The Lonely Planet is considered to be the bible among many travellers. Its recommendations are gospel and its advice are unquestionable testaments. However, even the most celebrated books can have their flaws.
Upon receiving The Lonely Planet Japan from my friend who had recently completed his journey in Asia, I decided to go to the index and search for Toyama, my home in Japan.
To my horror there were barely two pages of Toyama mentioned in a book of almost 700 hundred pages. Many of the little things that makes Toyama a traveller’s dream was glaringly absent.
I have since decided to fill these gaps with the special things that make Toyama one of the greatest undiscovered treasures in Japan.
Tucked away in the middle of Toyama, one of Japan’s least visited prefectures, is a little town called, Tonami. With a little less than 50, 000 people, Tonami is irrefutably one of Toyama’s hidden gems.
At the beginning of each spring, this little town explodes in a welter of vibrant colours. A romance fills the air as golden yellows, seductive reds, innocent whites and pleasant purple blossoms of more than 400 varieties of tulips are displayed at the Tonami Tulip Garden in the city’s municipal park, mesmerizing all those who come to see them.
Tonami embraces tulips the same way first loves seem to embrace each other. The relationship between the two is unassuming and innocent. Tonami is tulips and tulips are Tonami. So deep seeded is the love Tonami has for tulips that the tulip is omnipresent, giving the town a unique charm.
As spring ends and the tulips withers, Tonami welcomes the theatrical Yotaka festival usually held in the second weekend of June. This festival is a colorful celebration as young and old come together to give prayers for good harvest in the rice fields.
The most unique aspect of this night festival is that neighbouring regions carry intricately designed mikoshi, Shinto shrines, made of paper ready for a spectacular battle. Thousands of spectators line the narrow streets of Tonami to see these seemingly magically lit floats prepare for barrage.
Before the whistle is blown for battle, there are thunderous shouts of encouraging “Yoiyasa” that continues until the epic battle ends. It is an utterly remarkable experience to see these beautifully crafted floats that took months to create crumble within minutes in a glorious fight. As the battle unfolds, you can’t help but be filled with passion and join in the chants of “Yoiyasa”.
As engaging as the battle is, there is more to the festival than floating shrines. There are hundreds of stalls that the line both sides of the streets bursting with a frenzy of colour and lights, offering patrons candy covered apples, tasty takoyaki (savory octopus balls), exciting games, taiko drumming that fills the air, children laughing, couples holding hands and memories to last a lifetime.
Tonami is testimony to the fact that some of the greatest treasures are sometimes not the ones we’ve read about or seen pictures of, but the one we accidentally stumble across ourselves.
Jenson recommends: Visiting Tonami if you ever have the opportunity and discovering all hidden treasures around you.