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Exciting Escapades with the Hokuriku Shinkansen #2: Hokuriku

Exciting Escapades with the Hokuriku Shinkansen #2: Hokuriku

Most visitors to Japan travel between Tokyo and Osaka by taking the Tokaido Shinkansen, making it one of the most common choices of railway travel from Eastern Japan to Western Japan. But did you know that there is another way to travel between the two regions? Say hello to the Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線), a Shinkansen route that opened in 2015, providing travellers direct Shinkansen access from Tokyo to Kanazawa (金沢) and enabling them to explore the region of Hokuriku (北陸地方 Hokuriku-chihō) along the way.

 

The E7 series on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Located on the northern coast of central Japan, and facing the Sea of Japan, the Hokuriku Region is made up of three prefectures: Toyama (富山県 Toyama-ken), Ishikawa (石川県 Ishikawa-ken), and Fukui (福井県 Fukui-ken). Since 2015, visitors could hop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen to explore Toyama and Ishikawa as well as prefectures Nagano (長野県 Nagano-ken) and Niigata (新潟県 Niigata-ken), which forms the region of Shinetsu (信越地方 Shin’etsu-chihō).

 

The Hokuriku Shinkansen route in Shinetsu (in orange) and Hokuriku (in navy). (Image credit: Google Maps)

 

Here’s some great news: the Hokuriku Shinkansen is extending to Fukui! From 16 March this year, the Shinkansen route will extend from Kanazawa Station (金沢駅 Kanazawa-eki) to Tsuruga Station (敦賀駅 Tsuruga-eki) in Fukui, and travellers can explore even more spots along the newly opened section. How exciting is that!

 

In the previous article, recommended spots in Shinetsu that are accessible by the Hokuriku Shinkansen were explored. For this article, I will introduce to you some of the recommended spots and must-visits in Hokuriku that you can do by riding the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

 

Are you ready to go on a railway adventure to Hokuriku? Then buckle up and let’s go!

 

Toyama Prefecture (富山県)

If you take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo, the first prefecture you will approach in Hokuriku will be Toyama, a prefecture that is particularly known for its beautiful natural scenery. With the Sea of Japan in the north, the prefecture is blessed with panoramic views of the sea as well as Toyama Bay (富山湾 Toyama-wan), and it is also surrounded by the magnificent Tateyama Mountain Range which can be seen vividly on days with clear weather.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights that you should not miss while in Toyama.

 

Shin-Takaoka Station: Floral paradise at Tonami and Takaoka

Tonami Tulip Fair at Tonami. ©(公社)とやま観光推進機構

 

After Toyama, the next stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen is Shin-Takaoka Station (新高岡駅 Shin-Takaoka-eki), and a short train ride away from here is Tonami Station (砺波駅 Tonami-eki). Visitors can get off here to make their way to the fabulous Tonami Tulip Fair (砺波チューリップフェア Tonami Chūrippu Fea).

 

Did you know? The city of Tonami (砺波市 Tonami-shi) has the largest area of tulip bulb cultivation in Japan, and visitors can come to see up to 3 million tulips of 300 varieties blooming every late spring at the Tonami Tulip Fair held at the Tonami Tulip Park (砺波チューリップ公園).

 

Tulip Tower at Tonami Tulip Park. ©(公社)とやま観光推進機構

 

On top of all the beautiful tulips, the park also features many fun and spectacular performances during the fair, including an impressive geoglyph made from 210,000 tulips of 15 varieties; the 26m-tall Tulip Tower where visitors can climb up and view the surroundings (tip: on a clear day, you can see the Tateyama Mountain Range in the far distance!), and the Valley of Flowers (花の大谷 Hana no Otani), featuring 4m-tall tulip corridors that resemble Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route’s famous snow wall!

 

Tonami Tulip Gallery. ©(公社)とやま観光推進機構

 

The Tonami Tulip Fair is usually held from late April to early May, but if you can’t make it during this period, then fret not. The park also features the Tonami Tulip Gallery (チューリップ四季彩館 Chūrippu Shikisai-kan), where visitors can see tulips bloom all year round as well as other flowers such as lily blossoms and double blossoms, and learn more about tulip varieties and cultivation.

