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7-day Hokuriku itinerary: Unforgettable scenery, gold, and dinosaurs

7-day Hokuriku itinerary: Unforgettable scenery, gold, and dinosaurs

Many visitors to Japan go from Tokyo to Osaka by bullet train, bypassing and missing out on the wonders of the Hokuriku region. With the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線) in 2015, a new travel route has emerged, and visiting the Hokuriku region has never been easier. Hokuriku (北陸) is located on the northern coast of central Japan, facing the Sea of Japan, and is made up of the three prefectures of Toyama (富山県 Toyama-ken), Ishikawa (石川県 Ishikawa-ken), and Fukui (福井県 Fukui-ken). Did you know? All three prefectures of Hokuriku consistently rank within the top 10 of “Japan’s happiest prefectures”, and there was a time (in 2011, when I first visited) that they took all top three spots!

 

My first solo trip to Japan was in 2011, and in early 2020 I finally visited all 47 prefectures. Hokuriku’s charm was so great that I visited the area on both my first two solo trips to Japan—Toyama and Kanazawa (in Ishikawa) on the first trip, and Fukui on the second trip—and since then I’ve been back about five times. I have experienced first-hand how travelling to Hokuriku has become way more convenient with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, which brings you from Tokyo to Kanazawa in just 2.5 hours. Prior to the Hokuriku Shinkansen's opening, a trip from Tokyo to Kanazawa would have taken over 4 hours.

 

In this article, I have prepared a 7-day itinerary filled with personal recommendations for visiting this amazing region that is brimming with remarkable scenery, delicious seafood, and unique offerings like gold and dinosaurs! This itinerary will take you from Tokyo to Osaka via the Hokuriku Arch route, an itinerary made possible with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen. We will be using the Hokuriku Arch Pass, a 7-day rail pass offering unlimited rail travel on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, as well as JR East and JR West lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 7 consecutive days. 

 

Day 1: Tokyo → Karuizawa → Nagano

Karuizawa

On the first day, head over to Karuizawa (軽井沢), a highland resort area only 60 minutes by shinkansen from Tokyo. Located about 1,000m above sea level, Karuizawa has temperatures that are cool in summer, making it a popular getaway for Tokyo-ites.

 

Enjoy strolling along Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The buildings along Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street (旧軽井沢銀座通り Kyū-karuizawa Ginza Dо̄ri) have a western vibe, with lots of cafes and bakeries scattered around. As you walk along the street, see if you can spot the shop with the merlion.

 

Shopaholics will also love Karuizawa for the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza, a huge outlet mall with over 200 shops, and located right beside JR Karuizawa Station.

 

Shiraito Waterfall. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Nature lovers can take a 30-minute bus ride to one of Karuizawa’s highlights, the Shiraito Waterfall (白糸の滝 Shiraito no Taki). Shiraito means “white threads” and the water flowing down does indeed resemble dozens of white threads cascading down.

 

 Kumobaike Pond is a quiet spot to enjoy nature. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Kumobaike Pond (雲場池 Kumobaike), also known as Swan Lake even though there are no swans, is about a 30-minute walk or 10-minute bike ride from JR Karuizawa Station, and offers beautiful reflections of the sky and trees.

 

Nagano

After a short pit-stop at Karuizawa, head over to Nagano (長野), a mere 30-minute shinkansen ride away. Known for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano City is a former temple town built around the historic Zenkoji Temple.

 

Zenkoji Temple is the centre of Nagano City. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Many Japanese cities were former castle towns, but Nagano was a temple town, built around Zenkoji Temple (善光寺Zenkо̄ji). Founded in the 7th century, Zenkoji Temple is one of the most important temples in Japan, and houses the first ever Buddhist statue to be brought into Japan.

 

Zenkoji Temple (善光寺)
Address: 491-i Nagano-Motoyoshicho, Nagano-shi, Nagano 380-0851
Access: Take a bus from JR Nagano Station West Exit and alight at the Zenkoji-Daimon bus stop. The temple is a 5-minute walk from the bus stop.

 

Day 2: Nagano → Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route → Toyama

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route offers majestic views of the mountains and nature. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート) is an impressive route traversing through the Tateyama mountain range located on the border of Nagano Prefecture and Toyama Prefecture. To traverse across the entire route between Ogizawa and Tateyama, you will need to ride a total of six different modes of transportation. The majestic marvels that you can experience along the route are definitely a must-see at least once in your life.

