TONAMI TULIP PARK: WHERE IT’S SPRING ALL YEAR ROUND
This idyllic municipality where tulips bloom average a full blossom for three to seven days in spring, but at the Tonami Tulip Park in Tonami City, the flowers bloom all year round with the help of advanced cultivation techniques. By freezing and warming the bulbs at precise temperatures, the facility is able to make tulips bloom anytime, anywhere. With its tulip history going way back to 1918, the city of Tonami remains Japan’s premier tulip producer. The two-week long Tonami Tulip Fair held at the park yearly from late April to early May showcases an impressive collection of three million tulips in 700 varieties. Several activities, centred on a theme which changes annually, await visitors at the fair. Amongst these includes a flower fashion show, where models dressed as ‘tulip princesses’ walk the runway; a hands-on flower tapestry event, where you create your own motifs using tulip petals; floating flower beds; a water wheel garden and more.
FUJIKO F. FUJIO HOMETOWN ART GALLERY: THE MAN BEHIND JAPAN’S FAVOURITE ROBOTIC CAT
In the neighboring city of Takaoka, fans of the wildly popular manga series Doraemon will delight in the Hometown Art Gallery dedicated to the life and work of one of the series’ co-creators, Fujiko F. Fujio. Housed in the Takaoka Art Museum, the exhibit provides an insight into the childhood and life of the artist and displays many of his original artworks. It is said that the creator of Japan’s most iconic manga character drew inspiration from his childhood days in Takaoka for his work. Although the write-ups are mainly in Japanese, visitors can admire the aesthetics of the artist’s iconic works at the exhibit. While you’re roaming around Takaoka, hop on the one and only Doraemon tram in the world! The tram started its service in September 2012, marking a 100-year countdown to Doraemon’s birthday in the series, 3rd September 2112. A ride on the adorable tram will definitely lift your spirits and excite the young ones.
TEA GARDENS OF KOKYUJI TEMPLE
Whilst in Takaoka, take a small detour to Himi City and visit the tea gardens of
Kokyuji Temple, which have existed for several centuries. The gardens uses a popular technique in Japanese garden landscaping, known as “borrowed landscapes”, where the
forests in the background of the temple blend in to form a harmonious picture with the miniature garden. Japanese tea gardens serve as meditative spaces for one to acquire the inner harmony needed to appreciate chanoyu, the art of tea.
MOUNT TATE: GIANT AMONG GIANTS
In the heart of Toyama Prefecture lies one of Japan’s most revered peaks – the enigmatic
Tateyama. At 3015 metres high, Mount Tate is one of the few mountains in the Japan Alps with glaciers, and is notorious for its steep cliffs and snowy passes. More than a few have lost their lives making this treacherous ascent, but climbers continue to be drawn to the peak for its natural beauty throughout the seasons.
LEGEND OF THE BEAR: MYSTICAL ORIGINS OF THE HOLY PEAK
Ancient legends tell the story of a boy who was hunting a hawk in the mountains when he came across a bear and wounded it with his bow and arrow. After following the bloodied traces of the bear, the boy arrived at a cave in the Hida Mountains, where he saw the great Amitha Buddha, with an arrow in the chest right where he had shot the bear before. Thereafter, Tateyama was worshipped as a sacred mountain inhabited by gods, and Buddhist monks and pilgrims were the only persons allowed to scale it.
TATEYAMA KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE: ONE OF ITS KIND IN THE WORLD
That changed in 1971, when the Tateyama
Kurobe Alpine Route, an alpine pass that traverses across the Japan Alps from Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture to Omachi Town in Nagano Prefecture, was established. The route opened up the region’s stunning scenery to the rest of the world. Every year, one million visitors journey across the route which employs six different types of transportation, including the cable car, tunnel trolley bus and ropeway. The 1.7-kilometre long Tateyama
Ropeway, also the longest one-span ropeway in Japan, is especially worth mentioning as it provides a captivating bird’s eye view of the surrounding alpine scenery. On Murodo
Peak, the highest point of the route, stands Japan’s highest hotel, Hotel Tateyama. Other accommodation options, such as mountain huts and camp grounds, are also available at Murodo. A range of hiking trails at Murodo caters to both seasoned hikers and visitors who are content with a leisurely walk. In summer and autumn, it is also possible to hike down to the nearby
Jigokudani, or Hell Valley, where volcanic actvity can be observed. The trails are however closed when there are high concentrations of volcanic gases in the area.
The snow corridor on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is the most popular attraction in spring, and for very good reasons. Picture yourself walking in the middle of two solid, towering walls of snow, some 20 metres high. It’s hard to think where else on earth you could experience something like this. During winter, when heavy snowfall characteristic of the region occurs, snow piles up around the upper sections of Midagahara and Murodo. Snowblowing trucks and backhoes are then brought in to clear a path through the accumulated snow. The end-result is an impeccably “sculpted” snow corridor.
KUROBE DAM: MONUMENTAL PROJECT OF THE CENTURY
Yet another highlight on the route is the
Kurobe Dam, an attraction in its own right. At 186 metres, the dam is the nation’s tallest. The construction of Kurobe Dam, whose purpose was to provide electricity to the Kansai region in post-war Japan, took seven years and 10 million people to complete. Because the project was a perilous undertaking at the time, over 170 people lost their lives in the process. Every year between late June and mid October, there’s a spectacular display of water being released through the gates of the dam – do not miss it! To admire the scenic views of Kurobe Lake and its environs close-up,
BOTTOM Climb up to the observatory deck on Kurobedaira for a 360-degree panoramic view of the mountains
TOP Mount Tate is one of Japan’s three holy peaks, along with Mount Fuji and Mount Haku