The Takaoka Doraemon Tour

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For fans of Doraemon, a pilgrimage to Takaoka, where Fujiko F. Fujio created the futuristic blue robot cat, is a must. And though you may not have a Dokodemo door—one of Doraemon’s handy gadgets—to instantly transport you here to Takaoka City, we’ve provided the next best thing with this photo tour, starting right at JR Takaoka Station.

Send a postcard from the Doraemon Postbox

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It may not be as big as the city’s Great Buddha statue, but this giant bronze postbox on the station’s ground level is the largest Doraemon you’ll find in the city. Best of all, letters and postcards sent from here will be postmarked with a Doraemon stamp, a great souvenir from your trip!

Shoot some selfies at the Doraemon Promenade 

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Step outside the station and walk towards the Takaoka Manten Hotel, and you’ll find the whole cast awaiting you. Dedicated by Fujiko himself, these statues were established to continue to inspire creativity amongst the city’s children (or adults like us).

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Ride the Doraemon Tram

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Dedicated in 2012 to commemorate 100 years until the birth of Doraemon in 2112 (according to the manga, as this cat hails from the future), this tram along the Manyosen Line is a Doraemon dream ride, decorated with everything from little dorayaki painted on the interior, to its cute tram logo on the front.

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Dorayaki, Doraemon’s favorite red bean-filled pancake treat.

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Just be sure to look up the tram’s schedule in advance, as there’s only one tram that travels between Takaoka Station and Koshinokata Station (Imizu City).

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Go to where it all began

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Though you won’t find any Doraemon statues to mark the spot, head to the Takaoka Park Sumo Field within Takaoka Kojo Park to see where it all began. Here, on the hill just behind this field, it is said that Fujiko would come regularly for inspiration for his artistic creations.

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Just look for this rock, a short walk from the main entrance to Imizu Jinja Shrine.

See the newest landmark

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Opening in just over a month on Dec. 1, get a rare glimpse into Fujiko’s imaginative world, through many of his original drawings and artworks gathered at the Fujiko F Fujio Hometown Art Gallery. Just a 10-min. walk from the Ritsushikino Chugakkoekimae Station via the Doraemon Tram!

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And to finish, why not try a Toyama Black Dorayaki? A sweet ending to top off your tour.

All Doraemon Photos ©Fujiko-Pro

The Takaoka Top Sites Tour

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Not all cities can boast of National Treasures, vast nature, and one of Japan’s Three Great Buddhas, all within walking distance of the main station. So for some quiet meditation or some dazzling festival floats, be sure to stop at these spots.

Takaoka Daibutsu (Great Buddha)

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Watching over the city at 15m tall and said to be the most handsome of the Three Great Buddhas according to poet Akiko Yosano, Takaoka’s Daibutsu stands—or sits, rather—as the only one of the three completely funded and crafted by its local citizens.

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Erected in 1933, three decades of coppersmith construction went into creating this 65 ton landmark, which contains a collection of art and craftwork beneath the statue, also well worth seeing.

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Zuiryuji Temple

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The most prized relic of the prefecture, Zuiryuji’s Central Buddha Hall, Lecture Hall and Main Gate are the only buildings in Toyama registered as National Treasures. Dedicated to Takaoka’s founder, Lord Maeda Toshinaga in 1663, this Zen temple is representative of early-Edo architecture.

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Central Buddha Hall

When gazing at the Central Buddha Hall, be sure to look up, as this work of architectural genius supports 47 tons of lead tiles without employing a single nail!

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Mikurumaya Kaikan

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Though the Mikurumayama Festival, which dates back to 1611, can only be caught on May 1 along Takaoka’s city streets, you can view examples of its beautiful floats here at this museum all year round.

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Known for their tall wooden hoko poles and elaborate lacquerware and metalwork ornamentation, these carriages are said to be based on an elegant one once used by the great Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi, which was later donated to Takaoka’s Maeda clan.

