The scenic highlight of the trip had finally arrived, we were going to the mountains, where all of our landscape photography dreams would come true, or at least we’d see some nice scenery with mountains. I didn’t realise beforehand how long it took to cover the entire route and it was fortunate that we actually researched it a bit more thoroughly the night before. We ended up waking up at about 6am so that we could get ourselves prepared to leave the hotel and get to the Dentetsu Toyama train station by about 7.20am so that we could get that train to start the route. The plan was basically to get to Murodo as early as possible which would give ourselves almost two hours to spend there before moving on to Kurobe Dam and and returning to Toyama. The timetable was very helpful as was japan guide and the alpen-route web site in general. The three stops before Murodo, Bijodaira, Midagahara, and Tengudaira, all have attractions such as hikes, forests, and waterfalls (Shomyo Falls), but we definitely didn’t have time for those, so we opted to maximise our time at the two easiest stops (we wouldn’t need to reserve spots on transport, etc, etc). We also had to be back in Toyama by approximately 5.30-6pm to have dinner to make sure that the little tyrant wouldn’t get too upset. This is why my recommendation for the route would be to stay for one or two nights in Midagahara or Murodo so that you could spend some time at those earlier stops as well, the nature walks looked really interesting, as well as the hike to the summit of Mount Tateyama from Murodo.
So from Dentetsu Station (right next to Toyama main station) you get a regular old train to Tateyama (which takes approximately an hour) before going on all the other different modes of transport, bus, cable car, trolley bus (through the mountains), rope way, another cable car, and then either returning on the same things, or carrying on to Ogizawa on another trolley bus and rail line. With the number of people there were, you better work out where the front of the lines are if you’re on a tight schedule like we were, we could not afford to miss one mode and be stuck waiting half an hour (or whatever it was) for the next one to come along. Everything was full, there were practically no views (unless you were squished to the window) on the cable cars because they were packed in so tight.
We arrived at Murodo at 10.45 (sharp, amazing thing this Japanese timetabling system), and the weather was very clear, blue skies and fresh, not too warm under the sun (at altitude) and not particularly cool (shorts weather when you’re walking around). The easiest thing to Mikurigaike, there are a few paths around the pond that will give great views of the surrounding mountains with reflections in the pond, alpine flora, and views of other tourists wandering around the area as well. We only had an hour and a half more or less so that’s all we did before heading back to queue up for the transport to Kurobe Dam, we just got in too, actually we missed the first bus, but then they had another bus which we were let on to so we didn’t screw up the schedule.
After going through Daikanbo and then down the rope way to Kurobe Dam, we had about a half hour to walk across the dam wall, have a look and then head back on our way to Toyama. We didn’t have enough time to go to the higher observation point, but did there was enough time to venture to the lower observation deck which had some good views of the flowing water so it wasn’t a total waste, before heading back.
After all that rushing about, thanks to the efficient Japanese transport system, we arrived back in Toyama at exactly the scheduled time and happily had dinner and were back in the hotel to put Oscar down to sleep at a normal time. Once that was all sorted we were able to get his baby sitter (grandma) in and then head back to Toyama station for some sushi at sushidama (sushi train) as a reward, good stuff, nothing wrong with a bit of fatty tuna.
We stayed at the Toyama Manten Hotel which I think I mentioned was a bit of a walk from the station, but not too bad, a bit on the business side, but again quite reasonable, the breakfast buffet was definitely the best one we had on our entire trip, it was also the second most expensive hotel that we stayed at, but apart from the odd shape of the room (which only affected us because of the stroller) everything was nice and dandy like sour candy!
Next, final stop, Tokyo, Shinjuku and Asakusa to be exact, and shopping till we dropped, actually, we didn’t have enough time for that, so we’ll just have to go back and do some more shopping!
Our next stop was Toyama, which according to my research was the gateway city to the northern Alps of Japan, Kurobe Gorge and the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Unfortunately for us, my research wasn’t in-depth enough and a short train ride away (25 minutes by shinkansen), Kanazawa awaited with its beautiful garden and many and varied shopping malls. Toyama had a couple of shopping malls but they were not of the same quality as Kanazawa and overall the city was pretty dull (not that we ventured out too far), although the sushi train at Sushidama near the train station was very nice. If we had our time again, we definitely would’ve stayed in Kanazawa rather than Toyama though, especially since we ended up only going on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route and not the Kurobe Gorge train. Oh well, live and learn.