 

Tonami Tulip Park (砺波チューリップ公園)
Address: 100-1 Nakamura, Tonami-shi, Toyama 939-1382
Access: 15-minute walk or free shuttle bus from Tonami Station (砺波駅) (only available during the fair period)

 

Cherry blossoms galore at Takaoka Old Castle Park. ©(公社)とやま観光推進機構

 

Are you a big fan of cherry blossoms (桜 sakura)? Then another spot that you don’t want to miss is the Takaoka Old Castle Park (高岡古城公園 Takaoka kojō-kōen). Located almost in the centre of Takaoka City (高岡市 Takaoka-shi), the park is recognised for its seasonal beauty, with spring as the most popular one among visitors for its picturesque cherry blossoms.

 

The park is designated as a national cultural property, and is home to an art forest, a museum, and even a zoo. Since the late 19th century, it continues to be loved by people as a relaxing place to relax and have a leisurely stroll. Bonus point: in the centre of the park is Sannomaru Chaya (三の丸茶屋) that features a rest area for visitors and local specialty goods and souvenirs are on sale.

 

Takaoka Old Castle Park (高岡古城公園)
Address: 1-9 Kojo, Takaoka, Toyama 933-0044
Access: Take a 3-5-minute train ride from Shin-Takaoka Station to Takaoka Station (高岡駅). Upon arriving, take a 15-minute walk to reach the park.

 

Bonus: Enjoy shiroebi, a local delicacy of Toyama

Shiroebi, a delicacy of Toyama. ©(公社)とやま観光推進機構

 

Of course, a trip wouldn’t be complete without tasting its local specialty, would it? In Toyama, the one delicacy you should definitely try is shiroebi (白エビ white shrimp), which is often dubbed “Jewels of Toyama Bay” (富山湾の宝石 Toyama-wan no hо̄seki).

 

The many ways to enjoy shiroebi. ©(公社)とやま観光推進機構

 

Fun fact: Toyama Bay is the only place where seafood can be caught in large quantities to support a fishing industry, and shiroebi is one of their most coveted catches. Shiroebi can be enjoyed in many ways, from sashimi to shiroebi burger; for example, sashimi is delicious with a melty texture, and when fried, it becomes irresistibly crispy and fragrant.

 

Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県)

Tsudumimon Gate at Kanazawa Station’s East Exit. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Ishikawa is another prefecture in Hokuriku that is easily accessible via the Hokuriku Shinkansen, with Kanazawa Station (金沢駅) as the main gateway station. As visitors get off at the station and make their way to the East Exit, they will be greeted by an imposing, gigantic wooden gate shaped after a giant tsudumi (鼓), a Japanese traditional hand drum.

 

Kanazawa Station: A visit to the Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle in Kanazawa. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)

 

You may have heard of Kenrokuen (兼六園), Kanazawa’s most famous garden and one of “Japan’s three most beautiful landscape gardens”, with the other two being Kairakuen in Ibaraki and Korakuen in Okayama. But just next to the garden is another prominent landmark that visitors should check out.

 

Kanazawa Castle (金沢城 Kanazawa-jō) is a historic castle that has withstood the test of time, and has undergone several reconstructions throughout the years. Today, it is recognised as one of the best cherry blossom viewing sites in the city during spring, and moreover, the castle park also features the Gyokusen-inmaru Garden (玉泉院丸庭園 Gyokusen'inmaru-Teien), an aesthetically beautiful garden that visitors can stroll through.

 

Kanazawa Castle Park (金沢城公園)
Address: 1-1 Marunouchi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0937
Access: From Kanazawa Station’s East Exit, take the Kanazawa Loop Bus to reach the park (around 20 minutes per one-way trip).

