Japan Winter Itinerary Part 4. Toyama Japan Guide for First-Timers
My 5-day Central Japan itinerary included a day trip from Kanazawa to Toyama in winter. In January, Toyama City turned into a cozy little winter wonderland completely covered in snow. This charming town was small enough for me to explore in one day.
In this article, I’d like to share what to do in Toyama, Japan, how to get to and around Toyama, and insider tips you should know to plan your perfect Toyama itinerary. At the time of my research, I didn’t find the critical information on time – such as the closing of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Unfortunately, I had to miss this highly recommended Toyama attraction; however, I included the details below for you.
*Updated on 10/02/2022. This article was originally published in 2018.
This post is part of Winter in Japan Series:
- Part 1. Things to Do in Kanazawa in Two Days
- Part 2. Behind the Closed Doors of Geisha House in Kanazawa
- Part 3. Where to Stay in Kanazawa: Kanazawa Hotel Review
- Part 4. Things to Do in Toyama: Toyama City Guide for the First-timers
- Part 5. Shirakawago Winter Light Up Festival
- Part 6. Where to Stay in Takayama: Takayama Hotel Review
- Part 7. What to Expect from Traditional Japanese Ryokan Stay
- Part 8. What to Wear in Japan: Japan Winter Season Edition
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Toyama in Winter
Toyama City (富山) is the capital of Toyama Prefecture in the Hokuriku Region of northern Chubu. This small town is famous for glass arts and traditional medicine. The city is also a popular gateway for visitors to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.
I fell in love with the winter scenery when looking down from Toyama City Hall Observatory and wading through ankle-deep snow at Matsu River Sculpture Park. The snow-covered Toyama Castle looked lonely and majestic at the same time. And I never expected to have the best Starbucks coffee in this little town! Continue reading things to do in Toyama below.
Things to Do in Toyama Japan
1. Toyama Castle
The snow-covered Toyama Castle (富山城址, Toyama Jōshi) and its walls made such a beautiful scene. It probably would have been a 3-min walk from the tram stop, but we took our times to take photos and played with the snow.
Toyama Castle was built in 1543 during the Edo Period by the Maeda clan. While I heard that there is Toyama Castle History Museum with an observation deck inside the Park, we didn’t go into the castle. Maybe a good spot for a history buff.
We were more into enjoying the scenery that day. The pond in front of the Sato Memorial Art Museum was completely frozen. Because of knee-deep snow that blocked the view, we almost missed this beautiful Japanese garden. Thankfully, someone already dug out a small path, making it easier for us to peek at the frozen pond.
Location: Google Map
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed: Dec. 31 – Jan. 1
Admission: Toyama Castle entry: 210 yen | Toyama Castle and Sato Memorial Art Museum entries: 310 yen
2. Matsukawa Park
Continuing to walk towards the back of the Toyama Castle, we reached the Matsu Riverwalk Sculpture Park. This is the home for five hundred cherry trees, blossoming in both sides of Matsu River in spring. In the cherry blossom season, Matsu River Boat Cruise is a popular activity. During our visit in winter, these trees were buried in snow. Sculptors also were barely noticeable.
Regardless, it was a beautiful place to walk. Few footprints on the snow were the only indicator someone had been there. I loved the fact that no one was around. Without the surprisingly loud sound of snowfall from trees, which startled me, I enjoyed hearing my own footsteps on fresh snow.
Location: Google Map
Hours: Open 24 hours
3. Toyama Glass Art Museum & Public Library
As we walked out of the Toyama castle park, heavy snow started to fall. Toyama felt colder than Kanazawa. If it wasn’t for the weather, we probably could’ve walked to our next destination — Toyama Glass Art Museum. But we took a tram and got off at Grand Plaza Mae.
Toyama is known for its glass art. So it’s only natural for the city to have the Glass Art Museum. Designed by a world-renowned architect, Kengo Kuma, the building itself is modern and artistic. I particularly liked the high-ceiling windows and wooden bar structure. The wooden bar panels reminded me of Kaikaro Teahouse in Kanazawa. I’m not sure if he architect intended to feature kimusuko, which is classical chaya architecture. (Read more about my visit to geisha houses in Kanazawa here.)
My favorite exhibit was the “Glass Art Garden” by Dale Chihuly on the sixth floor. His glass artworks were so colorful and vivid that they got carved into my mind.
We dined at the Cafe on the second floor for convenience. I forgot the name of my dish in Japanese, but it essentially was vegetarian tonkatsu (pork cutlet). The food was decent and beautifully presented.
