The Chubu, or central, region of Japan consists of nine prefectures, lying to the west of the Kanto region. The region is characterized by high mountains. The Japanese Alps, as they are called, are the divider between the economically dominant Pacific side, known as the front of Japan, or Omote-Nihon, and the climatologically very different Sea of Japan side, or Ura-Nihon, the back of Japan.
To the North-east, Ura Nihon extends into Tohoku and to the West into the prefectures of Western Japan along the Sea of Japan.
The central part of Ura Nihon, the Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures along the Sea of Japan coast together form the Hokuriku region. Heavy and chemical industries are situated in Niigata and Toyama. Textile and machinery production is concentrated in Ishikawa and Fukui.
Hokuriku, and in fact entire Ura Nihon has taken a back-seat to Japan’s rapid post-war economic development. Development of a network of transportation infra-structure, combining railways (shinkansen), express ways and airports during the past 20 to 30 years has finally given the region an opportunity again to develop economically. However, in terms of economic and population growth it is too far behind to become a factor of importance in present day Japan.
The terms Ura Nihon and Omote Nihon came into use during the Meiji period. Japan’s ambition to promote economic development for its colonies (Korea and Manchuria) and prefectures bordering the Sea of Japan, during the first half of the 20th century, led to an expansion of investment and trade that benefitted also Ura Nihon and the city of Niigata in particular. However, economic initiatives in the Asian region involving Japan after 1945 were no longer specifically tied to either one side of Japan and in practice involved mostly companies and institutions located in the economically more influential Omote Nihon. In fact, in view of its relative backwardness, Ura Nihon came to be seen as a derogatory term.
Foreigners often think they have discovered the “Real Japan” when visiting far away places but famous photographer Hiroshi Hamaya in the introduction to his photobook “Ura Nihon” puts it more subtly by saying in reference to Ura Nihon, “This too is Japan”.