While Toyama is currently one of the more undiscovered prefectures of Japan, its unique location offers endless exploration with the north coast facing onto the Sea of Japan and straddling the Japanese Alps the east of the prefecture. Add in trendy local crafts and a dizzying array of delicious food and you’ve got yourself an all-encompassing visit.
With just over one million people in the whole prefecture, it goes without saying that a trip to Toyama makes for an all-round different experience to visiting the heavily populated cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Much of the eastern and southern parts of the prefecture are made up of uninhabitable mountains with the majority of the prefecture’s cities found in the north towards the coast.
Toyama is proudly home to the impressive Hida mountain range which sits in the Japanese Alps with the popular ski resorts of Nagano Prefecture to the east. The opportunities for getting out and appreciating the fresh mountain air are endless with wholesome outdoor activities ranging from hiking and cycling to skiing and hot spring hopping. One of the most popular and practical ways of exploring the mountains is via the Kurobe Alpine Route which passes by some of the most spectacular of the region’s sights, notably Kurobe Dam and Mt. Tate, which is highly regarded as one of the three most holy mountains in the country.
While the mountains in the east of the region often steal the limelight, the Nanto region in the southwest boasts its own dramatic nature with mountainous roads winding up and down the cedar-filled forests. A trip to these isolated areas is worth the effort for the quaint Gassho-style houses which sport steep, thatched roofs and a fascinating history of rural life.
Heading to the more populated areas of the prefecture is easily done with both Toyama Station and Shin-Takaoka Station found on the recently expanded Hokuriku Shinkansen line. The prefecture’s cities are small and compact attracting visitors for their abundance of restaurants, museums, and the chance to purchase or create regional crafts mainly comprising of crockery and other ornaments made from locally sourced materials such as bronze, copper, wood, and washi paper. Festivals are also held throughout the year especially during summer when street parades can be seen at the Toyama Festival in Toyama City and traditional dances at the Owara Kaze no Bon, both taking place in early September.
The far-reaching Toyama Bay, which looks onto the Sea of Japan, is to thank for the prefecture’s renowned cuisine which focuses primarily around seafood. The neon blue firefly squid (hotaru ika) is legendary across the nation as an incredible species that glows in the dark and can only be found in the Toyama region. As the squid can only be eaten between March and June, the rest of the year is for feasting on freshly prepared white shrimp (shiro ebi), matured yellowtail (buri) and the unmistakable masuzushi, a round pressed sushi made from trout.