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Travelling through Toyama: Trains rides, tulips, and tasty treats

Travelling through Toyama: Trains rides, tulips, and tasty treats

Have you been to Toyama Prefecture (富山県 Toyama-ken)? Blessed with both majestic mountains of the Tateyama Mountain Range (立山連峰 Tateyama renpō) and stunning seawaters of the Sea of Japan (日本海 Nihonkai), this prefecture in the Hokuriku Region is a gem filled with gorgeous nature, delicious seafood, and rich history.

 

Located just 2 hours by bullet train (新幹線 shinkansen) from Tokyo, Toyama is a perfect side trip―or even day trip if you plan well―to escape the hustle and bustle of the metropolis regardless of the time of year. Come with me on a train trip across Toyama to see seaside scenery, tulips, old villages, and more!

 

Morning stroll around Fugan Canal Kansui Park

Strolling in Fugan Canal Kansui Park. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I started my day with a stroll around Fugan Canal Kansui Park (富岩運河環水公園 Fugan Unga Kansui Kо̄en), which is a 10-minute walk from Toyama Station. This scenic park offers a serene retreat in the middle of the city, and on clear days, you can even see the Tateyama Mountain Range in the distance. It was a bit cloudy when I visited, so the mountains could not be seen, but the weather was still beautiful. 

 

Toyama’s famous Starbucks. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Captivating all year round, this verdant park lets visitors revel in the splendour of cherry blossoms during spring, lush greenery throughout summer, a captivating array of autumnal hues in fall, and enchanting snow-blanketed vistas in winter. The park is also home to what is said to be the “World’s Most Beautiful Starbucks”, which is said to offer beautiful views of the park for customers seated inside.

 

Scenic seaside views at the Amaharashi Coast

Views from Amaharashi Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

After a refreshing stroll, I made my way back to Toyama Station to catch a train to my next stop for the day: the Amaharashi Coast (雨晴海岸 Amaharashi Kaigan), which can be reached from Amaharashi Station (雨晴駅). The train journey from Toyama Station to Amaharashi Station, including a transfer at Takaoka Station (高岡駅), took about 50 minutes, passing by the coastline and offering gorgeous views from the train window.

 

Views from the train window. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Amaharashi Station is located very close to the shoreline, and on some sections of the Himi Line (氷見線) leading up to the station, the train tracks run so close to the sea that it’s almost like you’re travelling over the water. Here’s a tip: sit on the right side of the train heading towards Amaharashi Station if you want to get close up views of the sea!

 

View of Amaharashi Coast when I visited (left) vs. the typical view when the skies are clear (right). (Image credit: Carissa Loh (left), photoAC (right))

 

Aside from its fantastic waterfront views, the Amaharashi Coast is also known as a place where you can get stunning vistas of the 3,000m-high Tateyama Mountain Range across the sea. Unfortunately, due to the fine clouds in the horizon, the mountain range could not be seen during my visit, but the views were still lovely. Better luck next time! 

 

Belles montagnes et mer sightseeing train

The Belles montagnes et mer sightseeing train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

After soaking in the views along the Amaharashi Coast, my next stop was the Tonami Tulip Fair in Tonami City (砺波市). I took a 20-minute ride to Takaoka Station, to transfer to a very special train. By a stroke of luck, my travel date coincided with the operation of the Belles montagnes et mer sightseeing train  (or “Berumonta” for short), and the train timing fit perfectly with my schedule. 

 

View from the train window. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

“Belles montagnes et mer” means “beautiful mountains and sea” in French, and this train has two routes that offer views of Toyama’s natural scenery: one along Jōhana Line (城端線) in inland Toyama on Saturdays, and one along the Himi Line to the Amaharashi Coast on Sundays. 

 

Interior of the Belles montagnes et mer train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

My next stop, Tonami Station (砺波駅), was along the Jōhana Line route. The interior of the train featured wooden furnishings with dark green upholstery. One side of the train had window-facing seats to better admire the scenery, while the other side featured four-person boxed seats.

 

Wooden artwork on the train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The train also had intricate wooden carvings, including a large one depicting the gassho-zukuri (合掌造り) thatched-roof houses of Gokayama, which I would be visiting later in the day.

 

Blossoms galore at Tonami Tulip Fair

Off to the Tonami Tulip Fair. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

After a short 20-minute ride on the Belles montagnes et mer train, I reached Tonami Station, and made my way to the Tonami Tulip Fair (となみチューリップフェア), Toyama’s largest tulip festival. Held annually at Tonami Tulip Park (砺波チューリップ公園) from late April to early May, the 2-week long blossom bonanza showcases over 3 million tulips of 300 varieties.

