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Raina's Japan Travel Journal
by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2017/07/24 - Remote Riches in Toyama


Toyama Prefecture is home to some of the most stunning attractions in the country. Mountains make up more than half of the prefecture and are even visible from the capital city of Toyama. The other half of the prefecture borders the Sea of Japan, and needless to say, boasts coastal views. With an amazing location offering both mountain and sea, it is a bit of a shame that many visitors often pass through heading to the other well known cities like Kanazawa in the west or Takayama in the south.

Pedestrian bridge at Keyakidaira
The view at Murodo and Mount Tateyama on the left
A stone statue in Kurobe Gorge
One of the rivers that flows to the Kurobe Dam

On this trip, I set off to uncover some of the top attractions in Toyama Prefecture. Of course, the capital city of Toyama offers a variety of experiences and sights to see, but nothing beats adventuring through the wild mountainous interior and witnessing the raw beauty of nature.

The view from here is epic, rain or shine
Just a train turning the corner in the wild

I kicked off my four-day trip with a visit to Kurobe Gorge. The Kurobe Gorgeーnot to be confused with the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route which I also visited later in the tripーis Japan's deepest V-shaped gorge that cuts through part of the Northern Japan Alps. The best way to see and experience the gorge is to take the Kurobe Gorge Railway which takes you about 20 kilometers into the valley.

Kurobe Gorge train crossing a bridge
Shoulder badge on the train staff uniform
Initially built to aid in the dam construction, the train is still used to transport maintenance workers and material
Gorgeous scenery along the way

The train ride from Unazuki Station to Keyakidaira Station took about 80 minutes, crossing numerous bridges and tunnels alongside forests of tall trees. Especially popular in the autumn when the trees take on their fall colors, the Kurobe Gorge is equally enjoyable outside of the season like when I was there.

I took some time to explore the area around Keyakidaira Station before taking the train back to Unazuki Onsen Town, where I would spend the night.

By the footbath at Keyakidaira
The section is named as Hitokui-iwa, or the human eating rock. Does it look like it could swallow one whole?
A sashimi platter with an impressive ice dome to keep it cool
Fresh wasabi to grate

The following day I made my way to Ainokura in the Gokayama region of Toyama. Ainokura is a small village of gasshozukuri farmhouses tucked away in the forest. Together with Suganuma and Ogimachi, it was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. The village's farmhouses have centuries of history, and staying overnight in one of them would certainly be a highlight of your trip.

Green, brown and cloudy
Some of the farmhouses were huge
Tofu and soba noodles are some of the local specialties here and they were delicious
Walking paths around the village
The rain only added to the atmosphere of the village

Staying overnight requires advance reservations as space is limited in the small village, and dinner takes some time to be prepared. Note that aside from the room you occupy, the rest of the farmhouse is shared public space as was the case when I stayed overnight. I had the opportunity to meet some other interesting travelers, and we exchanged stories and other travel tales over dinner.

These sweet river fish were grilled for about two hours
Where all of us overnight guests gathered for dinner
Breakfast of champions
My farewell shot before leaving the quaint village

On the third day, I got up early to make time for a short detour before heading to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. My destination for the morning was the quiet woodcarving town of Inami in Nanto City. Traditional wood carving is the feature of the town, and there are over 200 artisans trained in the art and living here. Due to the lack of woodcarvers in the rest of the country, these craftsmen receive orders from shrines and temples from all over Japan. Wood carving takes an incredible amount of time and it was quite an eye-opener to see the artisans in action.

Model in front, work-in-progress behind
Most wood carving studios in the town also contain a shop where carvings can be purchased
Artisan in action
Even the bus stop sign is carved!

Inami Betsuin Zuisenji Temple is one of the symbols of the woodcarving town of Inami, and holds the record for being the largest wooden structure in the Hokuriku Region as well as the fourth largest in Japan. Intricate wood carvings decorate the main structures on the temple grounds, and its current buildings were constructed over the centuries with some remaining from the Edo Period. I could have easily spent more time wandering around the town inspecting the various carvings, but had to hurry along before it got too late for my next stop.

The Sanmon main gate of the temple
Hand carved dragon

A popular spot that sees lots of visitors, both local and international, is the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Spanning two prefectures, this spectacular alpine route cuts through the Northern Japan Alps, and majority of the route lies in Toyama Prefecture. While it can be traversed in a single, albeit long day, I chose to do it over two days and stay the night at Murodo, the highest point. The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route does not stay open all year but is typically open between mid April to end November.

