I was in the land of the mountains at the end of June, a.k.a. Toyama! It was on my list already (by the way, I should start making that list and publish it here someday because I have now been to over 25 prefectures in Japan!). I had been meaning to visit Toyama since traveling to its neighbor prefecture, Ishikawa, two years ago.
Toyama City itself was cozy and friendly, but what was spectacular about this prefecture was the mountains surrounding it. Toyama (富山) means “rich with mountains” in Japanese, and the prefecture certainly lives up to its name. I spent a day in the city, but the heat and humidity made me miserable. I found it taxing to breathe and walk properly with a mask on.
You might wonder if people still wear masks in Japan, and the answer is yes! Even though the Japanese government announced that the masks don’t have to be worn outside anymore, most people still wear them. It puts pressure on those not wearing masks. Because I am a foreigner and already grab unwanted attention with my mere existence, I try to keep a low profile by wearing a mask.
It might not be a good idea to visit the Sea of Japan during the rainy season. I learned that the hard way. I wish someone—other than the weather forecast—had told me this before. It was rainy in the evenings but mainly cloudy during the day. I didn’t get to enjoy the nearest beach since the weather was bleak and the color of the water was lackluster.
I didn’t let the weather get to me, though. I already had a purpose when visiting Toyama: to do the Alpine Route. The journey itself was pretty straightforward but long. If you decide to do a round-trip between Tateyama and Kurobe Dam, you should be prepared for a long day. The trip takes at least eight hours, excluding hiking. If you want to hike Mount Tate (立山), you need to add more hours to your itinerary.
I took a few (!) modes of transportation to arrive at Kurobe Dam. The longest ride is the highland bus that takes you from Tateyama Station to Murodo Highland in about fifty minutes. The bus is great because it introduces the region’s mountains, history, and geography via a multilingual recorded guide. It also stops at scenic spots and lets you enjoy the view for a few seconds. And you can enjoy the famous snow wall corridor when you ride this bus!
Although it was June when I did the Alpine Route, snow was still everywhere. So I brought a jacket and bought a new pair of hiking shoes (yay!) to keep myself warm. I originally wanted to hike Mount Tate but immediately gave up after seeing the snow. As you can see in the picture below, it is still a bit early to go hiking on Mount Tate without proper gear. Other experienced hikers told me I would need hiking spikes and poles.
There’s something magical about mountains—they make me feel extreme loneliness but at the same time boost my energy and confidence. It is as if I must be in solitude to charge my batteries! However, this trip was a bit different. Because I had a schedule to adhere to, I felt everything was a bit rushed. I prefer to hike at my own pace and enjoy my surroundings by taking little breaks. It wasn’t really possible to do that along the Alpine Route because there were so many stations between destinations.
I don’t mean this visit wasn’t worth it. On the contrary, it was worth every penny, but if you are looking for a sweet escape and need solitude, perhaps it’s not the right place for you. I bet staying at nearby hotels to do that would be great, but the round-trip tickets should be used within a day, so you’re practically in a hurry everywhere you go. Even so, I managed to walk around Murodo Highland and loved the view to bits! Isn’t this place just breathtaking?
After Murodo Highland, I took two ropeways to get to Kurobe Dam, a prominent sightseeing spot in Toyama. The temperature difference between the mountains and the valley was stark. While the temperature was around 15 degrees Celsius up in the mountains, it drastically rose once I went down. It was almost 35 degrees Celsius at Kurobe Dam! Yet, even the heat and humidity couldn’t stop me from inhaling this beauty.
After spending a couple of hours around the dam, I thought that if I wanted to catch the last cable car to Tateyama, it was time to go back to my hotel. I was exhausted from the long journey, so I pretty much dozed off on every mode of transportation. I was happy-tired—the type of fatigue you feel after doing something enjoyable. As soon as I arrived at Toyama Station, I felt energized again and decided to go to the city’s heart, Fugan Unga Kansui Park.
The sunset was gorgeous. The clouds were dangling from the sky and dripping to the earth as if to mark my victory. Sitting there and watching the park fade into darkness wiped out the fatigue I had felt earlier. I like it when something goes wonderfully, even when I didn’t plan it well. I am a scatterbrain, and my journeys are nothing but reflections of my spontaneous brain. Perhaps that’s what makes them worth remembering?
What about you? Are you an organized traveler? Do you find spontaneity and vagueness scary or liberating when traveling?
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