 

Travelling between Nagano and Toyama via the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Good news for Hokuriku Arch Pass holders: you can purchase a discounted ticket, the Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket, at just ¥9,800 (usual price ¥12,460), which includes the transport across the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route from Nagano Station to Toyama Station. A shinkansen ride from Nagano to Toyama already costs ¥7,240, so why not make a detour to the mountains for the fantastic views? Take it from someone who has visited the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route five times, you will not regret it!

 

Clockwise from top: At Murodo in 2017, 2014 and 2011. (Image credlt: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is usually open from mid-April until late November every year. There is so much to see along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in the various seasons, and I highly recommend coming at least twice—once to see the 10–20m high snow walls (雪の大谷 Yuki no О̄tani), and once to see the autumn colours.

 

Stay tuned for my next article coming in mid-October, where I will introduce what you can see and do along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, the scenery in different seasons, as well as some of the hiking routes.

 

After traversing the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, you will end up at Toyama, where you will spend the next two nights.

 

Toyama’s sumptuous seafood

A sushi platter of Toyama’s seafood (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Located along the coast of the Sea of Japan and blessed with the deep waters of Toyama Bay (富山湾 Toyama-wan), Toyama produces a lot of delicious seafood, most notably squid and shrimp. At Toyama Bay, the warm Tsushima current meets with the cold deep-sea water, creating an environment with a lot of plankton, which is the major food source for most fish. Toyama Bay is also very close to the city, so the fish are still very fresh when they reach the restaurants.

 

When you’re in Toyama, you must try the fresh seafood, which is best experienced as sushi and sashimi. Many restaurants serve up sushi platters featuring catches of the day, and this is a good way to taste the delicacies of the season.

 

Masuzushi (Image credit: (公社) とやま観光推進機構)

 

Another unique Toyama food, and popular as an ekiben (駅弁 lunch box to eat on the train), is masuzushi (鱒寿司)—vinegared trout sushi on vinegared rice, wrapped in bamboo leaves. This traditional food usually comes in a round, cake-like box. Doesn’t it look fun to eat? Masuzushi is also famous as a souvenir from Toyama, and can be bought at train stations, supermarkets, and masuzushi specialty stores around the city.

 

Firefly squid lighting up the sea (left) and firefly squid for breakfast (right). (Image credit: (公社) とやま観光推進機構 (left) and JR East / Carissa Loh (right))

 

One thing you must try in Toyama is firefly squid (ホタルイカ hotaru ika). These small squids are so named because of the bioluminescent light they emit, which make them look like fireflies lighting up the 14km long coastline of Toyama Bay.

 

March to June is when the firefly squid come close to the bay, and if you visit Namerikawa City (a 15-minute train ride from Toyama on the Ainokaza Toyama Railway Line) between March and May, you can even go on early morning boat tours to get a closer look at them. On the tour you will be able to see the seawaters shimmering with a mystical blue glow. This is something I have been wanting to try for a long time, but haven’t had the chance to yet because I never come in the right season. So, if you visit Toyama between March and May, go check it out!

 

Left to right: Kurozukuri served at a restaurant, and kurozukuri bought from a supermarket. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

If you are slightly more adventurous, why not have a taste of kurozukuri (黒作り)? Made with fermented squid mixed with squid ink and squid liver, this Toyama delicacy is great as a topping on rice, or when having a drink like sake. When I first tried kurozukuri, I was instantly hooked, and look forward to eating it every time I visit Toyama.

 

Day 3: Toyama → Gokayama → Toyama

Gokayama

Gokayama’s gassho-zukuri houses look like fairy tale cottages. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

You may have heard of Shirakawago in Gifu Prefecture, but did you know that the UNESCO World Heritage Site for gassho-zukuri houses (合掌造り gasshо̄zukuri) is comprised of two areas—Shirakawago in Gifu, and Gokayama (五箇山) in Toyama? Most tourists flock to Shirakawago, but having been to both, I highly recommend Gokayama. Although they are smaller and slightly more remote, being perched on a hill, the villages at Gokayama are very, very picturesque.

 

Gokayama’s gassho-zukuri houses in different seasons. (Image credit:  (公社) とやま観光推進機構)

 

Gassho-zukuri houses are known for their steep triangular roofs resembling hands put together. In fact, this is where the name comes from—gasshо̄ (合掌) means to join your hands in prayer. Located in the mountains, these villages experience high snowfall in winter. The shape of the roofs is meant to prevent heavy snowfall from accumulating and crushing the houses.