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Takaoka Kojo Park 

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Within just a 10-min walk from the station, here you can enjoy 22 hectares (54 acres) of lush greenery at this park, particularly beautiful during the cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons.

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While nothing remains of the original Takaoka Castle that once stood here except for the expansive moat, a free zoo, and the Manyou Shu Festival in early October, as well as a recent statue of Lord Toshinaga Maeda.

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The stage for the three-night poetry reading festival, Manyou Shu.

The Takaoka Traditional Crafts Tour

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More than anything—yes, even Doraemon—Takaoka is a city of craftsmanship.

In particular, metalworking here dates back to the Edo era, when it was designated as an industrial zone under the ruling Maeda lords. Over 400 years later, the city is still the nation’s leading copperware producer, and its skillful techniques and traditions are revealed in every statue that lines its streets, as well as its modern lineup of accessories and decorations. Below are three names any craft fan or omiyage hunter will surely want to be familiar with.

Kanaya-machi 

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Behold the birthplace of Takaoka’s metal-casting industry. Lord Toshinaga Maeda established this district in 1611 by commissioning seven metal workers, and one walk down its stone-paved streets—which also includes scraps of copper—will give you a nostalgic sense of the city’s origins.

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Enter into one of its many latticework-decorated machiya townhouse shops, and you’ll find boutique displays with one-of-a-kind products, handcrafted by third and fourth generation artisans laboring in the dark factory warehouses hidden just behind the storefront.

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From copper to tin, ceramic to lacquerware, a wide array of decorative items can not only be purchased here, but even handcrafted by participating in a workshop, such as the one offered at Sabo Gallery Otera—a great way to experience Takaoka’s tradition for yourself.

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Nousaku

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What began a hundred years ago as a manufacturing company of brass and bronze butsudan Buddhist altar fittings, tea sets, and flower vases, has expanded to one of Takaoka’s most innovative creators of tableware and home accessories.

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In fact, a meal at any nice dining establishment within the city is likely to be served on one of Nousaku’s malleable tin plates.

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Its KAGO basket line is perhaps its most popular, using 100% tin, making them bendable by hand into a number of shapes to suit any occasion.

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By visiting its factory, you can get a first-hand tour of the creation process, from the initial pouring of molten aluminum, bronze, copper, and tin into the mold, down to the detailing and polishing—a metal-lover’s must see.

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Raden

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Said to have originated in Nara in the 7th century, raden is the decorative craft created by setting lustrous abalone shell into lacquerware, glass, stone or metal. And at Musashigawa Koubo, a team of just five craftsmen design each of these masterpieces in their small workshop, carrying on four generations of the trade in Takaoka.

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Once the abalone shell—a wide variety of which are employed—is polished down to as thin as 0.1mm, it is carefully cut and shaped before inlaid and polished again.

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While originally designed for Buddhist altars, tableware, and traditional Japanese ornaments, Musashigawa Koubo keeps up with the times, handcrafting everything from business card holders to smartphone cases and desk accessories. Though a bit more pricey than your typical omiyage, these gifts are sure to be as treasured in the future as they have in the past.

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The Takaoka Street Treats Tour

Situated between the two capital cities of Toyama and Kanazawa, Takaoka is often bypassed by tourists. But with lots to offer in terms of culture, crafts, gourmet, historical streets and a Doraemon street, Toyama’s second largest city is one you don’t want to miss. Find out more about the hidden charm of Takaoka in this 5-part series.

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Sightseeing and snacking go hand-in-hand, and with nearly all the major tourist attractions in Takaoka City within walking distance, these street treats make the perfect pairing for your exploring.

Anything and Everything Konbu

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Though green konbu kelp isn’t cultivated locally, the Kitamaebune ship trade routes from Hokkaido to Toyama Bay made this seaweed a staple here for over 300 years. Sure, its furry texture may not be what you’d expect on your onigiri riceball or atop your oden, but it makes for a savory and healthy addition to almost any dish!

