After I ate a delicious chocolate bagel at a German Bakery outside of the Toyama JR Station, I met my tour guides and fellow JETs (five Assistant Language Teachers and one Coordinator for International Relations) outside the Toyama Prefectural Government Office in Toyama-shi (Toyama City). We gave some brief introductions and boarded a comfy bus to begin our journey.
We first traveled to an area just outside the city center of Toyama called Kureha Hills, where there are several museums and spectacular views of Toyama-shi on a clear day. We stopped by the Toyama Municipal Folkcraft Village first to learn about about the history of Toyama and how it became known as the pharmaceutical capital of Japan. According to legend, in 1690 (the Edo era of Japan, when Toyama was called Ecchu), Masatoshi Maeda, the president of Toyama Clan, visited the Edo-jo Castle. Toshisue Akita, the president of Miharu-jo Castle in nearby Fukushima Prefecture, was also there. Toshisue-san suddenly became ill with a severe stomach ache. Masatoshi-san gave him some Toyama medicine called Hankonatan （反魂丹）, and Toshisue-san was relieved of his stomach ache almost immediately. After that, Toyama became known throughout Japan as the prefecture with strong medicine, and soon salesmen were traveling all over Japan to sell the famed medicine.
We then stopped by the Takamura Gyujin Memorial Art Museum, named after Takamura Gyujin, a famous Toyama-born artist known for his ink drawings. Our tour guide pointed out that Takamura was often inspired by “voluptuous” women who looked like his mother, so many of his drawings depict curvy women – quite different from the stick thin women that are shown so frequently in modern American and Japanese fashion magazines!
We were then off to Chokei-ji Temple, home of 500 statues of Rakan (according to Toyama’s Website, this means Buddha’s disciples who reached nirvana). Here, it is said you can see your ancestor in the face of one of the statues. I chose a happy but pensive-looking Rakan as my ancestor. Despite getting a rather annoying spider bite on my forehead here, this was easily the highlight of my first day. The view from the top of the hill overlooks an eerie graveyard, and looking up at the statues made me feel overwhelmed and serene at the same time. I recommend taking your time to stroll by all the statues. Each has a unique feature, and you can climb up some stairs to look down at all of the statues. I could probably spend two hours here again on a nice day.
After visiting museums and the temple, it was time for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. We sat in a lovely room and the kind woman serving us tea showed us the correct way to turn the tea cup (two times clockwise, if my memory serves me correctly). We also ate some yummy Japanese candy and signed the guest book.
With the afternoon approaching, we hopped on the bus again and left for the Unazuki Beer-kan in Kurobe. They brew somewhat famous beer here (which you can find at the Uozu JR station as well as some 7-Elevens in Toyama-shi). I’m not a huge beer or alcohol drinker, so I only tried the lightest one, which reminded me of Blue Moon. There are three brews, ranging from light to dark, and I was told the darkest one tastes like Guinness.
After lunch, we rode the famous “Torokko train” through the Kurobe Gorge. Toyama-ken was on the cusp of fall, and although it was too early to see all the changing colors of the leaves (koyou), the train ride was still gorgeous. I recommend sitting on the right side of the train when you board because some of my views on the left side were obscured by concrete. Afterwards, we tried a traditional footbath (which I declined only because I didn’t want to get my feet wet), and then took a small hike down to Sarutobikyo Valley (or Keiunkyo Valley), an area where the river is so narrow that legend says monkeys jump across it. I was really struck by how crystal blue the river water is here. My tour guide told me it’s because the water comes from the melting snow running down the mountains.
We headed back to Toyama in the late afternoon and ate at a traditional Japanese izakaya (pub or bar). With full stomachs, we all went to sing karaoke in Toyama. I sang a few songs poorly (Weezer! Lisa Loeb! The Strokes! Franz Ferdinand!) and requested “Sakura,” a beautiful Japanese love song introduced to me by a friend. We stayed at the Toyama Chitetsu Hotel, a Japanese business hotel located footsteps from the Toyama JR station.
Must See: Chokei-ji Temple. From the JR Toyama Station, take the bus headed for Shin Sakuradani. Get off at Anyobo (about a 10-minute ride) and walk about 10 minutes. (Directions courtesy of this Website).
Travel Tip One: From the bus side stop of the CiC building near the Toyama JR station, there is a free museum bus that visitors can take to tour various museums, including the Toyama Museum of Modern Art. Look at a map here.