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If you are in for an adventure paired with lengthy, quirky, brutal honest thoughts then you are in the right place my friend.

My name is Arisa and was a cosplayer for 12 years before becoming a mom of 2 beautiful girls and i love sharing about Beauty, fashion and everything about Japan because i'm currently based in Kyoto!
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Exploring Central Japan with Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass (Detailed Itinerary!)


I know it’s been 4 years since I’ve last explored Central Japan area and I realised that I never really got to finishing my detailed itinerary about it (though I’ve promised lol) and it has been sitting in my draft box for a while now, classic procrastinator me. But no more excuses and I’m finally going to deliver it, thank you guys for being so patient with me!

Was supposed to actually make a field trip up to Central Japan last month to create an “updated” version of my previous itinerary but due to unforeseen circumstances the trip got cancelled. Still, that doesn’t stop me from creating a virtual tour on my blog for you guys thanks to the help of some local experts who made all this possible.

Previously when I was still frequently visiting Japan as a tourist, I remember being quite hard-core with the tourist train passes making sure to get my money’s worth and of course naturally to push my limit to see how many different prefectures can I conquer before having to go back home. Everything was pretty YOLO, but definitely doable!

One of my favourite passes to date is still the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass because it allows you to cover most major tourist spots in Hokuriku and Central Japan region for 5 days and at a fairly low price. I’ve even done a rough math calculation for my last trip and you can read about the pass’s benefits HERE.

So today I’ll be sharing on how you can maximize the usage of your Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass, featuring not to be missed spots, food specialities to try and of course some useful travel tips! Without further ado let’s get into this Central Japan virtual tour starting with the first day in Fukui prefecture.
Fukui is easily accessible from either Osaka or Kyoto, so it’s highly recommended to land in Kansai Airport and take the limited express train there.
Day 1: Fukui Prefecture 福井県

Fukui Station 福井駅
Home to Japan’s very own dinosaur species (Fukuiraptor and Fukuisaurus), this UNESCO site has gotta be the top of my “MUST VISIT” list when visiting Fukui prefecture. Upon arriving at the station itself you’ll be greeted with tons of dinosaur posters and life sized statues, feel free to explore around and see how many Fukuisaurus statues you can spot. (Hint: they are disguising themselves in lab coats lol)

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (福井県立恐竜博物館)



Just 1 hour away from Fukui station is Katsuyama city where Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is located, the largest and only of its kind in Japan. Majority of the fossils found in Katsuyama and other parts of Japan are proudly displayed here for research and education purposes. During Spring to autumn, children can participate in “excavation” activities at the nearby Dinosaur Forest Park and there’s also a live size Dino Park playground, both of them are within walking distance from the museum. And during winter season (up till early feb) there will be snow park activities available. This place perfect for people of all ages especially if you are traveling as a family and you can easily spend the whole day here. 



There’s a Dino café in the premise serving various kinds of Dinosaur-themed meals available in both Western/ Japanese style and don’t forget to finish off your meal with some cute desserts.
Currently due to the museum’s COVID-19 precautionary measures you’ll need to reserve a ticket online prior before going.

 

Awara Onsen 芦原温泉


About 40 mins away from Fukui station, you’ll find Awara Onsen! Take the Echizentetsudo-Mikuni-Awara Line Local towards Mikuniminato and get off at Awara-Yunomachi Station.


No trip to Japan is ever complete without an onsen visit, it’s something you have to try at least once and if you are pressing for time but still want to give it a try without stripping down, there are free 5 Ashinoyu (foot baths) available around the station. For those who are brave enough to go for the full thing, there’s a paid per entry public onsen available at Saintpia Awara(セントピアあわら) and it’s only 500 yen per adult.

Would also recommend checking out Yukemuri Yokocho for dinner, it’s a Yatai-style food stall “steam” alley where you can try local delicacies.


Foods to try in Fukui (福井のグルメ )
Buckwheat grows abundantly in Fukui due to suitable climate conditions and water source, so it’s not surprising that the food specialty in the area is none other than soba noodles! Near Fukui station you can enjoy a delicious bowl of amida soba from a cozy soba restaurant called Amida Soba Yubuan (あみだそば 遊歩庵)

And if you visit during the right season, Echizen crabs is also a must try (usually from early November to Late March), slightly different from Tottori’s Matsubagani as these are caught from the shores of Fukui.


