Toyama prefecture is an area in the Western part of Honshu surrounded by the Japanese Alps mountain range and the Sea of Japan. With the newly established JR Hokuriku shinkansen, access to this beautiful place is now far more convenient from Tokyo!
Toyama is not just a quiet prefecture tucked away behind the Alps, but also a quaint area filled with secrets to be discovered; here are the three reasons why you should drop by for a visit!
I – Bountiful Nature
Toyama is an area brimming with nature, be it the Toyama Bay or the mountain range that surrounds three sides of this prefecture. One of the most famous routes to visit the Tateyama mountain range (the mountain which surrounds Toyama) is the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.
This world-famous route boasts a marvellous scenery of the Tateyama Mountain Range, and is closed during winter due to the high snowfall. In Spring however, you will be able to travel along the magnificent snow corridor of up to 20 metres in height built by the accumulated snow over winter.
Access to the Tateyama Mountain Range is relatively straight forward and can be reached by taking the Toyama Chiho Railroad from Dentetsu Toyama Station to Tateyama station. The journey takes approximately an hour. From Tateyama station, you can easily board the Tateyama Cable Car to transfer to a series of other transport (buses and other cable cars) which will bring you along the whole scenic route.
II – Historic Village of Gokayama
Apart from Hokkaido, areas between the Sea of Japan and the Japanese Alps are also known to experience some of Japan’s heaviest and longest snowfall. So, have you ever wondered how the farmers in Toyama used to survive, and sometimes even raise silkworms, in harsh winters the past?
The historic Gassho-zukuri style of houses found in Toyama’s Gokayama area is designated as one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan. This style of architecture was what allowed farmers to traditionally survive harsh winters during the Edo period. Not only does the style of housing highlight traditional Japanese architecture, the surrounding farmlands and settlements in each of the Gassho villages, mainly Ainokura Village (相倉村)and Suganuma village (菅沼村), retain Japan’s original landscape, unspoiled by metropolitan structures.
Nestled remotely within the mountains, the Gokayama region can be difficult to access without a car, though once in the village, the area would be small enough to travel by foot. If you are visiting Toyama with a JR Pass via the Hokuriku shinkansen, you can access these villages by stopping at JR Shin-Takaoka Station instead (one stop after Toyama station) and transferring to the World Heritage Bus which stops at both Ainokura and Suganuma villages.
So if you’re in the area, why not drop by Gokayama and spend a day in either of the villages to immerse in some of Japanese traditional landscape?
III – Hotaru Ika (ホタルイカ)
The Hotaru Ika, or firefly squid, can be found in Toyama Bay and are washed up on shore for a really short period of time in early March. These squids are unique for being bioluminescent and will emit a faint blue light when attracting mates or agitated. These squids usually dwell deep in the oceans but will rise up to the surface when in search of mates, and this short mating season results in a beautiful phenomenon unique to Toyama.
Their mating season lasts from late spring to early summer and boat tours to see the firefly squids are organized by the Firefly Squid Museum. Yes! There’s a museum dedicated to these glowing squids between April and May every year. Do note that Japanese language knowledge is required to book these tours, and they are usually fully booked very quickly.
During my trip, I only had a day in Toyama and had to sacrifice the boat tour since it takes place at 3am in the morning. I opted instead of a quick tram ride to the beach where Hotaru Ika is said to have been spotted, but unfortunately didn’t see these illusive “sotongs”. By asking around though, it seems that not only do they appear on shore only for a short two to three weeks in late spring, their appearance also only occurs late into the night (~3am!) and is highly tide dependent! Some of the beaches they’ve been known to appear in includes: Yaehama beach (八重浜), Iwasehama beach (岩瀬浜), Namerikawa beach (滑川).
With limited time left, I visited the Iwasehama beach instead of Yaehama, which is served by local buses, and Namerikawa, accessible by the Ainokaze Toyama Rail (あいの風とやま鉄道). Iwasehama is the easiest beach to access as it is located just at the terminal point of the Toyama Light Rail Tram (富山ライトレール). It is a beautiful beach just a 5 minute walk away from the tram station and boasts a gorgeous view of the mountain range in the distance. So even if you don’t get to see the firefly squids there, you can still reward yourself with a relaxing walk down the clean beach.
So the next time you visit Japan, don’t dismiss this small area which lies just 2.5 hours away from the bustling city of Tokyo. Toyama definitely offers much more to be discovered and you should take any opportunity to find out about this place’s many secrets!