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Takaoka Croquette

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Croquette is a favorite across Japan, but perhaps no other city treasures this crispy potato-filled treat more than Takoaka, where sales are said to be highest in the nation. From local Hida beef-filled versions, to the oversized Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) version, over 40 stores are ready to dish out this deep-fried soul food.

Black Dorayaki

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Combining the rich black soy sauce flavor of Toyama’s famed Black Ramen with animated hometown hero Doraemon’s favorite food, this red bean paste and butter-filled pancake is the perfect way to commemorate the city’s beloved blue cat.

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Melon Bun

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Though not native to Takaoka City, this melon bun chain store from next door Kanazawa City in Ishikawa Prefecture (whose name humorously reads “The World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon Bread Ice Cream”) has been featured on TV numerous times since opening. Straight out of the oven, its slightly crispy texture and sweet taste is delicious by itself or with a scoop of ice cream inside. Apparently the world’s best fresh baked melon bun refers to the first person to have created it…

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Black Kaki no Tane

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Only available in the Hokuriku region, try the black version of this traditional kaki-pi (crescent-shaped rice cracker kaki no tane and peanuts) snack. Just don’t be confused, as unlike all the other black dishes in Toyama, this one gets its color and flavor from black squid ink, not soy sauce.

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The Takaoka Taste Tour

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From historic copperware craftwork to the futuristic cartoon cat Doraemon, Takaoka City is the home of traditional and modern culture for all ages. And thanks to the recently completed Hokuriku Shinkansen, visiting this picturesque town located along Toyama Bay, facing the Sea of Japan, has never been more convenient. Travel with WAttention as we bring you Takaoka’s top eats, spots, and traditions in this five-part series.   

The Takaoka Taste Tour

Toyama Bay is indeed gorgeous, named as one of the Most Beautiful Bays In The World by UNESCO last year. But it is also a breeding ground for Japan’s tastiest seafood, some of which can only be found here. Whether raw, fried, or in your ekiben (“train bento”), bite into the bay’s best eats while they’re at their freshest in neighboring Takaoka—and don’t forget about it’s iconic ramen either.

Shiroebi (White Shrimp)

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Referred to as the “jewels of Toyama Bay”, full-scale fishing for these little whitish-pink creatures takes place only here, between April and November. Savor its sweet melt-in-your-mouth creaminess by trying it raw, or eat it whole as a crunchy fried snack.

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Hotaruika (Firefly Squid)

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These, one of the smallest species of squid, are as delicious to eat as they are fascinating to watch, as they light up Toyama Bay with their glow in early spring. Often boiled and served in a sumiso (vinegar and miso) sauce, this delicacy can also be enjoyed as tempura, or of course, raw.

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Toyama-wan Zushi (Toyama Bay Sushi)

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With over 500 species of fish swimming throughout the waters here, there’s no shortage of toppings for fresh sushi. Typically served as a set of 10 atop Toyama-grown rice, Toyama-wan Zushi offers a sampling of all the local favorites, including yellowtail buri and honmaguro tuna.

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A Toyama-wan Zushi display inside Shin-Takaoka Station

Masu no Sushi

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300 years ago, a samurai dedicated this dish of pressed pink trout sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves to the daimyo lord Toshiaki Maeda, and ever since, it has been considered a classic. Be sure to grab one of the ekibens for your train ride back, as these have won numerous national awards for best boxed lunch!

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Toyama Black Ramen

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Dark soy sauce is the secret ingredient to this, the flagship noodle dish in Toyama Prefecture. But don’t let the color scare you, as this ramen took first place three consecutive years at the Tokyo Ramen Show. And unlike the other dishes above, it can even make a great omiyage if you buy the instant version at any convenience store in the area.

