Toyama Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast is 3 hours away by Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo Station. Toyama Shinkansen was opened in 2015 and this has dramatically improved the access to Toyama. So, we decided to visit the Kurobe Dam which is one of the largest dams in Japan and located in the middle of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. It used to be very difficult to visit, but now the Shinkansen has made it much easier to access.
Eat & Drink
Before visiting the Kurobe Dam, we stayed at a hotel near Toyama Station and enjoyed Toyama Port’s fresh fish at an Izakaya, a Japanese tapas-style restaurant. The quality and quantity of fish at Toyama’s Izakaya should not be compared with Tokyo. This time, we didn’t stay at a Ryokan, a Japanese traditional hotel, but rather at a reasonable business hotel in the front of the Toyama Station. Instead of spending money on a fancy hotel, we spent a lot of money on fresh fish at the Izakaya. Each dish was cooked expertly with seasonal Toyama fish and vegetables. Each Izakaya in Japan was quite small with a small table on Tatami mat, but it was fun to communicate with local people in the same room.
Toyama has the 3,000m-class Tateyama Mountain Range and 1,000m deep sea. This 4,000 m difference creates a very dynamic landscape. The distance from the seashore to the mountain area is only 25 km, so you can enjoy both green forest scenery and deep blue ocean.
Toyama Port is located in the middle of Toyama deep sea channels. Several rivers and underground water flows from the Tateyama Mountain Range to the Toyama Port. This deep sea is the best biotic environment to breed Japanese glass shrimp and snow crab.
Hotaruika Museum in Namerikawa city
Eating fresh fish at the Izakaya made me eager to visit Hotaruika Museum in Namerikawa city before visiting the Kurobe Dam. It takes about 40 mins by car or public transportation from Toyama Station. Every spring season, we eat Hotaruika, firefly squid, and know spring has come. We visited Toyama in August, so we could not eat Hotaruika or take a Hotaruika Tour Boat, but the museum was fully informative to know the ecological system of Hotaruika.
The information panel at the Hotaruika Museum was only in Japanese, but the illustrations clearly explained the biological system of Hotaruika. Each panel was full of passion and overflowing love to the Hotaruika, so it made people read enthusiastically. Hotaruika live at depths of 200-600 m in the deep sea. Its skin and eyes are light-emitting organs. When it is attacked, it emits pale light. From March to June, it comes toward the seashore for spawning.
Hotaruika Fishing began more than 400 years ago in Namerikawa city. Because of the Toyama Port’s landscape, the Hotaruika fishing grounds and fishing port are so close. It takes only 15-20 mins to the seashore and fishing port from the fishing grounds. Caught Hotaruika is immediately transported to the fishing port to keep its freshness. The Hotaruika Tour Boat is available every spring season to see the Hotaruika fishing at midnight.
From March to May, the Hotaruika Museum has a special exhibition of live Hotaruika, which explains how they emit light. Live Hotaruika can only be seen during the spring season at the Hotaruika Museum. During other seasons, we can see deep sea fire-emitting plankton.
You can touch and feel Toyama’s crustaceans at their Touching Pool. It was fun to chase fast running crabs. The water was really cold and my kids learned the severity of the Japan Sea.
Uozu Buried Forest Museum
Before having a barbecue lunch at the Fish Market Shinkiro, we visited Uozu Buried Forest Museum and Uozu Aquarium in Uozu city. It takes 20 mins from Hotaruika Museum to the Uozu Buried Forest Museum by car. I had never heard of the Maibotsurin, a buried and preserved forest before, but it sounded mysterious. We stayed at the Museum longer than we had expected to learn about the Uozu Buried Forest.
Uozu Buried Forest was a primitive forest trail that was formed 2000 years ago. The age of trees is about 500 years and their diameter is more than 2m. The forest was buried by sediment from the Katagai River and preserved well by the cold groundwater, which came from rain at 1,000m altitude and flowed to the ground over a 10 to 20 year period. The tree is still kept in the groundwater of the Katagai River for display. The shape and color was so strange and unique. It takes one hour to see around and it is well worth doing.
We also visited Uozu Aquarium. It took 10 mins drive from the Uozu Buried Forest Museum. The size of the Uozu Aquarium was not huge, but the exhibition contents were very substantial.
We had a barbecue lunch at the Fish Market Shinkiro which was located near the Uozu Buried Forest Museum. We had grilled seasonal fish just caught in the Uozu fishing grounds. All barbecue equipment was prepared and it was perfect for tourists.
I bought two Uozu lacquered wood bowls, of the sort commonly used for miso soup, at the souvenir shop in the Fish Market Shinkiro. Ishikawa Prefecture lacquerware is more famous than Toyama’s. However, I liked the design, touch and feel of Takayasumi’s Uozu lacquerware. In the early 1930’s, there were more than 300 stores in Uozu city, but currently Takayasumi lacquerware is the only workshop. I preferred the simple and natural atmosphere with a beautiful wood grain pattern.
The area of the three museums, along with the Toyama Port, was good for walking around as we could smell the salty scent and chat with locals who were fishing and catching small crabs.