 

The Tulip Tower offers panoramic views of the park. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I visited on the very first day of the fair, and the flowers were already bursting with colour in full bloom. The Tulip Tower near the entrance was a popular spot, as the observation deck on the top of the tower affords visitors with panoramic views of the park.

 

So many colourful tulips. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Did you know? Tonami is the top producer of tulips in Japan, and the tulip also happens to be Toyama’s prefectural flower! This was my first time at a tulip festival, and I was surprised to see such a huge assortment of tulips in different colours, shapes, and sizes. Some had very interesting petal shapes, while others had multi-coloured petals. If you love flowers and tulips, I highly recommend a visit.

 

So many tulips to see. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The park has a variety of different areas to enjoy the tulips, including an event stage, exhibition on the history of tulips, a waterwheel garden, tulips floating on water, and much more! I ended my visit with tulip ice cream from the café, and set off for my final destination of the day.

 

Thatched-roof houses at Ainokura

Jōhana Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

My next stop was Ainokura (相倉), a village in Gokayama (五箇山) that is known for its thatched-roof houses. I was lucky to catch another service of the Belles montagnes at mer, and after a 20-minute ride, I made it to Jōhana Station (城端駅), where a 25-minute bus ride would bring me to Ainokura. 

 

Entrance to Ainokura. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

You might have heard of the more famous Shirakawago (白川郷) in Gifu Prefecture, but did you know that the UNESCO World Heritage Site for gassho-zukuri houses is comprised of two areas—Shirakawago in Gifu, and Gokayama in Toyama? It had been 12 years since my last visit to Gokayama, and I was excited to see what had changed. Just stepping out of the station, I noticed that Jōhana Station had been renovated, and bus services had vastly increased in frequency.

 

Exploring the thatched-roof houses at Ainokura. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Gokayama has two gassho-zukuri villages—Ainokura with around 20 houses, and Suganuma (菅沼) with nine houses. The thatched-roof houses in Ainokura range from 100 to 350 years old, and are filled with a nostalgic atmosphere of Japan's past. Most are private residences, but some have been converted into museums, restaurants, and accommodations.

 

Ai love Ainokura! (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The houses are extremely picturesque against the backdrop of mountains, and one spot you mustn’t miss is the viewpoint. Ainokura is a place I visited on my very first solo trip to Japan in 2011, during a time where transport wasn’t very frequent and there weren’t many visitors. On my previous visit, it was raining and I didn’t have enough time to climb up to the viewpoint, so for this trip, I made sure I had ample time, and sure enough, the view was spectacular! 

 

Sumptuous seafood dinner

Sashimi assortment. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Satisfied with my morning and afternoon of sightseeing, I headed back to Toyama Station for the final item on my itinerary: fresh seafood from Toyama Bay (富山湾)! an Abundant source of delicious seafood, Toyama Bay is blessed with deep waters and a narrow continental shelf, and is the perfect place for fish to inhabit, so fresh seafood is a must-try while in Toyama.

 

I started off with the sashimi platter with six different types of seafood, of which I could identify four: yellowtail (ブリ buri), tuna (まぐろ maguro), octopus (タコ tako), and shrimp (エビ ebi). The remaining two were a type of shellfish, and another fish. 

 

Seafood side dishes. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Toyama is most famous for white shrimp or glass shrimp (白エビ shiroebi), affectionately known as the “Jewel of Toyama Bay”, and firefly squid (ホタルイカ hotaru ika), so I ordered them as side dishes: shiroebi tempura, and fried firefly squid. One of my favourite local dishes from Toyama is kurozukuri (黒作り), so I had to have it too. Said to be an acquired taste, kurozukuri is made from fermenting thin slices of Japanese flying squid (スルメイカ surume ika) mixed with squid ink and squid innards. It pairs well with alcohol, and is also great on rice for breakfast!

 

To Toyama and beyond!

With so much to see, do, and eat, and just a 2-hour ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen from JR Tо̄kyо̄ Station (東京駅), Toyama makes for a very convenient side trip. With the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen extension this March 2024, access to the Hokuriku region will be so much quicker, and you can combine Toyama with Kanazawa, Fukui, Komatsu, and more!

 

Header image credit: Carissa Loh

 

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