Even on an overcast day, there was no shortage of natural light inside the museum. And we could look out the window to enjoy the romantic snowfalls.
Location: Google Map
Phone: (81) 076-461-3100
Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Closed: First & Third Wednesdays, year-end to New Year holidays
Admission: 700 yen
4. Ikeda Yasubei Shoten
Toyama is historically a center for traditional medicine. Ikeda Yasubei Shoten (池田屋安兵衛商店, Ikeda Yasubei Shōten) is a Japanese traditional medicine shop that has been practicing medicine since 1936. Since it’s only one block away from the Glass Art Museum, we decided to stop by.
Here, you can get counseling and purchase traditional medicines for constipation, vitamins, etc. The shop also demonstrates how Japanese pharmacists traditionally made drugs on the old-fashioned machine. Translated brochures are also available for non-Japanese travelers.
I honestly wasn’t too impressed with this shop. The whole environment made me think it was a bit too gimmicky to be authentic. But I liked to see the not-so-traditional medicine packages on display. Maybe for a more authentic experience, Kokando Traditional Medicine Museum would have been a better choice.
Location: Google Map
Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Closed: Wednesdays and New Year Holidays
5. Toyama City Hall Observation Tower
We took the CENTRAM, a.k.a. City Tram Loop Line, to circle back up north to go to Toyama City Hall Observation Tower. Once we got off at the Sakurabashi stop, we didn’t see any high-rise building that resembles an observation tower. All we could see was merely snow-covered white trees. And nobody to help us!
We spotted two high school girls and asked for directions. They didn’t know where the City Hall was. But Google Map came in handy! While we were a bit too disoriented to even look for directions on Google, the girls were familiar with the area enough to immediately recognize the location on the map.
After walking for five minutes through snow-covered trees, we finally found Toyama City Hall. If you were expecting some sort of skyscraper, as we did, you wouldn’t imagine this building would have an observation deck.
Once inside the City Hall, we took the elevator up to the Observation Tower. The city operates it, and admission is free. It’s not a big fancy tower, but you can see the entire town 360 degrees without any obstruction.
Location: Google Map
Hours: Mon – Fri 9am-9pm, Sat – Sun & holidays 10am – 9pm
Closed: Dec. 29 – Jan. 3
6. Toyama Starbucks at Fugan Canal Kansui Park
We took another tram back to JR Toyama Station to visit the Fugan Canal Kansui Park (富岩運河環水公園). On a good weather day, the waterside park is a 10-min walk from the station. There is also a local bus departing from the Toyama station. However, we decided to take a taxi to save us from the trouble of walking on an icy road.
Locals come to the Kansui Park to stroll along the canal. Fugan Canal Cruise runs from April to November, taking tourists to Nakajima Lock and Iwase along the cherry blossom route in Spring.
We chose to stay warm inside the Starbucks as it was getting dark and very chilly. Generally speaking, I prefer to visit local independent coffee shops when traveling; however, this Toyama Starbucks along the canal walk is unique.
The coffee house is in a stand-alone glass building overlooking the Heaven’s Gate Bridge (Tenmon-Kyo) and the Kansui park. Despite the crowd, sipping a cup of warm coffee with the view of the illuminated bridge and its reflection on the water on a snowy day made our evening very romantic. What a perfect way to wrap up our day trip!
Tip: Book a taxi for a return to JR Toyama Station. We asked our taxi driver to come back in an hour for us. It is not easy to grab a return taxi from Fugan Canal Kansui Park.
Fugan Canal Kansui Park
Location: Google Map
Hours: Open all day, every day
Starbucks Canal Walk
Location: Google Map
7. Tateyama Kurobe Alpine
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route passes through Mt. Tateyama in the Japanese Alps, and is one of the most popular things to do in Toyama. Unfortunately, we missed this because the famous snow corridor is entirely closed in winter – i.e., from December to mid-April.
After my initial research on what to do in Toyama, I saw a photo of travelers walking in between 20-meter-high snow walls (“snow corridor”). How cool is that? I wanted to book the trip right away! To my disappointment, I learned that the snow corridor in the particular section of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is only open during late spring, approximately April – June. Would you have expected to see 20-meter-high snow walls in late spring?
Key considerations for visiting Tateyama Kurobo Alpine Route
- The full course of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route between Toyama and Omachi is open from April to November. (Check the open dates here.)
- Private vehicles are not allowed to enter. Consider taking a group day trip from Nagano.