 

Kagaonsen Station: Heavenly hot springs abound

Enjoy a heavenly hot spring bath at Kaga Onsen. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)

 

Do you love hot springs (温泉 onsen) in Japan? Then Ishikawa has something for you! Kaga Onsen (加賀温泉郷 Kaga-Onsenkyo) is a region in the southern part of the prefecture that features three hot spring areas—Yamanaka (山中), Yamashiro (山代), and Katayamazu (片山津)—and each has its own unique character.

 

For instance, Yamanaka is known to have been discovered around 1,300 years ago and was highly praised by the famous haiku poet Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉) for its seasonal beauty. Yamashiro is said to be discovered by a yatagarasu (ヤタガラス), a mythical three-legged crow deity, and its hot spring water is said to offer longevity. Katayamazu is located on the shores of Lake Shibayamagata, and when the weather is favourable, Mount Hakusan (白山 Haku-san) can be seen and many hot spring inns along the shore offer this splendid view.

 

If you have the time, why not explore all three different areas of Kaga Onsen and discover why Ishikawa’s hot springs are beloved by many visitors!

 

Strawberry picking at Kaga Fruits Land. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


Ishikawa is well-known for its delectable seafood, but did you know that you can also pick fruits in the prefecture? If you’re in the mood for fruit picking, you can head for Kaga Fruits Land in Kaga where you can enjoy picking seasonal fruits all year round, from strawberries and apples to cherries and grapes (tip: strawberries are in season for spring, and their season is from December to June).

 

What’s more, there is also a barbecue facility that can accommodate up to 350 guests, so you and your friends can enjoy barbecuing during summer, a highly popular activity during the season.

 

Kaga Fruits Land (加賀フルーツランド)
Address: I-59-1 Yutakamachi, Kaga, Ishikawa 922-0563
Access: From Kagaonsen Station, take the CANBUS (キャンバス) to reach the farm.

 

Bonus: Get your hands on the Kaga Onsenkyo Passport!

Kaga Onsenkyo Passport. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)

 

If you’re heading to Kaga Onsen, then I have great news to share with you. The Kaga Onsenkyo Passport (加賀温泉郷パスポート) is an affordable tourist passport that enables visitors to discover the hot springs and attractions in the region! The passport gives you unlimited rides on the local tourist bus CANBUS (キャンバス), and admission to 3 facilities of your choice out of a total of 22 that are covered by this passport (including the 3 hot spring areas and Kaga Fruits Land). What’s more, there are selected facilities where admission is free and passport holders can even receive free gifts.

 

For more details, you can check out from the following website: https://visitkaga.jp/

 

Fukui Prefecture (福井県)

Finally, we have Fukui, the newest prefectural addition to the Hokuriku Shinkansen route extension. With visitors being able to travel there from 16 March, what can they see in Fukui? Let’s find out!

 

Awaraonsen Station: Stunning cliffs await!

Tojinbo Cliffs. (Image credit: Fukui Prefecture)

 

Awaraonsen Station (芦原温泉駅 Awaraonsen-eki) is the stop for Tojinbo Cliffs (東尋坊 Tōjinbō), a collection of dramatic cliffs stretching 1km across the coastline on the northern part of Fukui, directly facing the Sea of Japan. The cliffs are formed by natural stone columns that were shaped by the crashing waves of the sea, and some can be as high as 30m.

 

Tojinbo Tower (left) and enjoying a pleasure boat ride (bottom-right). (Image credit: photoAC)

 

If you want a panoramic view of Tojinbo Cliffs, you can head up to Tojinbo Tower (東尋坊タワー) and enjoy a 36-degree view of the cliffs from a height of 55m. Better yet, a 30-minute pleasure boat ride around the cliffs for a close-up view of the striking stone columns. Take note however, that the boats do not operate if the waves are not favourable.

 

Tojinbo Cliffs (東尋坊)
Address: 64-1 Mikunichō Antō, Sakai, Fukui 913-0064
Access: From Awareonsen Station, take a 40-minute bus ride to reach the cliffs.