Day 2: Ishikawa Prefecture 石川県

We’ll be focusing on exploring Kanazawa, the capital and largest city of Ishikawa prefecture less than an hour train ride away from Fukui station. Most people would have easily mistaken Kanazawa for a prefecture similar to Nagoya (it’s actually in Aichi prefecture) and I won’t deny that I too was once one of those people lol. Kanazawa is often dubbed as “little Kyoto” because it still retains local historical landmarks dating back to Edo-period. The city is also known for its rich art and culture which reflects strongly on their architecture and craftsmanship, I still remember well how some of the hotels and cafés I’ve visited left me in awe, this definitely falls under “insta-bae” category as how the local youngsters would label it lol. So if you are looking for the perfect blend of history meets traditional and contemporary art, Kanazawa is the place to go.

Be prepared to call it leg-day because most of the places we’ll be visiting is walking distance from Kanazawa station, that way you can also admire the city’s beautiful landscape at your own pace. If you are not much of a walking person, direct bus routes are also available.

Exiting Kanazawa station itself you’ll be greeted by the city’s iconic Tsuzumi-mon Gate, its design inspired by the drums used in Noh theatre; A type of classical Japanese dance drama and the oldest kind still performed today.



Nagamachi Samurai District (長町武家屋敷跡)

First stop of the day is Nagamachi Samurai District (20 mins walk or 10mins by bus), located at the foot of former Kanazawa castle; this once glorified and bustling domain used to home wealthy samurai and their families. You can dress in a Kimono (for more feels lol) and wander through the cobblestone pathways and tiled earthen walls (these are called tsuchi-kabe) while trying to reminisce about how life was during Edo era like you are in a period drama. There are museums around Nagamachi if you are interested to learn abit more about the samurai clans that once lived here.

Omicho Market 近江町市場

Since we are taking a trip back in time, it would be shame not to visit Kanazawa’s largest fresh food market (15 mins walking distance from Nagamachi). This market is comparable to Tokyo’s Tsukiji because the concept is rather similar, with hundreds of stalls lined up offering local grown produce and fresh seafood except Omicho market has been operating way before the existence of Tsukiji lol. Aside from just shopping, it also makes a great lunch stop as there are restaurants along the market street offering fresh kaisen-don (seafood bowl).

Kenrokuen Garden兼六園


And please don’t make the same mistake I did, 2 visits to Kanazawa and I’ve yet to see Kenrokuen with my very own eyes lol, at this rate I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at my blur-ness. Kenrokuen holds the title as one of Japan’s 3 most beautiful gardens, while the other 2 are Koraku-en in Okayama and Kairaku-en in Mito. So far I’ve only visited Okayama’s, I should probably take this as a sign to visit Kanazawa again sometime soon. The garden grounds used to be the outer part of Kanazawa castle and the landscape view here is beautiful all year round thanks to the abundant variety of seasonal blooming plants. You’ll be surprised to know that even during winter season (Kenrokuen no Yukizuri) it is popular especially among photographers because of the fresh powdered snow blanketing the landscape. Yukizuri is a technique used by Kenrokuen gardeners to prepare and protect the garden’s prized pine trees during winter season.


Ishiura Shrine (石浦神社)

Not too far from Kenrokuen garden is Ishiura Shrine, the oldest shrine in Kanazawa that has an adorable white dog called “Kima-chan” as its mascot. It’s particularly popular among local women as the shrine is said to help people who are searching for their “soulmates” and with “marriage”. You’ll definitely want to drop by to get some cute Kima-chan themed omamori (protection amulet) and maybe try your luck on an omikuji (fortune reading).



Higashi Chaya District ひがし茶屋街
Last but not least, not to be missed location for the day- Higashi Chaya District
This place is home to one of Kanazawa’s largest Geisha districts and yes, there are Geishas in other prefectures and not only in Kyoto.


Bear in mind there are a total of 3 known Geisha districts in Kanazawa with the other 2 being Nisha Chaya and Kazue-machi which are smaller compared to Higashi Chaya but still charming in its own way. Higashi Chaya’s main street is where you’ll find famous tea houses in Kanazawa lined up alongside with shops offering local crafted goods (in gold naturally), traditional snacks and of course there’s no shortage of gold leaf soft serve; after all Kanazawa city is considered one of the main gold leaf producers in Japan!


Some of the tea houses here are opened to public, which don’t require any introduction to meet a Geiko/Maiko and enjoy a tea session with them, however prior reservations are required.

To me as a Kyoto local, visiting Higashi Chaya reminds me of Gion and Kinkakuji under one roof lol, a very interesting fusion.

Foods to try in Kanazawa (金沢グルメ)

Seafood is definitely a must in Kanazawa (like Kaisen-don) and anything with gold on it lol. Though gold leaf on its own has no nutritional value nor taste, it does make everything look x100 times better especially in photos.