 

Even in rainy weather, the scenery is so pretty. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

There are two villages in Gokayama—Ainokura (相倉) with around 20 houses, and Suganuma (菅沼) with nine houses. It might take some time to reach, but all that travelling is worth it, because the houses look like cottages from a fairy tale, and you’ll be taken in by their charm! In summer, the gassho-zukuri farmhouses really look so picturesque against the surrounding green paddy fields and mountains in the background.

 

Built mostly in the 18th century, most of these farmhouses are now museums, restaurants, or inns. The houses are still maintained regularly, with the cedar roofs being rebuilt every decade or so.

 

Inside Ainokura Folk Museum #2. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

There are a couple of houses which have been turned into museums, and provide an insight into rural life centuries ago. The museums play videos of traditional performances inside, and you can also climb up to the second floor to get a closer look at the inside of the roof. There is also the irori (hearth), which is what people used to eat dinner around. You can also learn a lot about the unique history of the houses and the community, like the local instruments known as sasara and kokiriko (top and bottom right in respectively in the photo above).

 

Access: From JR Toyama Station (富山駅), take a 10-minute ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen to JR Shin-Takaoka Station (新高岡駅). At Shin-Takaoka Station, take the Kaetsuno Bus and alight at either Ainokura (65 minutes) or Suganuma (80 minutes). 

 

Toyama City

After heading back to Toyama City, check out some of the sights within Toyama City. Currently, there is a campaign where foreign visitors staying overnight at Toyama City can get free tickets for the city tram. Just check with your hotel’s front desk for the coupon availability.

 

Enjoy a cruise along the canal, or chill around the Fugan Canal Kansui Park. (Image credit: : (公社) とやま観光推進機構 (left) and JR East / Carissa Loh (right))

 

A popular spot for relaxing is the Fugan Canal Kansui Park (富岩運河環水公園 Fugan Unga Kansui Kо̄en), which is a short 9-minute walk from Toyama Station. On a clear day, you can even see the Tateyama mountain range in the background. Coffee lovers would be glad to know that there is a stylish Starbucks Coffee with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and outdoor seats overlooking the canal. On some days, the canal is illuminated at night.

 

Fugan Canal Kansui Park (富岩運河環水公園)
Address: Minato Irifune-cho, Toyama-shi, Toyama 930-0805
Access: 9-minute walk from Toyama Station.
Opening hours: The park is open 24 hours.

 

Toyama Glass Art Museum

The Kirari building houses the Toyama Glass Art Museum. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Another spot to visit in Toyama City is the Toyama Glass Art Museum (富山市ガラス美術館 Toyama-shi Garasu Bijutsukan), which has both temporary and permanent exhibitions featuring contemporary glass art. Don't miss the "Glass Art Garden: Chihuly Experience" on the 6th floor, which showcases glass installations committed by the pioneering glass artist Dale Chihuly. The exhibit is stunning, colourful, and definitely worth a visit when you are in Toyama City. The sleek Kirari building which houses the Glass Art Museum has an amazing wooden interior, and also houses the city’s public library.

 

Toyama Glass Art Museum (富山市ガラス美術館)
Address: 5-1 Nishicho, Toyama-shi, Toyama 930-0062
Access: From Toyama Station, take the city tram bound for Minami-Toyama-Ekimae and get off at the Nishicho tram stop. The museum is a 1-minute walk away.
Opening hours: 09:30–18:00 (Sun–Thu) / 09:30–20:00 (Fri–Sat) (Closed on first and third Wednesdays of the month, and during the year-end and New Year holidays)
Admission: ¥200 for permanent exhibition. Price for temporary exhibitions vary.

 

Day 4: Toyama → Kanazawa

Kanazawa City

The exterior of JR Kanazawa Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

From Toyama, take a 25-minute ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa (金沢), the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. One of the first things you will notice after exiting the station is the impressive and large wooden torii gate outside the station. Kanazawa is a compact city, and most of the main sightseeing spots can be reached with the KANAZAWA LOOP BUS, which offers a 1-day unlimited ride ticket for ¥600 (¥500 for Hokuriku Arch Pass holders).

