Adventure in Toyama Prefecture
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As you speed through Japan on the Shinkansen--aptly referred to as the bullet train--at mind-boggling speeds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour, it might cause you to wonder about the technology involved in creating such a modern marvel. As you stare through the glass you might even wonder how the glass, the window to your visions of Japan, can withstand such speeds. If you are traveling to Toyama, the answer to such questions will be provided upon your arrival because much of the curved glass used in building the Shinkansen is produced in Toyama Prefecture. Toyama is so famous for glass in fact that there is the Toyama Glass Art Museum in the prefecture and you should definitely make this a stop on your tour. But Toyama isn’t just glass and technology. The prefecture offers the perfect mix of technology, art, beauty and ancient Japan that can’t be found anywhere else in Japan.
In order to take in three of these Toyama sites, you need only spend one day. Of course, you might enjoy Toyama so much that you will probably be compelled to extend your stay and explore the area further. And getting to Toyama is simple. You can either fly there directly from Tokyo or, and this is recommended, take the two hour ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. And if you truly want to travel to Toyama in luxury, pay the extra amount and travel in the Gran Class to enjoy the sleek interior and leather seats as you stare out into the Japanese countryside. If you choose to spend just one day in Toyama you can start your tour of the past, present and future right in the center of Toyama at the Toyama Glass Art Museum. While there are several glass studios and even glass art on the streets of Toyama, they all come together at the Glass Art Museum. You will notice this immediately when you see the outside of the very modern building, made of glass of course. Inside there is glass art from many ages, ancient to modern, that will hold your eyes in awe for hours. When you leave the museum after your tour, you will fully understanding why Toyama is called Japan’s “City of Glass Art.” You will be amazed at the beauty of the glass art but also find yourself thinking about the curved glass on the Shinkansen that you took to get to Toyama. The beauty and the elegance of the glass art coupled with the futuristic technology of a speeding train will send your mind on a journey unlike any other. As I said, Toyama is a special place and your tour has just begun.
After spending a couple of hours at the museum, you can hop on another train and get ready to explore Toyama Prefecture from two other aspects. The first is another technological wonder that also embraces a natural beauty. The place is about a 50-kilometer train ride through the mountains of Toyama and is known as the Kurobe dam. You might ask yourself what is so special about a dam. Or the train ride to the dam might make you forget all about why you are going to see the dam. But once you arrive, the sight is unforgettable. Not only is the Kurobe dam the most famous dam in Japan, it is also the tallest. And if you go between June and October you will have the benefit of seeing tons of water released from its spillways. Although seeing the dam is worth the trip in itself, there is also a train called the Kurobe Gorge Railway and is a ‘must do’ activity. The train runs for a short 20 kilometers but its narrow track and scenic heights will take your breath away as you travel through sections of Japan’s Northern Alps. If you go in the winter season you will see snow--a lot of snow! After this trip, as I forewarned, you might begin to wonder why you decided to only spend one day in Toyama Prefecture. But your day isn’t done. You travel back to Toyama and then on to Nanto for the final leg of the tour.
Nanto is about 25 kilometers from Toyama city and easily accessible by train. By this time however, sundown is coming and what you will want to see in Nanto is a place known as Gokayama. There you will be thrown back into the past as you see the traditional Gassho-style houses built in the 11th century. These houses are so rare and are designated by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. After seeing the beauty of modern glass art and then the natural beauty of the Kurobe dam area, seeing these ancient houses, with their thatched roofs and remarkably preservation, again you will be asking yourself why you hurried through Toyama Prefecture. Luckily, in the Gokayama area, you can find a place to stay and many are traditional Japanese lodgings. I recommend, though, that you plan ahead and make reservations in advance. I hope that after reading this you have come to the realization that while it’s possible to see in only one day many of the sights that Toyama Prefecture has to offer, you would be better off taking more time to explore this wondrous area. My advice is to take at least three days in Toyama Prefecture--exploring Toyama city on the first day, going to the dam on the second day and then on the third day going to Gokayama. You will be glad you didn’t hurry and you will discover many places along the way that will provide memories that will last forever.
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