Tokimeki in Kitokito Toyama: The sights of Toyama
Most readers of this site would have heard of Toyama Prefecture (富山県 Toyama-ken), located in the Hokuriku Region (北陸地方 Hokuriku-chihō) along the Sea of Japan (日本海 Nihon-kai), but chances are you might not have been there before, or heard of their local dialect. Well, now you can add one word to your list: “kitokito” (きときと), meaning “lively” and “fresh”! That is precisely what Toyama is—sandwiched by the beautiful waters of the Sea of Japan to the left and many mountain ranges, like the Northern Alps (北アルプス Kita-Alps) and Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈 Hida-sanmyaku) to the right, Toyama is blessed with a wonderfully temperate climate and bountiful harvests from both the land and the sea.
While it may be known primarily among tourists as being one end of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート), there are many other attractions in Toyama that are guaranteed to bring you some “tokimeki” (ときめき), or excitement! Read on to find more about some of the sights, experiences, and tastes that await you in Toyama over this two-part series.
1. Hotaruika Museum (ほたるいかミュージアム)
The entrance to the Hotaruika Museum. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)
Hotaruika (ほたるいか), or firefly squid, is one of Toyama’s most prized products. What makes them so special is, as their name implies, their bioluminescent nature—the sight of a squad of them glowing blue in the dark of the early morning hours is a sight to behold, with tours out to the sea to observe the phenomenon up close conducted during the spawning/fishing months of February to May.
Hotaruika are not only a treat for the eyes—they can also be enjoyed in a variety of ways, from okizuke (沖漬け), where they are brined in soy sauce, to being boiled and served with sumiso (酢味噌), a dip made by combining vinegar and sweet white miso. So valued and important are these squid to the local tourism that they have even created a dedicated facility for people to learn about them—the Hotaruika Museum (ほたるいかミュージアム), located in Namerikawa (滑川市 Namerikawa-shi), where the bulk of firefly squid fishing and boat tours take place.
Located within the Wave Park Namerikawa Roadside Station (道の駅ウェーブパークなめりかわ Michi-no-eki Wave Park Namerikawa), the museum houses panels and displays educating people about the life cycle of the firefly squid, how squid fishing is conducted, as well as related history and literature. The museum also showcases the other flora and fauna that can be found in Toyama Bay (富山湾 Toyama-wan), as well as exhibits detailing the geography of the bay itself. There is even a corner where you can see actual firefly squids illuminating in the dark during the squid season, and a touch pool where you can get up close with some of the natives in Toyama Bay!
Glowing hotaruika washed up on the shore. (Image credit: Toyama Tourism Organization)
Apart from the museum, there is also a bathing facility where you can dip in deep seawater from Toyama Bay, and allow the minerals to be absorbed through your skin, as well as a panorama restaurant offering scenic views of the ocean as you enjoy your meal, and a cafe where you can stop for a quick bite and a cuppa. With so many things to do at one place, this roadside station, a stone’s throw from the nearest station, is a good way to spend a day immersed in the wonders of the sea!
Hotaruika Museum (ほたるいかミュージアム)
Address: 410 Nakagawara, Namerikawa, Toyama, 936-0021
Nearest station: Namerikawa Station (滑川駅)
Access: 15 minutes from Toyama Station via Ainokaze Toyama Railway Line / 40 minutes from Dentetsu-Toyama Station via Toyama Chihō Railway.
Opening hours: 9am–5pm (Last entry: 4:30pm) (Closed on Tuesdays on 1 June–19 March & New Year Holidays)
Admission fee (20 March–31 May): ¥820 (Adults), ¥410 (Children)
Admission fee (1 June–19 March): ¥620 (Adults), ¥310 (Children)
Writer’s note: The various outlets within the roadside station listed above are all closed on Tuesdays between June and March, but they have differing operating hours—for more information, click on the link above.
2. Zuiryūji (瑞龍寺)
The entrance to Zuiryuji. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)
Japan is well-known for her Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples—almost every prefecture has a well-known one, for instance Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) in Kyoto, Izumo-Ooyashiro (出雲大社) in Shimane, and Chusonji (中尊寺) in Iwate, just to name a few. Similarly, Toyama has a few of her own as well, the most famous of all being Zuiryuji (瑞龍寺 Zuiryūji) in Takaoka (高岡市 Takaoka-shi).
The history of Zuiryuji dates all the way back to 1594, when it was first built in Kanazawa (金沢市 Kanazawa-shi) in neighbouring Ishikawa Prefecture) as Hoenji (宝円寺 Hōenji) under the instructions of Maeda Toshinaga (前田利長), the second leader of the Kaga Domain (加賀藩 Kaga-han) during the Edo Period (1603–1868). After having his half-brother Toshitsune (前田利常) succeed him, Toshinaga retired and moved from Kanazawa to Takaoka in 1613, building Takaoka Castle (高岡城 Takaoka-jō) and relocating Hoenji in the process. When Toshinaga passed away in 1614, Toshitsune renamed Hoenji to Zuiryuji in commemoration of the former, and the name has remained till today.