 

Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen is beautiful all year round. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan (日本三名園 Nihon Sanmeien), the gorgeous Kenrokuen (兼六園) is Kanazawa’s must-see spot. Kenrokuen is a beautiful garden that is said to combine the six elements which make up a perfect garden. This can be seen from its name, which means “garden of six characteristics”.

 

I always end up spending hours here. The whole garden is laid out very well, and all the elements complement and balance each other perfectly. Kenrokuen offers stunning views all year round—the clear pond reflects the trees and the sky, and during spring, hundreds of cherry blossoms burst out in pale pink, making it one of the prefecture’s most popular cherry blossoms viewing spots.

 

Kenrokuen with yukitsuri protecting the trees, and the Kotoji Toro on the left. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Kanazawa is located in the north coast, cherry blossom season is later (around early to mid-April), and during winter there is high snowfall. If you come during winter, you will see these structures built around the pine trees, known as yukitsuri (雪吊り). They protect the trees by diverting snowfall, so that the heavy snow will not crush and damage the delicate trees.

 

Kenrokuen Garden (兼六園)
Address: 1 Kenroku-machi, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa 920-0936
Access: From JR Kanazawa Station, take the KANAZAWA LOOP BUS and get off at Kenrokuen Garden bus stop.
Opening hours: 07:00–18:00 (March–15 October) / 08:00–17:00 (16 October–February) (Please check website for early admission days)
Admission: ¥320/adult

  

Gold galore

Try gold leaf crafting a pair of chopsticks, or eating gold leaf ice cream. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Mention Kanazawa and the image of gold might pop into mind—the city’s name even contains the character for gold (金). Kanazawa is extremely famed for its gold leaf crafting. Gold leaf (金箔 kinpaku) is a very, very thin sheet of gold made by beating gold into a thickness of 0.1–0.125 millionths of a meter. Currently, Kanazawa produces a whopping 99% of the gold leaf in Japan. Do you know the famous Golden Pavillion (金閣寺 Kinkakuji) in Kyoto, or Toshogu in Nikko? Their golden buildings are golden because they are covered with Kanazawa gold leaf.

 

When you’re in Kanazawa, you can try out gold leaf crafting—making designs on chopsticks, postcards, boxes, or other items with gold by brushing on gold leaf. You can even EAT gold leaf—try the Instagram-worthy gold leaf ice cream, which has a sheet of gold leaf placed on top of a soft-serve ice cream.

 

Myouryuji Temple, aka Ninja Temple

Myouryuji is also known as the ninja temple. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Myouryuji Temple (妙立寺Myо̄ryūji), more affectionately known as “Ninja Temple (忍者寺 Ninja-dera)”, is a cool place where you will be intrigued by the hidden rooms and tricks. The temple does not have ninjas, but used to hide a secret army of samurai, which in the past was forbidden. As such, the temple has a lot of secret passageways, hidden rooms, and traps to ward off intruders, which led to the nickname of Ninja Temple. Although it looks like a two-storey temple, there are actually seven levels, 23 rooms and 29 staircases. Without a guide, I definitely would have gotten lost inside!

 

Photography is not permitted inside, and you can only go in by reservation. Admission costs ¥1,000, and the tour is entirely in Japanese. If you don't speak Japanese, they do provide leaflets with great English explanations.

 

Myouryuji Temple (妙立寺)
Address: 1-2-12 Nomachi, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa 921-8639
Access: From JR Kanazawa Station, take the KANAZAWA LOOP BUS and get off at Hirokoji bus stop.
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00 (weekdays) / 09:00–16:30 (weekends and public holidays) (Closed on 01 January and Buddhist memorial service days)
Admission fee: ¥1,000/adult (Reservations are required)
Tel: +81-76-241-0888

 

Day 5: Kanazawa → Tojinbo Cliffs → Fukui

Omicho Market

Stop for some seafood at Omicho Market. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

On Day 5, bid farewell to Kanazawa as we head over to Fukui. But before departing Kanazawa, grab a bite to eat from Omicho Market (近江町市場 Ōmichō Ichiba), Kanazawa’s largest fresh food market. The market is lined with over 200 stalls, many of which specialise in seafood.

