Shoryudo which means the ‘Rising Dragon Region’ in Japanese, or also known as the Central Japan simply, has a lot to offer to travellers. For one, the region is home to exceptional historical and sacred sites in the country, and second, the dense ancient forests along with other spectacular natural beauties would make some gorgeous views to behold. And on top of these, it is absolutely accessible. In fact, to make exploring easy, there are multiple travel passes that visitors could make use of depending on one’s budget, focus areas and length of stay.
We’ve tried using the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass by JR-Central and JR-West during our recent trip to Central Japan, and below are the top ten places you can visit along the route.
Gifu Castle, Gifu
The castle features an observation platform boasting a spectacular view of the nearby Nagara River. Fit visitors may choose to hike along the four trails available for about one hour and a half to reach the top of Mount Kinka where the castle is located, but those who gasp at the sound of ‘hike’, there is a cable car service that takes visitors from the base to the castle in merely three minutes.
Gifu Station -> Takayama Station: The Limited Express Hida (two hours and forty minutes)
The mountainous landscapes here are gorgeous, and comes January when the snowfall is the heaviest, the villages turn into a fairy-tale land blanketed in white, creating the most postcard-perfect views that all travellers from around the world come to see. The area is now listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site as it features unique farmhouses with thatched and steep roofs called Gassho-Zukuri that existed since the 11th century.
Access: Take the Nouhi Bus from Takayama Bus Centre to Shirakawa-go bus stop. Travellers may also go straight to Takaoka from Shirakawa-go bus stop on the Kaetsunou Bus. These buses are covered in the pass, and it is advisable to book seats in advance because they tend to get full during peak season.
Dubbed as the ‘Little Kyoto’, Sanmachi is an old merchant town filled with attractive gems minus the dizzying crowd. Expect to see rows of traditional black wooden townhouses made of the finest cypress and cedar with lattice doors and windows still firmly intact. Look for exquisite folk crafts when you’re here, such as the woodblock printing tools which the area is famous for, or if you love visiting galleries, there are Fujii Folk Art Gallery and Hida Folk Museum located within the area. The operational hours here typically start from 9:00 to 17:00.
This is a historical temple originally built to mourn the death of Takaoka’s founder, Maeda Toshinaga. The symmetrical complex comprises multiple architecture gems that now are considered as nationally important cultural properties, but, the main highlights would be the Butsuden Hall (Buddhist sanctum) and Hatto Hall (sermon hall) which reflect the style of early Edo Period temples. For a more immersive experience, visitors may also opt to join in the meditation session with the monks here.
Shin-Takaoka Station -> Toyama Station: Tsurugi 710 Shinkansen (nine minutes)
The tramcar, or the ‘shiden’ as it is fondly called by the locals, is the easiest way to explore Toyama city. There are three lines serving the city, and each ride will cost ¥200 per person. Also, international visitors may get the complimentary tickets for ‘PORTRAM’ and ‘CENTRAM’ tramcars which run through city centre and Iwase area. These tickets are available at hotel front desk, hence, please check with the receptionist for its availability.
Toyama Glass Art Museum, Toyama
Designed by Kengo Kuma (the architect responsible for the new National Stadium that will host the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games), the building of the museum is an art of its own. The permanent exhibitions are on the fourth and sixth floors, featuring impressive works by both Japanese and international glass artists such as Dale Chihuly. But if you’re looking for a quiet place to sit and get lost behind a book, the Toyama City Public Library also occupies the building.
Toyama Station -> Kanazawa Station: Hakutaka Shinkansen (23 minutes)
Named as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, the garden was constructed in the span of nearly two centuries by the Maeda family. This is also where visitors can find one of the oldest fountains in the country. The sight changes according to seasons, where plum and cherry blossoms dominate in spring, while azaleas and irises blooms the most in early summer. The park radiates in red and orange hues comes fall.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
Art aficionados may expect to see impressive artworks by world-renowned artists such as Anish Kapoor here. One installation that caught our eyes the most, however, is the ‘Swimming Pool’ by Argentine artist, Leandro Erlich, which allows visitors to observe peoples’ behaviour in a space underneath a transparent glass.
Omi-cho Market, Kanazawa
This vibrant fresh food market has been serving the city since the Edo Period. Today, many stalls give out food samples, so don’t be shy and taste them all! For a full meal, try kaisendon which is a popular dish here comprising a steaming rice bowl topped with fresh sashimi. Ichinokura Restaurant serves extensive kaisendon menu at affordable prices. Post-lunch, be sure to try the gold leaf ice cream from the market – it’s absolutely delicious!
Kanazawa Station -> Komatsu Station: The Limited Express Shirasagi (17 minutes)
Komatsu Hikiyama Gallery MIYOSSA, Komatsu
Kabuki has a long fascinating history in Japan and now is regarded as the country’s major classical theatre that is listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Here at MIYOSSA, visitors may get to be a part of this legacy by joining in several workshops including on how to apply kabuki makeup, Mihzuki craft-making as well as playing the Shamisen (three-stringed traditional guitar) for a minimal fee.
Natadera Temple, Komatsu
Considered as a sacred site in the past 1,300 years, many come to this temple to pray for a fresh start. The main feature, Iwaya Honden, is a prayer space in a cave where faithful followers believe the reincarnated spirit is purified. Nevertheless, this ancient temple stands out aesthetically against dramatic rock hill background; a dedicated platform also affords spectacular view of the Mount Hakusan which remains Natadera’s main object of worship today.
These are just some of the interesting places that you may visit by using this pass. For more inspirations on where to go in Central Japan, as well as further explanations on the pass, be sure to read the full article in Gaya Travel Magazine’s Issue 14.1.
Important notes on the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass:
- This pass is only for foreign visitors from abroad under the ‘Temporary Visitor’ entry status.
- It covers four main prefectures, which are Gifu, Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui. It also connects travellers between two international getaways: Chubu Centrair International Airport and Kansai International Airport.
- The pass allows users to travel across Central Japan with unlimited rides on JR trains, buses as well as Hokuriku Shinkansen along the route for five consecutive days. Moreover, they get to take advantage of booking reserved seats on JR limited express trains for free up to four times, which proven to be not only economical but also convenient in securing seats during peak time.
- Book the pass online or with the local certified travel agents prior your trip to enjoy more saving on the pass. The 5-day pass costs ¥14,000 per adult and ¥7,000 per child when you buy in advance, otherwise walk-in prices would cost ¥15,000 per adult and ¥7,500 per child at some designated counters at stations along the pass route.
- Pass holder may reserve seats on the Limited Express ‘Wide View Hida’, Limited Express ‘Thunderbird’ and Limited Express ‘Shirasagi’. Reserved seats on the ‘Haruka Airport Express’ and the Hokuriku Shinkansen line (Kagayaki, Hakutaka, Tsurugi), however, require additional fees.
- For more information on this pass, visit http://touristpass.jp