Three months after my first trip, I returned to Nagoya. This time, with a special travel buddy: my younger sister Ebany. The day of Ebany’s arrival in Japan was the first snowy day in Toyama, and man does Toyama know how to snow. We were both entranced by the blankets of white and crisp, chilly wind, made even more festive by the abundance of lights and Christmas decorations that fill the city. Our train ride in the morning was a perfect way to see the snow topped mountains and trees, seated comfortably and with plenty of leg room in our heated JR train.
Upon arrival we spent a few hours wandering the overwhelming luxe JR towers, a 15 story behemoth of fancy restaurants and fancier stores.
Sunday morning we payed a visit to Nagoya’s famous castle, originally built in the early 17th century during the Edo period and has since been demolished and reconstructed in the mid 20th century. Like most attractions in Japan, it’s surrounding area is an essential element to the experience. Winding paths, stretches of stone walls and lush foliage are a serene introduction to the extensive castle. Unlike Toyama, Nagoya hasn’t realized that it’s December, and so we were delighted to find fall leaves and warm sun.
Every floor of the reconstructed castle features a different exhibition of history and the building’s construction. The top floor offers a panoramic view of the extensive city and visual evidence of its ranking as the 4th most populous city in Japan. Of course there are plenty of cheesy photo opportunities, my favourite being the large golden Dolphins which pay homage to the castle’s architectural history.
My daily rides to work provide a view of the sea of open air and rice fields. A welcome change of scenery but lacking the familiar vibrant shades of leaves in the fall that I’m accustomed to at home. A holiday weekend and a craving for autumn foliage encouraged us to take a trip to the nearby mountain attraction- an 80 minute train line through the Kurobe Gorge. Originally serving practically for industrial transportation into the mountains, the train line is now a unique feature of Toyama, operating from mid-spring to the end of November.
Trains depart from Unazuki, with 4 different stops throughout the mountain range and the choice of several classes of train seats (the highest being enclosed and heated). Prompted by adventure (and frugality) we opted for an open train. Although the resulting ride was decidedly wet and chilly it was agreed we had made the right decision- the open sides gave us a breathtaking view of the mountains in full autumn colour.
The line’s practical beginnings are evident as the train winds through the mountains, passing by dams, bridges, and underground tunnels used in the winter. The ascension of the mountain becomes increasingly rugged as buildings and structures disappear from view. The expanse of mountains envelopes the train, providing somewhat of an unexpected sanctuary.
At our final stop at the top of the mountain, Keyakidaira, the rain miraculously stopped and we warmed up with some much needed Udon and coffee. There are several paths that branch from the main lodge. Our first led us along the mountain side through the dense forest and across vibrant red bridges.
There are several key features of Keyakidaira are its three onsen, “Owl tree” (a mysterious stump with the appearance of an owl), and its many winding paths along the mountain sides. The mountains are also home to monkeys which I had given up all hope of seeing until I saw a furry creature jump from the path ahead of me, across the railing and down into the trees. My first response was of second concern for this seemingly confused dog until I quickly realized in fact it was a monkey. We saw two more on our train ride back down the mountain, sitting leisurely on the side of the tracks and apparently unperturbed by the train barreling past them.