 

Omicho Market (近江町市場)
Address: 50 Kamiomicho, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa 920-0905
Access: Approximately 20-minute walk from JR Kanazawa Station
Opening hours: Varies with each store

 

Tojinbo Cliffs

Tojinbo Cliffs in Sakai City, Fukui. (Image credit: 公益社団法人福井県観光連盟)

 

Looking for some dramatic scenery? Look no further than the rugged Tojinbo Cliffs (東尋坊 Tо̄jinbо̄), which are truly a sight to behold. These cliffs span about 1km of Fukui’s coastline, and are made up of hundreds of columns of pyroxene andesite rock. Their unique hexagonal blocky appearance is caused by the columnar jointing of the rocks.

 

The dramatic scenery at Tojinbo will make your heart pound. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

You can walk over the cliffs, and there is a staircase leading down for a different view. Looking at the steep edges of the cliffs will make your heart pound. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, as the rocks are uneven and may be slippery after rain. There is also a sightseeing cruise available if you want to get a view of the cliffs from below.

 

Access: From JR Kanazawa Station (金沢駅), take the Limited Express Shirasagi for 35 minutes to JR Awara-Onsen Station (芦原温泉駅), and transfer to a Keifuku Bus bound for Tojinbo. As we will be using Keifuku Bus on both Day 5 and Day 6, you might want to get the 2-day Keifuku Bus pass (Hokuriku Arch Pass holders can get ¥300 discount on the bus pass).

 

Food in Fukui

After Tojinbo, head back to JR Awara-Onsen Station, hop on the Limited Express Shirasagi and take a 10-minute train ride to JR Fukui Station, where we will spend the next two nights.

 

Sauce katsudon and kanimeshi. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

When in Fukui, you have to try the sauce katsudon (ソースカツ丼 sо̄su katsudon)—rice topped with katsu (カツ pork cutlet) and a tasty Worcestershire-based sauce. The katsu is crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and the sauce is generously served over the katsu and rice. While regular katsudon can be found all over Japan, Fukui’s sauce katsudon is well-loved for its tasty sauce.

 

Fukui is also well-known for its Echizen crabs. Kanimeshi (かにめし) is a hugely popular ekiben which you can find at train stations in Fukui. It is filled with tasty rice cooked in crab stock, topped with sweet and juicy crab meat. Some versions of the ekiben also come in a cute crab-shaped lunch box. Be sure to try it out on your next visit.

 

Day 6: Fukui → Dinosaur Museum → Eiheiji → Fukui

Exterior of JR Fukui Station. (Image credit: 公益社団法人福井県観光連盟)

 

Rawrr! Outside Fukui Station, you will notice a very unique group of creatures awaiting you: dinosaurs! Did you know? More dinosaur fossils have been unearthed around Fukui than any other place in Japan. To many Japanese people, mention Fukui and one of the first things that comes to mind is dinosaurs. As a child, did you ever watch the Land Before Time? It was a series of cartoon movies about dinosaurs and I loved it. I've always dreamt about visiting a dinosaur museum, and I finally got to do so in Fukui. 

 

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Tyrannosaurus Rex animatronic welcomes visitors to the Dinosaur World exhibit. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Since you’ve made it to Fukui, you cannot miss the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (福井県立恐竜博物館 Fukui Kenritsu Kyо̄ryū Hakubutsukan), one of the top three dinosaur museums in the world, and also one of the largest. The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is spread over four floors, and the exhibits have great English explanations. Inside, you can find over 40 complete sets of prehistoric skeletal models, as well as ancient dinosaur fossils, and even a life-like Tyrannosaurus Rex animatronic that welcomes you to Dinosaur World, the museum’s main exhibit. 

 

The museum is dedicated to dinosaur research and education. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Other than Dinosaur World, there are also sections dedicated to the history of life on earth. Many of the skeletons and models are life-sized, and the variety is astounding. Even as an adult, I thoroughly enjoy visiting this museum, and have been here twice so far. There are so many things to see and learn about, and you can easily spend half a day here.

 

Katsuyama City (勝山市), where the museum is located, is where Japan’s largest dinosaur excavation site is. There have been numerous unique dinosaur species discovered in Katsuyama, including the Fukuisaurus, Fukuiraptor, and Fukuititan.

 

Find Professor Dinosaur on top of the museum. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After you’re done exploring the museum, one final place to check out is the “roof garden”. The museum is built partially in a hill, and you can walk to the to the top to get a great view of the mountains surrounding Katsuyama. Professor Dinosaur (恐竜博士 Kyо̄ryū Hakushi) sits on a bench on top of the hill, wearing a lab coat and holding a book, and there is a Pterodactyl shape etched on the side of the hill.

