of Wood Carving in Toyama
Inami is a town of Nanto City, located in the west of Toyama Prefecture in the Japanese Alps. The small town is renowned nationwide for its wood sculpture craft. Visitors can meeting artisans in Yokamachi street and discover the grounds of the majestic Zuisen-ji temple.
Inami is a small town spreading near Zuisen-ji, a Buddhist temple of the Pure Land Jodo school founded in 1390. After sustaining great fire 🔥 damages, the temple’s wooden pavilions were reconstructed in the middle of the 18th century under the supervision of Maekawa Sanshiro, a master wood sculptor from Kyoto. The many carpenters artisans and their apprentices who worked with Sanshiro definitely settled in Inami and continued to polish their skills there. From a small religious town in Toyama’s forestry mountains, Inami thus became the Japanese capital of wood carving.
Yokamachi: The craftsmen traditional street
Yokamachi-dori is the rectilinear shopping street leading to the entrance of Zuisen-ji temple. It is lined with beautiful traditional architecture houses, all decorated with wood carvings, and especially about twenty sculptures of cats 🐈 hidden in the townscape. Wood carvings are everywhere, from the bus stop entirely made of wood, to the beautiful old-fashioned telephone 📱 booth.
Most of the buildings are workshops where visitors can watch the artisans working on the sculptures, seating on a tatami floor. It is possible to take picture as long as the craftsmen have agreed to it beforehand. The senses are tingling from the sound of the tools shaping the materials and the smell of wood.
Have a closer look on the artisan’s know-how by take part in a beginner workshop to make a small object. In about one hour, one can make a sake 🍶 cup, that can be immediately used in a local nihonshu tasting at the Wakakoma Sake Brewery. Yokamachi and the neighboring streets also have a few restaurants.
Zuisen-ji: the city’s large wooden temple
Zuisen-ji temple is majestically standing at the end of Yokamachi street. The 1rst great gate is called Sanmon and dates back to the 18th century’s reconstruction. It is displaying a dragon finely carved by Maekawa Sanshiro himself. According to the legend, the buildings were saved from another conflagration thanks to this dragon that sucked out the well’s water to spit it on the flames and extinguish the fire.
The main hall Hondo has impressive dimensions: a 45 meters length on a 40 meters width. Its indoor surface is covered by 450 tatami mats. While this area is off-limits, visitors are allowed to walk in socks on the wooden corridor to the secondary pavilion Taishido, where beautiful wood carvings are covered in gold.
The raw wood ornaments are particularly detailed, with ancient and mythological motifs or just functional, such as the fire extinguishers and the no-smoking signs that are perfectly blending in the temple’s scenery.
The surroundings of Inami (up to 30 minutes’ walk from Zuisen-ji) offer nice grounds to explore, especially the local Hachiman-gu shrine, the small Daimongawa Park near the river, and further away Kanjoji Park that commends an elevated view on the city, with a campsite opened in summer.