Somewhere between Midagahara and Murodo
Hotel Tateyama, the highest hotel in Japan at 2450 meters

The main draw for a lot of international visitors is the snow corridor at Murodo which sees snow walls of up to 20 meters high, and the best time to see it is mid April to late June. There are many hiking routes along the route and many choose Murodo as their starting point as there are a variety of trails, including ones that lead further up towards Mount Tateyama, the highest peak in the area.

In the autumn, the mountain slopes develop breathtaking fall colors wow-ing those who visit. Due to its large range in elevation, the fall color season remains relatively long on the route, starting around late September at the highest point and finishing around end October at the lower elevations. Some of the best places to see the color spectacular include Murodo, along the ropeway and around Kurobe Dam.

Train driver at work
Packed inside the cable car with other hikers

I started my journey towards Murodo under cloudy skies and wasn't too hopeful about the view at the top. However, the highest point on the route was just above the cloud cover and I managed to have some time to look around before the low hanging clouds came through. One of the highlights of staying overnight at Murodo was being able to see the night sky unaffected by light pollution. Despite it being slightly cloudy, I was treated to an amazing view when the clouds parted, underscoring the vastness of the universe.

First view outside the station at Murodo
Students on excursion
Dinner at the French restaurant in Hotel Tateyama
The milky way came through when the clouds parted

After getting my fill of the great outdoors the day (and night) before, I started my descent back into civilisation. The low hanging clouds along the way brought about a dramatic air to the trip and a fitting farewell to the epic journey I've had.

Cloudy view at the upper ropeway station
Broke through the clouds and saw the other ropeway car and part of the Kurobe Dam just beside it
Kurobe Dam discharging

I found a lot of beauty in Toyama Prefecture, from hidden villages to amazing train rides and vast wilderness almost as far as my eyes could see. Needless to say, I am already looking forward to going in another season for a different experience!

Cloudy clouds hanging on the mountain slopes

Links and Resources

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List of Posts:
2017/10/25 - The 45th Tokyo Motor Show
2017/10/11 - Dipping into the three onsen towns of Yamanaka, Yamashiro and Katayamazu
2017/07/24 - Remote Riches in Toyama
2017/07/03 - Spiritual Chichibu
2017/05/02 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2017/04/14 - Sneak Peek from Ginza Six
2017/03/21 - A bit of everything in Fukui
2017/03/13 - Nikko Toshogu Uncovered
2017/02/15 - Subculture in Ikebukuro
2017/02/07 - Travel to the Goto Islands
2017/02/06 - Nagasaki Lantern Festival

2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/12/19 - Winter Illuminations in Tokyo
2016/10/24 - The way of old on the Kunisaki Peninsula
2016/10/11 - Following the Tadami Line in Oku Aizu
2016/08/27 - Fool's Dance at Koenji Awa Odori
2016/08/16 - The three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan
2016/06/20 - Train travel into the Ise-Shima region
2016/04/03 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2016/03/08 - The hunt for Namahage on the Oga Peninsula
2016/03/02 - Sake Sangria
2016/02/20 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
2016/01/26 - Tour de Reinan: Obama, Oi and Takahama
2016/01/25 - Tour de Reinan: Tsuruga, Mihama and Wakasa

2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/10 - 48 hours in Tokushima
2015/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Kankakei
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2015/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/10 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Koyasan
2015/11/08 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2015/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Dazaifu
2015/10/28 - The 44th Tokyo Motor Show
2015/10/21 - Hirado, where East meets West
2015/10/20 - Kujukushima Islands and Winter Illumination at Huis Ten Bosch
2015/10/19 - Navigating the Christian sites in Nagasaki
2015/10/18 - Cosplay at Haco Stadium Tokyo
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2015/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2015/09/24 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2015/09/16 - Nakanojo Biennale 2015
2015/08/19 - Traditional culture and hot springs of the Aizu Region
2015/08/17 - Nature and Hot Springs at Naruko Onsen
2015/08/04 - Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale 2015
2015/04/30 - Sapporo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/29 - Hakodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/23 - Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/22 - Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/21 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/16 - Sendai Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/09 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/08 - Fukushima Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/06 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/02 - Nara Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/01 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/31 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/27 - Fukuoka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/26 - Kumamoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/25 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Sendai
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Tokyo
2014/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kanazawa
2014/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2014/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2014/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/10/31 - Autumn Color Report: Karuizawa
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2014/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2014/10/01 - Autumn Color Report: Oze National Park
2014/09/29 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/06/19 - Toranomon Hills opens in Tokyo
2014/04/24 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/23 - Morioka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/22 - Aizu-Wakamatsu Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/16 - Matsumoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/15 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/14 - Yoshino Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/13 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/12 - Kanazawa Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/10 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/06 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/05 - Hiroshima Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/04 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/02 - Nagoya Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/31 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/26 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/04 - Early Tokyo Blossom Report