I have a stock response whenever the conversation comes to where I'm from; "Love the place, hate the people."
Toyama literally means "rich with mountains." As meniotned in the earlier post, I was raised surrounded by 10,000+ feet of mountain ranges and a plankton-rich gulf that produces some of the best seafood in Japan. In the last decade, Buri (yellowtail) from the port city of Himi has grown into the Kobe-beef of sashimi that gets traded in Tokyo for way more money than we ever used to spend. I'm never reluctant to drink out of any faucet which connects to the water source in the said mountains we call Tateyama, the guardian deities of our land. The neighborhood grocery stores my mom frequent carry produces that come from no further than 5 miles away. The prefecture is known for the highest ratio of rice patties per arable land, the highest rate of home ownership, the highest rate of high/middle school graduation.
Then I have to list things about people; once, upon telling them that I've been living in LA for years, I was asked to "say something in English.” Growing up we only had access to 4 TV channels, 2 FM radio stations and one dance club. They'd never heard of Frank Zappa, Bobby McFerrin or Gamelan. They'd consistently vote for Liberal Democratic Party, GOP of Japan which has ruled since post-war Japan with the exceptions of few years here and there. They have this strange habit of staring each other down when walking by, almost like sizing you in whatever ways. Above all that, I never felt that I belonged there; outside of a few dear friends, there weren't many that I got to connect. As a mouthy chubby kid who "comes from money” I was bullied, and even after that was over I felt alienated. Save the details; I was miserable, and dead set on getting the fuck out of this place. Then I got myself a girl which eventually put everyone involved in a distress. Looking back, I see that we were all naive and overreacting, but on top of it all, while I was partying my education away, my father was diagnosed with cancer and 6 months later dead. After that, coming home became even less appealing. The situation at home is not much better, but I couldn’t spend 8 weeks traveling Asia and not spend some time there.
It was the longest solo stay in Toyama since I left, and the longer I stayed the happier I felt; not for me but for the people of Toyama. This is no longer the sleepy nowhere-town I grew up.
There's a brand new museum that has Picasso, Pollock, Chagall and more with a quirky rooftop playground overlooking the entire city. Another museum specialized in glass art (featuring installations by Dale Chihuly) also serves as a city library where kids come in to finish their homework. The old city center (which does not look old anymore) hosts a monthly market with craft beer vendors and live performance, along with an arthouse cinema, hipster coffeeshops and a pretty damn decent burger joint that puts Umami to shame. The JR station, now welcoming visitors from Tokyo via Shinkansen, offers too many dinner/souvenir options for me to cover them all. As a whole, the city seems quietly radiant and devoid of that depressing and insidious atmosphere I used to despise. I don't doubt that it still lacks many of the amenities that other major cities offer, and the population is still in decline. That being said, I kept hearing that many in my generation have been coming home after spending some time elsewhere, finding Toyama a much better environment to raise kids and/or start a business.
Then there was a healthy amount of nostalgia at work. Rather than driving, I got on a bike and rode around wherever I felt like; the places I used to frequent or somewhere that I'd only been once or twice. Some place that I knew that someone I knew used to go to. Everywhere I went had a tinge of familiarity that either evoked certain emotion or bring back imageries that's been stowed away in memory. I even reunited with the old friends whom I hadn't seen for 25 years. This was the first time that I really got to rediscover and enjoy myself in Toyama.
But I'd always known that it wasn't Toyama that I didn't wanna come back to.
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. Currently travelblogging at #beatvagabond and working on new material.