 

Echizen Railway has a special ticket for visiting the Dinosaur Museum. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Echizen Railway has a special ticket for a trip to the Dinosaur Museum. The ticket costs ¥2,130, and includes:

  • Unlimited rides on Echizen Railway Lines
  • Admission to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
  • Unlimited rides on the bus between Katsuyama Station and the museum

 

Access: Take the Echizen Railway Katsuyama Eiheiji Line (えちぜん鉄道勝山永平寺線) from Fukui Station (福井駅) to Katsuyama Station (勝山駅). From Katsuyama Station, take a community bus to the dinosaur museum. The schedule for the train/buses can be found here (Japanese only). There are buses to match the arrival of the trains.

 

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (福井県立恐竜博物館)
Address: 51-11 Terao, Muroko, Katsuyama, Fukui 911-8601
Access: 15-minute bus ride from Echizen Railway Katsuyama Station.
Opening hours: 09:00–17:00 (usual) / 08:30–18:00 (during summer holidays)
Closed on every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Open every day during the summer holidays.
Admission fee: ¥780/adult

 

Eiheiji Temple

Eiheiji Temple is an important Zen temple, and very beautiful in autumn. (Image credit: JTA / JNTO)

 

On the way back to Fukui, stop by Eiheiji Temple (永平寺 Eiheiji), a massive temple complex and Zen monastery. With a name that means “temple of everlasting peace”, the complex is made up of over 70 buildings, and is located on a cedar-covered slope in the mountains. One of two head temples of the Sōtō school of Buddhism in Japan, Eiheiji Temple was founded in 1244 by Master Dоgen (道元禅師 Dōgen Zenji), the Buddhist scholar who introduced Sōtō Zen (曹洞禅) from China to Japan. 

 

In autumn (late October to early November), the trees on the complex burst with colours, making Eiheiji Temple one of Fukui’s most popular autumn foliage viewing places.

 

Access: From Eiheijiguchi Station (永平寺口駅) on the Echizen Railway Katsuyama Eiheiji Line, take a 15-minute bus ride to Eiheiji bus stop. You can use the 2-day Keifuku Bus pass for the bus ride.

 

Eiheiji Temple (永平寺)
Address: 5-15 Shihi, Eiheiji-cho, Yoshida-gun, Fukui 910-1228
Access: 15-minute bus ride from Echizen Railway Eiheijiguchi Station.
Opening hours: 08:30–17:00 (Closed on New Year’s Day)
Admission fee: ¥500/adult

 

Day 7: Fukui → Echizen Washi Village → Osaka

On the final day of the Hokuriku Arch Pass’s validity, we head from Fukui to Osaka. Then depending on your itinerary, you can either extend your stay in Osaka (or Kyoto or wherever), or head to the airport. But first, let’s make a stop at the Echizen Washi Village. From JR Fukui Station (福井駅), take a 15-minute ride on the Limited Express Shirasagi to JR Takefu Station (武生駅), then take a 20-minute bus ride to the Echizen Washi Village.

 

Echizen Washi Village

If you are a fan of washi, check out the Echizen Washi Village. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Washi (和紙) is Japanese paper, usually processed by hand. There's a certain beauty and elegance to it, the fibres, texture and visible layers. If you are a fan of washi like me, take a detour to the Echizen Washi Village (越前和紙の里 Echizen Washi no Sato) on your way from Fukui to Osaka. The Echizen Washi Village produces about 30% of Japan's washi output. Here you can visit three buildings, the Paper & Culture Museum, the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum, and the Papyrus House.

 

Paper & Culture Museum: admire washi artworks and learn about what can be made with washi

The Paper & Culture Museum is filled with beautiful paper crafts. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

First stop, the Paper & Culture Museum (紙の文化博物館 Kami no bunka Hakubutsukan). Here you can buy a ticket for ¥200, which covers entry into this museum as well as the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum. The museum is filled with beautiful items crafted entirely with washi, like Tanabata decorations and beautiful balls of flowers made with washi.

 

At the back of the first level of the museum, there's a room filled with sheets and sheets of all kinds of washi hanging. It's really pretty, and you can see the different types, colours and textures for different uses. Mind you, these sheets are huge—at least 1m x 1m. The room was filled with rows and rows of them hanging for you to browse through.