So the topic of this post will be Kanazawa with the very well designed and laid out Kenrokuen which was great during the brightest time of the day in the middle of Summer, so I will only be able to imagine what it must be like during the golden hour (or blue hour) in the middle of Autumn, or cherry blossom season. You can only enjoy what’s put in front of you, so that we did as we strolled around the lovely garden finding shade wherever we could. There is a fountain that does not use any mechanical aids, only water pressure, of course the ubiquitous mossy rocks, and ponds with koi swimming around, everything you’d expect from a Japanese garden, all in one big, well thought out place. We spent about two hours there, but it could’ve easily been three or four hours especially if the weather was a bit more forgiving, there just weren’t enough shady spots to sit and relax (and also the little emperor woke up halfway through :D). It’s only a short bus ride from the station (ten minutes or so on the shuttle, 200 yen on weekdays, 100 yen on weekends or public holidays), entry was something like 600 yen.
We thought about crossing the road and visiting Kanazawa Castle Park, but got to one of the entrances that the sign said was free to go in but couldn’t find any way in, so we just carried on towards Omicho Market, a fresh food market near the Kanazawa Station. It was hot and sunny, and by the time we arrived at the market, we were famished, and very thirsty, a perfect combination for such a place, as there was plenty of fresh seafood to be had, as well as cheap drinks to go with it. Afterwards we headed back toward the station where there were at least two big shopping malls (and a nice big sculpture/structure out the front), we visited one of the malls which was definitely very nice and we could’ve spent more time there, we did have dinner as well before heading back to Toyama for the night.
As I’ve mentioned several times before, Kanazawa definitely would have been a better place to stay, especially after I found out that Kenrokuen is open after hours (or before hours) from 5am until opening time for free (but you have to leave before opening time obviously) which would’ve been good to get some pictures in better light with no other people, and also much cooler (maybe). But we won’t dwell on that, on to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route next, lots of pictures. P.S. Another great reason to go to Kanazawa, there were at least two Mister Donuts there, and they still sell those magnificent custard donuts, make me drool just thinking about them!
And we’re back, two weeks travelling around central Japan was fun, but taking a 14-month old baby with us certainly made things more challenging and cost us some opportunities. But it was well worth it even if we didn’t get to do all that we had hoped.
Flying Jetstar and arriving at (and departing from) terminal 3 was already less than ideal, although terminal 3 doesn’t have any of the good shops that terminal 1 and 2 have, so we weren’t able to do any last minute shopping before leaving the country, but at least Jetstar has direct flights. That was a plus considering that the flight was only about ten hours each way (the return flight during the day was much more bearable than dealing with a tired and extremely cranky baby on an overnight flight).
This was the first time that I’ve ever flown Jetstar on a long haul flight (I’ve flown to Tasmania domestic a couple of times) and I’m really not sure that I would do it again, even though they have the direct route to Japan. Once you add in all the extras it’s only slightly less (a couple hundred bucks each) than a full service carrier so in terms of value it’s definitely out the window. The direct flight option is where it has the advantage, Singapore is always the number one option, but Japan Airlines has direct flights from Sydney so that might be a better option next time.
In the end, the main issues we had were that our (sometimes) cranky baby needed to be baby-sat/fed at the most inopportune times, such as dinner time (sunset) and breakfast times (sunrise), the best times to go anywhere because of:
As always though, Japan is so much fun, and so amazing in almost every way, it really is like a giant theme park, the food is delicious usually, and relative to Australian prices for similar food, it’s a bargain. The shopping is endless, and the way that nature, history, and technology come together is something magical (usually). I really hope that next time we can go in Autumn or Spring (cherry blossom) season to avoid the heat, and also see some different colours on the natural side of things. Not sure where we would head next time, maybe Hokkaido, or somewhere else based on further reading. Any way, I’ve got lots of pictures coming so I’ll be breaking those down into several posts over the next couple of weeks.