Old houses line the gentle curves of a canal that runs under bridges with distinctive designs, while moored ships sway in the water. This is Uchikawa, a waterfront area of Imizu, Toyama Prefecture, whose distinctive townscape has been shaped by its history as a port. Near Azuma Bridge, which features red ocher roofs, you can find an old house with a difference. The hexagonal building is now home to Cafe Uchikawa Rokkakudo, which opened in January 2013.
The 70-year-old building, once a tatami mat shop, has been remodeled to create a modern and tranquil atmosphere where customers can relax and enjoy chatting. Coasters and cushions used at the cafe are decorated with fabric of a type used to edge tatami, evoking the building’s history.
“I didn’t want just this shop to do a good business,” said cafe owner Hiroyuki Akashi, 43, who also serves as president of a company for community renovation. “I aim for this cafe to work as the first step for people to become interested in Uchikawa, and also as a center to create a synergy for revitalizing the community.”
The cafe hosts an evening tea party every other Wednesday. Limited to just six guests, the event has held 23 sessions so far, inviting young professionals working in Toyama Prefecture to discuss their fields, with a lacquer artisan and a roof tile maker among the guest speakers. “I hope that we can compile their stories into a book when we’ve held 100 sessions,” Akashi said.
Some expect the number of tourists to suddenly increase when the Hokuriku Shinkansen reaches the prefecture, but Akashi is skeptical about this idea. “What remains important is that people should have specific targets or motivations for visiting Toyama, or personal connections,” Akashi said. He also pointed out that tourists today seek emotional satisfaction from enjoying authentic local food, culture and nature. “Toyama actually has them all, but we haven’t successfully promoted them. Many places in Japan also have great seafood, rich nature and warm hospitality. We should be able to specify how our features are different from others, and I believe this is the starting point for bringing in a new wave of visitors,” Akashi said.