 

Paper & Culture Museum (紙の文化博物館)
Address: 11-12 Shinzaike-cho, Echizen City, Fukui 915-0232
Access: 20-minute bus ride from JR Takefu Station.
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00 (Closed on Tuesdays and during the year-end holidays)
Admission: ¥200/adult (includes admission to both Paper & Culture Museum and Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum)

 

Papyrus House: make your own paper crafts

Layering pulp to make a set of coasters. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Thinking of bringing back a personalised souvenir? Check out the Papyrus House (パピルス館 Papirusu-kan). Here you can experience making your own washi items, like a set of six coasters pictured above.

 

Creating your own paper items is a fun activity for all ages. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The whole process is pretty simple—you layer the pulp on the screen, add floral decorations, add more layers of pulp, add colouring and gold flecks, then wait for your creation to dry to dry. It's really fun. You can choose to make a variety of items, including envelopes, name cards, postcards, a lamp, an uchiwa fan and more. Just pick what you want to make, tell the staff, do it, then wait 10 minutes for it to dry. These items are small, so the staff sometimes use a vacuum machine to suck out the water from the screen, to reduce the drying time.

 

With my finished set of coasters. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After you finish making your item, the staff will package it up nicely in an envelope which says "The washi I made”. For the coasters, you will need to cut them up yourself. The paper-making activity is fun and simple, and suitable for both children and adults alike.

 

If you would like to buy back some souvenirs for your friends and family, the Papyrus House also a shop where you can buy washi goods like wrapping papers, letter writing materials, envelopes, notebooks, shopping bags, fans, lamp shades, etc in all sorts of pretty designs. I always end up buying so much stuff...

 

Papyrus House (パピルス館)
Address: 8-44 Shinzaike-cho, Echizen City, Fukui 915-0232
Access: 20-minute bus ride from JR Takefu Station.
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00 (Closed on Tuesdays and during the year-end holidays)
Tel: +81-778-42-1363

 

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum: learn about how washi is made

Learn about how paper is made at the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

At the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum (卯立の工芸館 Udatsu no Kо̄geikan), you can observe craftsmen making large sheets of washi. The kind gentlemen will explain and demonstrate how the kо̄zo (plant to make the pulp) is gathered, cleansed, stripped, beaten, mixed with neri (a slimy liquid from the root of a tororoaoi plant), shaken, and the whole process until you get a sheet of washi paper.

 

The sheets are then stacked on top of another with a string between them, for easy separation of the sheets later. The large sheets are laid on flat wooden boards, smoothed out to ensure that the paper is uniform, then left to dry outside. After drying, it becomes a whole large (1m x 1m) sheet of paper.

 

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum (卯立の工芸館)
Address: 9-21-2 Shinzaike-cho, Echizen City, Fukui 915-0232
Access: 20-minute bus ride from JR Takefu Station.
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00 (Closed on Tuesdays and during the year-end holidays)
Admission: ¥200/adult (includes admission to both Paper & Culture Museum and Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum)

 

From JR Takefu Station, you can take the Limited Express Thunderbird train to Osaka, and transfer to a trainbound for Kansai International Airport (KIX).

 

Hokuriku Arch Pass

The Hokuriku Arch Pass is a convenient way to get around the Hokuriku region. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are visiting Hokuriku from Tokyo or Osaka, check out the Hokuriku Arch Pass, an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on Hokuriku Shinkansen, as well as JR East and JR West lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 7 consecutive days.

 

At only ¥24,400 when purchased overseas, you can save a lot compared to buying point-to-point tickets, and it is cheaper than the 7-day Nationwide Japan Rail Pass. In addition, pass holders can get discounts for various other transport passes and admission fees, which you can check here.

 

More good news: from April 2020, Hokuriku Arch Pass holders can go through automatic ticket gates at stations. No more searching for  the manned gates and queuing to manually show your pass to the station staff; now you can easily breeze through the automatic ticket gates. This change comes as the tickets have been upgraded from paper cards to machine-readable tickets. In addition, holders of Hokuriku Arch Pass will also be able to make seat reservations from reserved seat ticket vending machines at train stations,

 

Based on this itinerary, you can save over ¥10,000. Hokuriku is truly a beautiful gem, and I hope you will visit it someday. Currently, the Hokuriku Shinkansen extension from Kanazawa to Fukui is under construction, and is scheduled to open in 2022. The Hokuriku Shinkansen line will eventually extend to Osaka, so look forward to even faster travelling times and more convenience when visiting Hokuriku in the future!

 

Header image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh

 

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