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Regional Charm: Bilingual concierges offer taste of real-life Toyama

An employee talks with a visitor about Toyama Prefecture's local craftworks at "Nihonbashi Toyama" in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, on Sept. 28, 2018. (The Mainichi/Richi Tanaka)

TOKYO -- At the foot of the historic Nihonbashi Bridge in the center of the capital where many tourists have come and gone for centuries, there is a local specialty store, a so-called "antenna shop," for the central Japan prefecture of Toyama named "Nihonbashi Toyama." A big gold sign with the kanji character "Tomi," which means wealth in Japanese and forms the first part of the prefecture's name, adorns its main entrance. When visitors step inside, bilingual concierges and other staff members welcome them with warm smiles.

Despite its prime location, this shop's visitors from abroad don't necessarily know where they are coming to, and that's exactly why the facility has bilingual concierges. "I have often been asked by foreign tourists 'Where is Toyama?'" one of the bilingual English and Japanese concierges, Yukinori Hashimoto, 56, said. The concierge, who has worked here since 2017, explains the features of traditional craftworks and other products and sometimes demonstrates them, such as ringing a traditional bell or playing a musical instrument used for a festival in Toyama. "Some foreign tourists told me that they were glad to learn about Toyama's culture and traditions," Hashimoto added.

The concierges, who know every corner of Toyama -- a prefecture famous for fresh fish, good sake and beautiful snowy mountains, alongside myriad natural, historic and cultural attractions -- are also able to give visitors advice on their travel plans and arrange trips that suit each visitor's demands.

A concierge explains about Toyama Prefecture to a visitor while seeing a map at "Nihonbashi Toyama" in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, on Sept. 28, 2018. (The Mainichi/Richi Tanaka)

There are some 800 kinds of products at the store launched in 2016. The theme of the shop is "High-quality life from Toyama Prefecture." But it's not about spending a lot of money. "We would like to offer what local people really use and eat to customers, which are good," explained Hitomi Deguchi, a public relations official at the shop.

Inside, some works of Inami wood carving, traditional sculptures used for transom windows at Japanese houses, are displayed on a wall. There is also a bar lounge that offers 17 kinds of Japanese sake from Toyama Prefecture and a Japanese restaurant that serves lunch and dinner using local seasonal ingredients. In addition, special events are regularly held for customers to taste local food, such as firefly squid and rice, make traditional craftwork and listen to stories from people related to the prefecture.

In 2017, the shop started a new initiative where it invites concierges at hotels located nearby to lunch in a bid to introduce what kinds of products and services they offer.

A bar lounge that offers 17 kinds of Japanese sake from Toyama Prefecture is seen at "Nihonbashi Toyama" in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, on Sept. 28, 2018. (The Mainichi/Richi Tanaka)

"There are many local attractions that are not well-known outside the prefecture. For example, you can stay inside the World Heritage-listed historical 'gassho' houses. I would like to offer Toyama's real value to more visitors," Hashimoto emphasized.

For more inquiries, please call Nihonbashi Toyama on 03-6262-2723 or access its website https://toyamakan.jp/.

(By Richi Tanaka, Staff Writer)

This is Part 2 of a series.

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