- With this Alpine-Takeyama-Matsumoto JR Rail Pass, you can take JR trains between Nagoya and Toyama, Nagoya and Shinano-Omachi AND transportation along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route for 5 consecutive days.
- You can travel each section of the route by various means of designated transportation – train, cable car, trolley bus, etc.
Pro tip: Luggage Forwarding Service
Your journey will end in Nagano once you travel from Toyama to Omachi through the Alpine Route. It will make the most sense logistically to take advantage of the luggage forwarding service. Instead of planning to come back to Toyama, arranging your accommodation in Nagano (Check the Nagano hotel availability and rates >>) would make your trip more efficient.
Also, don’t forget to dress appropriately. Although you might enjoy the cherry blossoms under the pleasant sunshine in Toyama City in late spring, you will need to pack winter gear on the snow-covered mountain. Here’s what I packed to survive winter in Japan.
↡↡Book your tour here!↡↡
How to Get to Toyama
I was surprised to find many international direct flights from Seoul, Shanghai, Dalian and Taipei. Also, domestic flights from Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya and Sapporo are also available.
Toyama is conveniently connected with Tokyo and Kanazawa via Shinkansen (JR Hokuriku line).
If you have a Japan Rail Pass (“JR Pass”), Hokuriku Shinkansen would be the most convenient and economical options (Get your discounted 5-day Hokuriku Tourist JR Pass>>):
- Kanazawa to Toyama: 15 min (This is the route we took from Kanazawa.)
- Tokyo to Toyama: 2 hours 10 min
- Osaka to Toyama: 3 hours 10 min via Limited Express Thunderbird & Hokuriku Shinkansen
- Nagoya to Toyama: 3 hours 10 min via Limited Express Shirasagi & Hokuriku Shinkansen
Take this bus from Shinjuku, Tokyo to Matsumoto, Hida, Takayama and Shirakawago.
Toyama is one bus ride away from Shirakawago. See Nohi Bus schedule here.
Toyama City Transporation
Once we arrived, we bought a one-day tram pass (Adult 620 yen; Children 310 yen) at the JR Toyama Station. As our goal was to cover as many places as possible on the same day trip, it made the most sense, given each ride is 200 yen. You can freely hop in and out of the tram by showing your pass.
Toyama City offers complimentary tram tickets to international guests who stay in the city. While I don’t know the details about this offering, it’s worth to ask your hotel for availability.
If weather permits, riding a bike would be a great way to explore the city. One-day Bike Rental Pass is available at 150 yen (plus 350 yen deposits) for the 24-hour ride. There is no extra charge if each journey is no longer than 30 min — no limit for the number of trips.
Toyama city tour bus is another convenient way to explore the city. Each ride is 200 yen (100 yen for children). With a one-day pass, you can ride both bus and City Tram. The fare is 700 Yen (350 yen for children).
Toyama is one of the popular destinations for travelers to stay to tour the Hokuriku region. Especially if you are heading to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, you should find accommodations in Toyama the night before.
Don’t confuse Toyama City with Toyama Prefecture.
Although Toyama is a city within Toyama Prefecture, they are not to be confused. When researching in English, I couldn’t find much about the city. Making things worse, a handful of information available was confusing. Make sure the attractions or accommodations are indeed in Toyama City. Unless you don’t mind traveling outside of the city, quick Google mapping will save you from a headache later.
Time is of Essence.
If you’re thinking about traveling from Toyama to Shirakawago, book as earliest as you can, especially for the Shirakawago Winter Light-Up event. Due to the limited accommodations available in Shirakawago, many festival-goers stay in Toyama for its convenient location. Toyama hotels sell out quickly. I initially planned to stay overnight in Toyama. But by the time I looked (three months in advance), I didn’t find a good hotel option, hence the day trip from Kanazawa.
↡↡Looking for Toyama Hotels? Book Your Stay Here! ↡↡
Winter in Toyama City does sound romantic, doesn’t it?
Where to Go Next in Japan
>> Where to Stay in Tokyo First Time: A detailed guide of 9 best neighborhoods to stay and things to do in each area
>> Tokyo District Guide – Ginza: the glitzy shopping and entertainment district in the capital city of Japan
>> Tokyo District Guide – Omotesando & Aoyama: A hip, modern neighborhood dubbed Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées
>> Tokyo District Guide – Asakusa: Imbibe in traditional Japanese architecture and visit Sensoji Temple, Japan’s spiritual center
>> How to Rent a Kimono in Asakusa: Wear a beautiful traditional Japanese dress and take photos of a lifetime for the ‘gram!
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