The old and new Japanese capitals of Kyoto and Osaka are well known as hubs of diverse cultures. But what about the swathes of the country that lie between these cultural capitals? Join us as we head off the beaten path and discover the diverse tapestry of tradition necessary to truly understand the culture of the country as a whole.
Echizen Washi Village in Fukui
Within the Echizen Washi Village, in the stately and peaceful atmosphere of an 18th-century building, the local specialty art of Japanese washi papermaking lives on. Visitors can watch the traditional process from start to finish, and beautiful paper products are available for sale in many forms. Hands-on experience of papermaking is also offered in the village.
Miho Museum in Shiga
Enjoy a stunning museum that is at one with its natural environment. Walk or be whisked in an electric cart through a magical metallic tunnel to the museum nestled in a sea of wooded green hills. There you can enjoy the permanent collection and special exhibitions of antiquities, both Japanese and international, and, at lunch, sample vegetable ingredients are grown right on the museum grounds.
The Railway Museum in Saitama
Explore the history of Japanese trains from steam locomotives to the Hokuriku’s own cutting-edge shinkansen bullet trains. Your first stop upon entering the museum should be the rolling stock station, which showcases actual historic trains that you can board. Next, walk over to the simulation section to test drive your conductor skills. On the second floor, you will find a library, train driver classroom, and a railway diorama. There are plenty of exhibits to entertain the whole family as well as railway-themed restaurants.
Kameoka Blade Workshop in Kyoto
Under the tutelage of a master swordsmith, visitors to the Blade Workshop can have the exciting experience of forging their own kogatana (small sword) over hot charcoal, while learning about the process, materials, and methods. The active smithery is one of a tiny number open to the public so don’t miss out. As a break, enjoy the beautiful Kameoka scenery, the backdrop for many famous Japanese movies.
Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design
During your travels around Toyama make sure you include a visit to this extremely modern art museum. Wander through six different exhibit areas, a space for kids to get creative and a digital archive of more than 3,000 Japanese and international posters accessible via touch panel. Rotating exhibitions also include work from many world-renowned artists. There is also a rooftop garden designed specifically for children with great views of the majestic Tateyama Mountain Range.
Edo Kiriko Cut Glass at Sumida Edo Kiriko Museum in Tokyo
Beautifully faceted colored glass objects are produced here by meticulous cutting and faceting, using processes dating from the Edo Period (1603–1868). The studio shop has exhibitions that give information about the history and processes of manufacturing. In the studio, visitors can try simple glass-cutting techniques hands-on to produce a glass item sure to become a treasured memory of Japan.
Hida Shunkei at Fukuju Lacquerware Store in Gifu
This unique lacquerware, in which the beautiful grain of the wood shows through many coats of transparent lacquer, may be crimson, yellow, or brownish in color. The distinctive luster only becomes more pronounced with use. The term “Shunkei” refers to the resemblance to traditional tea containers. Several different lacquer masters, whose finished product varies subtly, operate workshops in the area.
D.T. Suzuki Museum in Ishikawa
Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (1870–1966) was a Japanese Buddhist philosopher whose writings helped introduce Zen Buddhism to the West. He traveled and gave lectures extensively in many countries, and also taught in several Japanese universities. The beautiful Contemplative Space and the Water Mirror Garden on the museum grounds foster your own peaceful self-reflection time. Explore the space and learn about the philosophy of Suzuki to form your own souvenir or your experience.
Tsubame-Sanjo Knives and Cutlery at Tobiro Open Factory in Niigata
The traditional Tsubame-Sanjo blade manufacturing region uses time-honored hand-hammering techniques blended with modern manufacturing methods to ensure a high degree of strength and durability in the knives, scissors, and outdoor equipment produced onsite. At the Tojiro Open Factory, visitors may watch actual knives being made and experience a hands-on demonstration.
Osaka Museum of History
Opened in 2001 in the center of this bustling city, this museum is an exciting immersive experience of Osaka history. Life-size models and intricate dioramas bring history to life from the era of the ancient Naniwa-no-miya palace right to the present day. A spectacular view of Osaka Castle also awaits you on the top floor.
Usaburo Kokeshi Factory in Gunma
Kokeshi wooden dolls are among the most famous of Japan’s handcrafts and Gunma boasts the highest production volume of Kindai (modern-style) Kokeshi in Japan. In this factory, founded in 1950 by Usaburo Okamoto, a handful of onsite-trained woodworkers produce modern-style kokeshi that are turned, carved, and painted specifically to emphasize the beauty of local wood. Watch artisans hard at work and experience painting a doll to create your own unique doll.
Matsumoto City Art Museum in Nagano
Opened in 2002, this eclectic museum houses many exhibits of local artists and particularly showcases the art of Matsumoto-born Yayoi Kusama, whose childlike art featuring polka dots makes visitors feel they have entered another world. The installation of large tulips outside the museum was created by Kusama, especially for the opening.
For more information on rail passes, routes, and everything you need to plan your Hokuriku adventure, please visit the Explore Japan website below.
Explore Japan Official Website
Visit the official Hokuriku Arch Pass website here:
Was this article helpful?
Featured on Japan Travel