The Urban Capital of the Northern Alps
Toyama is the capital of the eponymous prefecture, leaning on the Tateyama mountain range and facing the Sea of Japan, in the Hokuriku region of Japan. Easily accessible by public transportation service, especially by the Shinkansen from Tokyo, it is a convenient base to visit the Northern Alps. Toyama’s downtown also has some cultural places of interest.
Toyama city is underrated and often eclipsed by its geographic proximity to Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Road. A convenient and comfortable stopover in travelers’ exploration of the Hokuriku region, the city has indeed been an important transit hub in the country for more than a thousand years. Contrary to what its rather quiet downtown may suggest, Toyama is one of Japan’s large cities with about 415,000 inhabitants and shelters an interesting historical and cultural heritage to discover.
Toyama Castle and its modern samurais
Built by a branch of the Maeda clan, the original castle 🏯 dates back to 1543, and the present days’ monument was built in 1953. Only two structures are authentic:
- A small part of the Edo period (1603 – 1868) fortification wall, and,
- The large wooden gate dating back to the middle of the 19th century.
The feel of the feudal era is consequently to be found in details, such as the ceramic collection displayed in the castle.
The outdoor promenade, which is more akin to a public park than a Japanese garden, is nonetheless pleasant on a sunny day. Period costume amateurs will be particularly delighted by the Tourist Information Center located in the park, as it offers a samurai costume rental service. Donning the samurai armors is an interesting experience that helps understand how they were made and used, and that they were surprisingly heavy.
The city of medicament and healthy cuisine
Other historical highlight : the city is an ancient center of medication production since the end of the Edo period, when Toyama’s lords opened the first production factory there. The medicine was initially a combination of various plants that were supposed to treat almost everything. Nowadays, the production focuses on ginger, swertia and coptis roots pills, that help relieve stomach aches.
Ikeda Yasubei Shoten pharmacy offers demonstrations of the pills’ making on a regular basis and people interested can even receive explanations in English. This pharmacy was established in 1936 and has been selling various traditional treatments ever since.
At the first floor, a restaurant offers an unusual lunch break. The food is cooked in the kanpo ryori style which is renowned to be healthy, while not completely vegetarian. Of the most interesting dishes, we liked the starter dish with fig, grape, tofu and sesame, and the main dish with an excellent black rice. This carefully cooked menu offers well-being benefits almost immediately.
The art of glass in the spotlight
Located near the pharmacy and designed by architect Kengo Kuma, the Toyama Museum of Glass is the architectural landmark of the modern city. Its external facade, of an elegant but rather cold design, hides a large and warm atrium made of wood and glass. It precedes a large library and the various galleries of the museum dispatched over several floors.
The glass craftsmanship developed in Toyama together with medicament production, that required a lot of glass vials. In 1991, a renowned glassblowers school established in town and is attracting many Japanese and international glass artists. The most beautiful space of the museum is moreover dedicated to Dale Chihuly, an American contemporary artist. Besides the aesthetic aspects, the museum also provide learning contents about this craft that is so difficult to master.
All these touristic attractions in Toyama, south to the JR station, are easily visited over a one-day trip. We also recommend dropping by Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design and the nearby Kansui Park, located to the north of the city center.