Townscape of Yatsuo

Toyama Prefecture is a place of natural beauty, fascinating history and a rich culture that is present in its tiny mountain towns to the prefecture's largest city, Toyama City. Keen to experience the unique beauty of Toyama Prefecture, I was eager to ride the Takayama Line from Takayama to Toyama through a series of spectacular landscapes.

The Wide View Hida pulls into Takayama Station
Stunning scenes from the comfort of the Wide View Hida

My journey began in Takayama, over the border from Toyama in neighboring Gifu Prefecture. The town was well-known during the Edo Period as a source of high-grade timber and skilled carpenters, and today is famous for its exceptionally well-preserved old town containing buildings that date back centuries. The beautiful, old-fashioned streets make the perfect setting for the town's twice-yearly festival, various museums, and the Takayama Morning Markets, which I was especially keen to see.

I rose early to get to maximize my time at the markets and was pleased to find that they were bustling with locals and visitors alike, the many vendors selling an array of goods from fruit, vegetables and spices to flowers and locally made crafts. The atmosphere of the markets, which take place on two sites every day from six or seven in the morning (depending on the season) until midday, was lively and provided the perfect start to a day of exciting exploration.

A beautiful setting for a market
The hustle and bustle begins early here
Vendors sell everything from fruit and vegetables to flowers and local crafts
An early-morning street in Takayama's old town

I arrived at Takayama Station and boarded the Wide View Hida limited express train to the mountain town of Inotani. The Wide View Hida trains, as the name suggests, boast wide windows, from which visitors are able to get the best views of the landscape that the route traverses on its way north to the terminus in Toyama City. The scenery along the route was stunning, consisting of wide, blue rivers, undulating mountains as well as the odd bridge thrown in for good measure.

The interior is roomy with wide windows for maximum viewing capability
Beautiful countryside views can be had for much of the Toyama Prefecture portion of the JR Takayama Line
Many rivers and mountainous landscapes can be seen along the route

Around 50 minutes after leaving Takayama, I arrived in Inotani, a remote village with an interesting history. The Jinzu River that runs through the town served in old times as the boarder between the two former feudal domains of Hida (the northern part of modern day Gifu) and Etchu (modern day Toyama Prefecture). A trade route went through this location and during the Edo Period the shogunate built a checkpoint here to vet all travelers and traders traveling between the two provinces.

Equally as interesting as the checkpoint is the way in which people and cargo were transported across the river in old times: by the use of a pulley and basket system made from the strong vines of local Japanese alder trees. The town has a small museum that reveals some of the history of this area and features exhibitions including a reconstruction of the facade of the old checkpoint and a recreation of the pulley and basket apparatus, that visitors and sit in.

View from Jinkyo Bridge
Inotani Sekishokan, the museum about the Inotani Checkpoint
Carved wooden statues of Buddha by poet and wood sculptor Enku at the museum
Inside the museum which is a recreation of what the checkpoint used to look it
Pulley and basket system known as Kagonowatashi

My next stop was in the picturesque town of Yatsuo, important during the Edo Period for its production of silk and washi (Japanese paper) and home to the annual Etchuyatsuo Owara Kazenobon dance festival that is held from September 1 to 3.

Female dancers at the Owara Kazenobon festival
Dancers going down the old street
Male dancers and the musicians playing on behind
The straw hats cover most of their faces
Elegant performers

Today the tranquil town contains an immaculate old street lined with impressive old-fashioned buildings and a museum called the Etchuyatsuo Tourism Hall where the Hikiyama Festival Float Center can be found. The museum focuses on the town's culture, especially the famous Hikiyama Festival that takes place every May, and there are old, ornate floats on display as well as other exhibitions to give visitors a chance to learn about the festival.

The old town of Yatsuo
Yatsuo's old town contains some very impressive buildings
Two of the festival floats are on display in the museum

Following my stop in Yatsuo, I boarded the Wide View Hida again and took in some more nice views before arriving in my final destination of the day, Toyama City. Following the morning's travels, I was eager to find food, and what better thing to eat when in this city than its revered Toyama-wan sushi. Seafood from Toyama is highly regarded all across the country as Toyama Bay just a few miles north of the city center, is home to a wide variety of fish and crustaceans. Many look forward to the seasonal offerings like hotaru ika (firefly squid) and the translucent and tiny shiroebi (white shrimp) amongst others. After a bit of wandering, I found a great-looking sushi shop on a back street close to Toyama Castle Park.

View of the Wide View Hida zooming past fields

Ravenous, I sat down at the restaurant's counter and ordered a Toyama-wan sushi set, which was delivered in staggered courses in the traditional manner, and with a brief explanation from the chef as he served up each portion. I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy a varied selection of extremely fresh and delicious seafood, all washed down with Japanese green tea. I left the restaurant feeling revitalized and ready for more exploring before the day was done.

Sushi tucked away on the backstreets
Toyama-wan sushi. Sushi doesn't come much fresher than this
The chef prepares the sushi in front of the customers
The restaurant lay just a hop, skip and a jump from Toyama Castle

No trip to Toyama City would be complete without a visit to its renowned Glass Art Museum. The museum is located in the impressive TOYAMA KIRARI building, which was designed by the revered Japanese architect, Kuma Kengo. Inside the building, a network of wooden beams emanate from the walls in seemingly every direction, helping to create an atmosphere that is as contemporary, modern, and inspiring as the museum's glass art.

The permanent exhibitions are located on the building's fourth and sixth floors and include the "Glass Art Garden", a collection of fascinating installations from one of the luminaries of modern glass art, Dale Chihuly. Strolling amongst the art proved a pleasant experience and allowed me to get close to the quirky shapes and vivid colors that comprise many of the pieces.

Toyama Glass Art Museum
The building's ultra-modern interior is breathtaking
Dale Chihuly, Toyama Mille Fiori, 2015, H280xW940xD580cm, Toyama Glass Art Museum
Dale Chihuly, Toyama Float Boat(detail), 2015, H60xW917.5xD657.5cm, Toyama Glass Art Museum

My final stop of the day was at the Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design. The new museum hosts a series of exhibits in a spacious and wonderfully modern environment. In addition to art galleries, interactive exhibits and a cafe and museum shop, the complex boasts a rooftop area with various fun exhibits scattered over a lawn on the roof of the building with great views of the downtown and nearby mountains. Despite being only partially open during my visit, exploring the complex left me with very positive impressions ahead of its grand opening, which occured on August 26.

Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design
Many of the museum's interior walls are made from Toyama cedar.
The museum is modern and spacious with plenty of view opportunities
The museum's Onomatopoeia Rooftop area