Within the grounds of Zuiryuji. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)
Its history of over five hundred years adds to its regality, but what makes Zuiryuji so special is that the main hall (仏殿 butsuden), Dharma hall (僧堂 sōdō) and the gate to the main hall (山門 sanmon) have been designated as National Treasures since 1997—the only temple in the whole of Toyama to be registered as such. In addition, other parts of the temple, such as the kitchen (大庫裡 dai-kuri) and cloisters (回廊 kairō) have been designated as Important Cultural Properties, making the temple grounds a valuable monument.
Even though it lies only 10 minutes by foot from Takaoka Station (高岡駅 Takaoka-eki), the tranquility I felt when I was there made it seem as if Zuiryuji were a 3-hour drive up the mountain away from the nearest settlement. The solemn atmosphere of the place was just what I needed to help me gather and clear my thoughts, and even if you are not religious, it is worth visiting the temple to admire the architecture from a bygone time!
Address: 35 Sekihon-machi, Takaoka, Toyama, 933-0863
Nearest station: Takaoka Station(高岡駅)
Access: 20 minutes from Toyama Station via Ainokaze Toyama Railway Line.
Opening hours: 9:30am–4pm
Admission fee: ¥500 (Adults), ¥200 (High school & junior high school students), ¥100 (Elementary school students)
Writer’s note: JR Takaoka Station services both the JR Jōhana and JR Himi Lines, which both start from Takaoka Station.
3. Amaharashi Coast (雨晴海岸)
The Amaharashi Coast in winter, as seen from a train on the JR Himi Line. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)
While the previous two spots were of man-made scenery, the third and last entry under sights is a natural one, which Toyama is not short of, being surrounded by nature all around. Perhaps the most famous of these locations would be the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route mentioned previously, but the coastline also offers many beautiful spots that have captivated the hearts of both the locals and visitors, the most picturesque of them all arguably being the Amaharashi Coast (雨晴海岸 Amaharashi-kaigan) along the northern shores of Takaoka.
Part of the Noto Hanto Quasi-National Park (能登半島国定公園 Noto-hantō-kokutei-kōen) that stretches along the Noto Peninsula (能登半島 Noto-hantō), the picturesque coast is known for its rugged beach and pristine sands, the beauty of which has been quoted by poets like Basho (松尾芭蕉 Matsuo Bashō), as well as Otomo-no-Yakamochi (大伴家持) in the Manyōshū (万葉集), the oldest anthology of Japanese classical poetry believed to be compiled in the 8th century during the Nara Period (710–794). Slightly off the coast are two small rocky islands, Otoko-iwa (男岩) and Onna-iwa (女岩)—the tall trees growing on the latter making it the subject of many posters and images of the coast. Along the coast is Yoshitsune Rock (義経岩 Yoshitsune-iwa), so named because legend has it that Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune (源義経), one of the most celebrated characters in Japanese history, once waited under the rock for a passing shower to stop while en route to Hiraizumi (平泉) in Iwate.
The Amaharashi Coast with the Tateyama Mountains in the background. (Image credit: Toyama Tourism Organization)
It is not only these tales about Amaharashi Coast that make it so beloved—on clear days, one is able to see the Tateyama Mountains (立山連峰 Tateyama-renpō) in the distance beyond the Toyama Bay, and the combination of the Onna-iwa with the mountains makes for stunning photographs, especially in winter when the peaks are capped with snow. In addition, part of the JR Himi Line (氷見線 Himi-sen) that connects Takaoka and Himi (氷見市 Himi-shi) runs along the coastline, making it a famed spot for photographers and train enthusiasts.
Chosen as one of the “Hundred Beaches of Japan” (日本の渚百選), and being the second entry from Japan to be included in the World’s Most Beautiful Bays Club after Matsushima (松島) in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県 Miyagi-ken), Amaharashi Coast is definitely a spot you do not want to miss when in Toyama!
Amaharashi Coast (雨晴海岸)
Address: 17 Ōta, Takaoka, Toyama, 933-0133
Nearest station: JR Amaharashi Station (JR雨晴駅)
Access: 5-minute walk from JR Amaharashi Station
Toyama has a wealth of sights waiting to be explored—here, I have shared three that I particularly enjoyed during my explorations of the prefecture. There is so much more to do besides sightseeing in Toyama, though—keep your eyes peeled for Part 2, in which I talk about a one-of-a-kind experience to be found only in the region, plus where you can get delicious sushi without burning a hole in your pocket!