There are few places on Earth that are as in touch with their culture, history, and landscape as Japan. Toyama Prefecture is home to Toyama City and many other cities with some of the greatest examples of what makes Japan incredible. Toyama itself means “rich with mountains,” and the prefecture certainly doesn’t disappoint. Not only is the area home to gorgeous mountains, but it provides many opportunities for visitors to experience them first-hand. Regardless of where your interests lie, Toyama is an area that everyone should visit at least once.
The Toyama Glass Art Museum in Toyama City is unique in that it contains many works of art while being a work of art itself. When it comes to architects, there are few who hold as much world-wide renown as Kuma Kengo. His work is wide and varied, but one of his most popular buildings is the Kirari building that holds houses the Toyama Glass Art Museum. Within the museum are six floors of magnificent glass art pieces from a variety of artists. The fourth through sixth floors feature permanent collections while the others rotate their exhibits. The fourth floor is full of work from many different international artists while the sixth-floor holds collections from one of the most famous glass sculptors, Dale Chihuly.
One of the most enjoyable experiences in all of Japan is the Kurobe Railway in the Toyama Prefecture. The train slowly snakes its way through the Hida Mountains and Kurobe Gorge allowing visitors to take in some truly magnificent views. Along the hour and a half ride, there are many stops for visitors to get out and stretch their legs. Some stops even provide an opportunity for light exploring along the mountain. The railway is open from April to November and is at its busiest in the fall. The autumn foliage provides an incredible sight.
Some of the most famous parts of Japan are their onsens or hot spring baths. Conveniently enough, the first stop on the Kurobe Gorge Railway leads to the Unazuki Onsen. Visitors can stay for a single bath or spend the night at one of the many hotels around the area. Though hot springs may be an odd experience for tourists who are not familiar with the concept, a single dip will leave you refreshed and ready for more. The region also offers local brews that use water from the nearby Kurobe River.
If you’re visiting Toyama with your family, there may be no better place to visit than the Uozu Aquarium. The aquarium allows visitors to observe and interact with the unique marine life that Toyama Prefecture has to offer. You can touch the starfish or watch the bizarre upside-down fish swim by. There are some unique areas such as a tunnel surrounded by water teeming with fish of varying colors and sizes. After a day at the aquarium, it is only a short walk to the adjacent Mirage Land amusement park. Though small, Mirage Land does offer several rides that will make any child’s day. The Ferris wheel alone is well worth a visit.
As spring ends and summer begins, Toyama plays host to the amazing theatrical Yotaka Festival. There are two Yotaka Festivals in Toyama Prefecture each year, one in Fukuno in May and one in Tonami in June. Both festivals feature teams of people with large floats that they cover with Yotaka lanterns. Eventually, the floats collide together in a grand finale as only one float can stand as the victor. The entire festival takes weeks to prepare for and allows for an exciting dimension of Japanese culture to emerge.
If you’ve already experienced the onsens and are looking for another interesting experience, you may enjoy the sand baths at the Hanayama Onsen Hotel in Nanto. Essentially, rather than submerging yourself in hot spring water, hotel staff will bury you in the sand in a sauna. While they place the sand over your body, they will place a cold cloth on your forehead. Though it may sound odd, it is incredibly calming and is a great way to reach a meditative state of relaxation.
Just a short walk north of Toyama Station in Toyama City is a popular but tranquil park. This park is home to what many consider “the most beautiful Starbucks in the world.” It's large, modern glass building allows visitors to look out at the majesty of the park and is a huge draw for visitors. Another glass building holds the Michelin-starred French restaurant La Chance. Bird watchers also have some opportunities to enjoy the local birds through binoculars available at an observation post.
When visiting Toyama Prefecture and Toyama City, it is important to take in the local culture along with the popular sightseeing areas. One of the most important parts of Toyama is its unique black ramen. These noodles contain a strong soy sauce flavor which also provides the ramen with its unique black appearance. Though soy sauce is normally salty, the ramen is actually easy on the palate with a light taste. Toyama black ramen has been the champion for three years in a row at the Tokyo Ramen Show. If you’re visiting Toyama Prefecture, their signature ramen is a must-have.
Toyama Prefecture’s official flower is the tulip, and no place embodies that more than the town of Tonami. Every spring, Tonami holds a festival that displays millions of tulips in broad rows of yellow, orange, and red that stretch into the horizon. During the festival, the park also has live stage performances that include singing and dancing. There are often fashion shows as well. A small river winds through the park, adding even more atmosphere to an already awe-inspiring sight.
Within the wooded hills just west of Toyama City lie a collection of small museums that provide insight into Toyama’s history.