From out of the woodwork comes Japan’s best destination for wood-carved masterpieces.
Walking through the center of this quaint town in Toyama Prefecture, you’d be forgiven for thinking you have been transported one hundred years into the past. The air is fragrant with the scent of camphor, and the sound of metal tools chipping away at wood can be heard all around. Home to over 120 carpentry workshops and the magnificent Zuisen-ji Temple, Inami is the perfect marriage of traditionalism and artisanal spirit.
Yokamachi-dori, Inami’s main street, is a picturesque glimpse of a bygone era. It’s perfect for a relaxing stroll when visiting this prefecture in Central Japan. Inami is known for its history of traditional wood carving. Peer into shop windows and you’ll see both apprentices and master carvers working side-by-side.
Even without entering a single workshop, one can see the efforts of Inami’s artisans seamlessly integrated into the townscape. Everything from shop signage, mailboxes, and benches have all been carved from wood with stunning attention to detail. A point of interest for all visitors to Inami is the wood-carved phone booth―perfect for photo-ops.
After you’re done soaking up the traditional atmosphere of the main street, head over to Zuisen-ji Temple.
Inami Zuisen-ji Temple
This massive, intricately wood-carved temple is Inami’s crown jewel. Founded in 1390, the construction of Zuisen-ji brought with it carpenters who made the town their home and spent generations honing their craft. The temple has been destroyed by fire five times, but each subsequent building was more spectacular than the last. Zuisen-ji’s most recent incarnation was completed in 1885.
The most famous of Zuisen-ji’s carvings is the dragon that adorns the main gate. Legend says the dragon came to life and saved the gate from ruin during a huge fire in 1879 by using water from a nearby well.
Inami Wood Carving Composite Hall
At Inami Wood Carving Composite Hall (modeled after Zuisen-ji) you can marvel at more than two hundred works on display ranging from ornate ranma (wooden panels found in traditional Japanese homes) to electric guitars carved to resemble birds, lions, and dragons. An Inami masterpiece isn’t cheap. Wood-carved guitars, for example, go for ¥2,000,000 on average!
Inami’s artisans showcase their playful side in the form of several dozen carved wooden cats hidden around the town.
Traditionalism aside, Inami’s artisans showcase their playful side in the form of several dozen carved wooden cats hidden around the town. You’ll find them sleeping under shop signs or watching from the eaves of rooftops. Besides delighting visitors, they’ve increased foot traffic to local businesses. Officially, there are 26 cats listed on the town map, but if you include the ones locals have added on their own, the number is closer to 40.
Try to find them all as you slow down and appreciate the simple life in Inami.