Along the meandering bullet train tracks of the Hokuriku Arch lies Toyama prefecture, famous for its mountainous surroundings that ensure an abundance of pure spring water for its inhabitants. As much as Toyama is well-known for landmarks such as the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine snow wall that draws troves of visitors a year, and the Kurobe Gorge that opens up its natural beauty on a sunny day, dig deeper into the heart of the prefecture and you’ll discover hidden gems sprawled along its streets. Here are 6 cities in Toyama worth discovering.
As the second largest city in Toyama prefecture, Takaoka is known for its metal casting industry. Zuiryuji Temple, a Soto Zen Buddhist temple with its structures made out of interlocking wood panels and nary a single nail in place, is an impressive feat of traditional temple architecture. Visitors heading this way should detour to Hinode Sushi, a small but cosy sushi bar run by a most friendly middle-aged Japanese sushi chef who greets all who walks through his doors in the most friendly demeanour. Explore further and you'll chance upon Kanayamachi, a historic merchant town where you can experience designing your own sake cup at Imonokōbōrizaburō (鋳物工房利三郎), a handicraft workship, and inscribing your crea with your own initials.
A small town known primarily for its fishing industry, it’s worth checking out Tanaka, a restaurant specializing in yakiniku, or barbecued beef using local Himi beef that’s both flavourful and succulent. If you need a roadside break, consider stopping by Himi Banya, where you can pick up souvenirs or enjoy a meal on the outside with a gorgeous view of the Tateyama mountain range.
Bordered by Ishikawa and Gifu prefectures, Nanto city is most famous for Gokayama, a village that mirrors the famous Shirakawago with its sprawl of gassho zukuri houses, or houses made of straw with its roof slanted at an angle to resemble prayer hands, but at a fraction of the size of the former. There are six traditional houses used as accommodation for the curious traveller, and meals here consists of fresh mountain vegetables and tofu prepared in a variety of ways that will surely tantalise the tastebuds of its visitors. Around the area, a visit to the nearby Michinoeki is recommended for a Japanese washi paper making experience. If you are catching the bus to here from Takaoka station, be sure not to miss out on the giant bronze statue of Doraemon near the Manyo Line tram station - that actually functions as a post box and you can send postcards to your loved ones from here!
A cruise along the Shogawa River should be high on any visitor's list – going down the river during autumn is highly recommended, when the season exposes their brilliant crimson hues that dazzle in the sunlight. We also recommend heading to the Tonami Tulip Gallery, one of the finest museums in Japan dedicated to the tulip, where they have many varieties grown throughout the year, and a most interesting mixed media presentation of how tulips are cultivated.
If you fancy self-drive exploration around Japan, a trip to Toyama Bay in Imizu city is worth a visit. Aside from a sunny day bringing out the azure brilliance of the ocean and nearby Tateyama mountain range, it’s also worth exploring the nearby Kaiwo Maru, a Japanese former training barque that's now converted into a museum. Have lunch at the nearby Kittokito market, which promises an assortment of fresh seafood bowls that make for a delicious lunch stop.
Should you be interested in some shopping for loved ones, we highly recommend the Usugori-honpo Gorumaruya, a traditional Japanese cake shop with its current proprietor being the 6th generation in his family to run the business - the signature confectionery here is called the T5, a circular flat sweet that started 260 years ago and comes in five flavours: cherry, green tea, yuzu, wasanbon and sesame. We also recommend heading to the nearby discount outet mall, Mitsui Outlet Park Hokuriku Oyabe, if you’re looking to get designer clothing at a fraction of its original retail price.