A Course to Visit a World Heritage Site and Other Historic Sites in Toyama

A Course to Visit a World Heritage Site and Other Historic Sites in Toyama


Toyama prefecture is known to be a region with some of the greatest snowfall in japan. The small village of Ainokura in Gokayama, a region in the southwestern area of the prefecture, and its gassho-zukuri houses were registered as a World Heritage Site in 1995. The nostalgic thatched roofs are popular among tourists from both within and outside of the country. There are various cultural heritages in Toyama prefecture like this one, but did you know that many of them are closely connected to the prayers of the people?

Jodo Shinshu was preached by Shinran, a monk in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). The sect was spread to the Hokuriku region by his disciples. Shinran was married and had children. One of his descendants, Shakunyo, became the fifth chief priest of Honganji Temple, the head temple of Jodo Shinshu. In 1390, during the Nanboku-cho period, with the permission and help of Emperor Go-Komatsu, Zuiryuji was established in present-day Inami, Nanto. His great-grandson was the eighth chief priest Rennyo Shonin. Rennyo preached that “all humans are equal, and anyone will be saved if they recite Namu Ami Dabutsu.” This simple teaching spread widely throughout Hokuriku.

Coincidently, Japan was in a time of conflict. People in pain desired salvation, and it was only natural that they drew together. It is thought that Jodo Shinshu villages were created around this time in the Gokayama area, where gassho-zukuri houses remain even today. It is said that the gassho-zukuri houses are called “Namu Ami Dabutsu-date” in Ainokura. This may also be a trace of the prayers of the people of the past, still remaining from the ancient Sengoku period. Rennyo’s followers changed their name to Ikko-shu, and eventually began to fight against samurai warriors in self-defense. This resulted in the Ikko-ikki that troubled Oda Nobunaga later.

In the time of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) the whole Toyama prefecture area, called Etchu at the time, was controlled by Maeda Toshiie’s son, Toshinaga. In the Edo period, Toshinaga possessed most of the Kaga and Noto provinces (present-day Ishikawa prefecture), as well as Etchu. With possession of most of these three provinces, he gained the largest kokudaka of all daimyo. In 1609, Toshinaga established a castle in Takaoka, created a castle town, and built the base of the rich Kaga Domain, which was known for the saying “Kaga Hyakumangoku (Kaga domain with one million koku of rice produced annually).” Zuiryuji, the bodaiji temple where he rests, was constructed over 20 years to the southwest of the remains of Takaoka Castle by the third lord Toshitsune, who succeeded Toshinaga. The strong will of the Maeda family, who made the area prosper after putting an end to the long wars, can be felt from the early Edo period Zen-style elegant and luxurious appearance.

The feeling of praying for salvation and wishing for a peaceful life must have been the same for both the common people and daimyos alike. The earnest desires of those who lived here dwell in many of the valuable historical heritages that remain in Toyama.

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