 

Tsuruga Station: The Fantastic Five Lakes of Mikata

Mikata Five Lakes. (Image credit: Fukui Prefecture)

 

You may have heard of the famous Fuji Five Lakes in Yamanashi Prefecture because of its vantage points of viewing the iconic Mount Fuji, but do you know that Fukui also has its own “Five Lakes”? Tsuruga Station (敦賀駅 Tsuruga-eki) is the gateway station for one of Fukui’s most astounding natural wonders, and visiting this spot makes for a memorable experience on your Hokuriku Shinkansen adventure.

 

Mikata Five Lakes in summer and autumn (left), and the chair lift up to Summit Park (right). (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Mikata Five Lakes (三方五湖 Mikata-goko) is a collection of five lakes—Lake Mikata (三方湖 Mikata-ko), Lake Suigetsu (水月湖 Suigetsu-ko), Lake Sugako (菅湖 Suga-ko), Lake Kugushi (久々子湖 Kugushi-ko), and Lake Hiruga (日向湖 Hiruga-ko)—in the southern part of Fukui Prefecture. What is unique about the lakes is that they all have different depths and concentrations of salt, thereby giving each of them a unique hue.

 

If you want an aerial view of the lakes, you can take a 2-minute chair lift ride up to Rainbow Line Summit Park (レインボーライン山頂公園 Reinbō-rain Sanchō-kōen). From the park’s East Observatory, visitors will be greeted with a spectacular panoramic view of the lakes as well as the Sea of Japan and even Mount Hakusan in the distance! There is also a open-air footbath (足湯 ashiyu) where visitors can rest their feet while enjoying the views, and a cafe and local souvenir shop nearby for them to rest.

 

Mikata Five Lakes (三方五湖)
Address: 18-2-2, Kiyama, Wakasa-chō, Mikata Kaminaka, Fukui 919-1301
Access: From Tsuruga Station, take a 20–25-minute train ride on the Obama Line bound for Higashi-Maizuru and get off at Mihama Station (美浜駅). From there, take a 10-minute taxi ride to reach the lakes. 

 

Bonus: When in Fukui, eat Echizen crabs!

Echizen crabs in Fukui. (Image credit: Fukui Prefecture)

 

When it comes to Fukui, perhaps the most outstanding dish that visitors should never miss is the eye-catching Echizen crab (越前ガニ Echizen-gani). Known locally as the “King of Winter Foods”, Echizen crabs are in season in Fukui typically from November to March, and are known for their sweet and firm flesh. They are often caught fresh from the ports of Echizen, Mikuni and Obama, and can be prepared in many ways, from sashimi to hotpot. Enjoy this amazing delicacy to complete your fantastic journey in Fukui!

 

Closing

Travelling by train is a great way to explore Japan, and thanks to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, visitors are able to discover the many sights and sounds of the region while travelling comfortably and with ease. The Shinkansen route will continue to extend further in the future, and visitors such as myself are excited to see how travelling by train is gradually becoming much more convenient.

 

Are you excited to see the extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen route? I sure am, and I hope this will be the start of a new Hokuriku adventure!

 

Hokuriku Arch Pass

New_HAP.jpg (275 KB)

The new Hokuriku Arch Pass from 16 March 2024. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Planning to travel to Hokuriku? Then check out the Hokuriku Arch Pass, an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, as well as JR East and JR West lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 7 consecutive days.

 

You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation. Click here to get your Hokuriku Arch Pass now!

 

The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

From 16 March 2024, the price of the Hokuriku Arch Pass will be ¥30,000 per adult, and this price applies if you purchase it overseas or in Japan. This price will also be in effect in conjunction with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen extension from Kanazawa Station to Tsuruga Station on 16 March 2024.

 

JR West also offers other passes that you can consider if you are travelling around Hokuriku, such as the Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass and the Have Fun in Fukui ticket. For more information, you can check it out from the link here.

 

Header image credit: ©(公社)とやま観光推進機構 (top), Fukui Prefecture (bottom)

 

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