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World Heritage (5): Shirakawa-go & Gokayama

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Shirakawa-go & Gokayama: Fairy tale-like farmhouse villages 

Like a scene straight out of a fairy tale, the twinkling towns of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama possess a magical beauty that moves with the seasons.

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Ogimachi village, the largest village in Shirakawago

Surrounded by steep rugged mountains and isolated along the Shogawa River, the quaint village communities of Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go (Gifu Prefecture), and Ainokura and Suganuma in Gokayama (Toyama Prefecture) were registered as cultural world heritage sites in 1995. Known particularly for their steep-roofed gassho-style houses which design reduces snow buildup, 88 of these farmhouses within the three villages are listed as World Heritage sites.

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Gassho literally means “praying hands”, as the slanted roofs so resemble. And like an answered prayer, this creative architecture helped these villages dating back to the 11th century to survive the unique environmental challenges through the present. As only .04% of the land in this area is cultivatable, residents relied on mulberry trees, silkworms, and gunpowder manufacturing for their livelihood.

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These four-story buildings not only allowed for warm storage of silkworm beds and mulberry leaves on the upper floors, but could sustain massive snowfall with its sharp-angled roofing. As a result, you won’t find this picturesque townscape anywhere else in Japan. Such resourcefulness is what earned it its UNESCO registration, even though the oldest original house is but a few hundred years old.

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While an open-air museum and several of these houses are available for touring, the panoramic views from the Ogimachi Castle platform or Tenshukaku platform in Ogimachi village offer the most breathtaking scenery. With re-thatching of the roofs in the spring, vast green forestry in the summer, and a water-spraying exercise in the fall, this area’s seasonal events extend far beyond its iconic winter illumination.

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The water-spraying exercise held on the last Sunday in Oct. for these highly flammable gassho-style houses.

So for a setting that mixes fantasy world with folk town, you couldn’t pray for a better site to visit than here.

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Access:
Shirakawa-go: A 50-min express bus ride (Nohi Bus) from JR Takayama Station.
Gokayama: A  40 min bus ride (Kaetsunou Bus) from JR Johana Station.

Owara Kaze no Bon Festival

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Owara Kaze no Bon: Enchanting evening wind festival

For a dreamlike festival under the darkness of night, the Owara Kaze no Bon will take you on a time slip to Toyama’s traditional past.

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Unlike many upbeat and celebratory festival dances, this one is much more solemn. Don’t expect any shouting or cheering here, in fact, the streets are silent except for the shutter of cameras as the dancers move gracefully to the melancholic tunes of the kokyu – a Chinese violin rarely used in Japanese folk music – as well as the shamisen and slow rhythmic beat of small taiko drums.

This mesmerizing performance takes place from Sept. 1-3 at the sleepy hillside village of Owara in southwestern Toyama. Both a bon festival welcoming ancestral spirits in the summer, and a ceremony to protect against strong winds (kaze) that damage crops, this celebration has been passed on for 300 years.

However, the festival never fails to bring about a typhoon of tourists, as nearly 300,000 come here to watch 11 local dance units perform on stages, and throughout a 3 km street course over three nights.

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The festival starts from around 3pm (except the third night), and carries on until 11pm. As the sun sets, thousands of crafted paper lanterns pave the path for the performers, dimly lighting the rustic townscape with its peach and golden hues.

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With faces veiled by braided straw hats, the participants move to one of three dances: the older Honen odori dance, or the newer men’s and women’s dance.

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Women dressed in colorful yukata (summer kimono) with traditional black sashes portray the four seasons through their graceful strokes and strides.

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Men on the other hand, mimic farming movements in their “scarecrow dance”, boldly stepping and swaying in their happi coats.

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With the backdrop of latticed-door houses and ancient temples, smaller units simultaneously perform throughout the town. The sight will surely make you feel as though you’ve been transported to another world. So as the summer comes to a close, why not breeze on by for a few nights of otherworldly entertainment?

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Access: A 40-min walk from Etchuyatsuo Station (JR Takayama Line)