Day 3: Toyama prefecture 富山県

For the 3rd day of this trip, we’ll be visiting Takaoka city and Toyama city in Toyama prefecture, make sure to drop off your luggage at Shin-Takaoka station locker before heading out to explore.


Did you know that Takaoka city is home to Doraemon’s creator? We all definitely grew up reading and watching Doraemon as kids, so take this chance for a trip down memory lane with the world’s favourite blue robotic cat and friends!
Taking the Hokuriku Shinkansen which is covered under the Takayama Hokuriku Area Pass, it’s only a 15 mins ride.

Takaoka city 高岡市

You can spot Doraemon and his friends erected throughout the city, from the entrance of Takaoka station, just 200meters you’ll find Doraemon Walking road(ドラえもんの散歩道) and there is also a Doraemon tram you can ride on to tour the city. If you like sending postcards back home during your travels like me, then you’ll find a very interesting postbox waiting for you on the first floor of Takaoka station. It’s none other than of course, the city’s iconic robotic cat made into a copper post-box, here you can also obtain commemorative Doraemon postmark for your postcard/letters! It’s an area limited thing so you won’t find it elsewhere in Japan.
 


Within walking proximity of Takaoka station is The Great Buddha of Takaoka (高岡大佛) & Zuiryuji Temple(瑞龍寺). The Buddha statue towers over 50 feet, definitely hard to miss and it is one of the many Great Buddha (usually called Daibutsu) statues found across Japan like the one in Todai-ji, Nara.


Zuiryuji temple is recognized by the Japanese government as a national treasure thanks to its historical significance, making it a must-visit attraction in Chubu region. First you’ll be greeted with the sight of its magnificent Somon and Sanmon gates leading into the temple grounds, inside you’ll find that the halls are laid out symmetrically; aligning with the Zen temple and the priests' quarters Okuri is placed opposite each other, all of it are interconnected by roofed passageways.


Once you have completed sightseeing around Takaoka station with some time to spare and would like to try out local hands on activities; head over Nousaku Factory,(能作 本社工場). Takaoka city has a long history in metal casting (explains the copper Doraemon postbox earlier lol) and over at Nousaka Factory you can tour, learn, shop and make your very own one of a kind tin casted souvenir to bring back home.


 
Toyama city 富山市


Alas it’s time to say goodbye to Takaoka city, don’t forget to collect your luggage from the locker and jump on the next shinkansen to Toyama station (less than 10 mins ride). With some daylight left to catch before Fugan Canal Kansui Park(富岩運河環水公園)’s winter limited illumination, you can take the tram to visit one of the most interesting architectures in the heart of Toyama city- Toyama Glass Art Museum or fondly known as ‘Toyama Kirari’ by the locals and it’s designed by none other than world renown Japanese architect Kengo Kuma! 

The danna and I are a huge fan of his works so this place is definitely bookmarked in our google map lol. It’s not just a museum exhibition space but also houses the city’s public library, thus making this place truly the embodiment of art and knowledge.


One of the building’s notable interior features is the spiral-shaped stairwell style design which connects the second floor all the way up to sixth. *Insta-bae spot alert!*

Here you can spend your time leisurely admiring the works of various artists, chill and relax in the building’s café space while reading a book borrowed from the library or even do some souvenir shopping.

 
Foods to try in Toyama (富山のグルメ)

Another regret I had was not trying Toyama’s shiro ebi (white shrimp) when I visited Toyama in 2017 lol. This particular shrimp species also nicknamed the “Jewel of Toyama” can only be found in Toyama’s waters! Don’t make the same mistake I did and please treat yourself to a plate of fresh shiro ebi sushi, there are many restaurants offering it on the menu so have your pick.

Shiro ebi is white and almost translucent-ish when its raw



Day 4: Gifu prefecture 岐阜県

We are almost at the last leg of our 5-day long journey and finally visiting a popular UNESCO's World Heritage Site, no prize for guessing the place lol. Naturally Shirakawa-go comes to mind as this is the whole point of us using the Takayama Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass in the first place.
 

From Toyama, there is a direct NOHI bus (or Chitetsu bus, depending on your schedule) heading to Shirakawa-go (covered under the pass) and you’ll need to redeem the bus tickets at designated NOHI Bus Centres before riding. For Toyama’s it’s redeemable at Toyama Chitetsu ticket centre.

Undoubtedly one of Chubu region’s most popular destinations thanks to its well preserved traditional gasshō-zukuri style homes (there’s one in Toyama too- Gokayama) that attracts visitors all year round, who are curious to catch a glimpse of this small surviving country town that’s tucked deep in the mountains of Gifu and the only way in and out of here is via bus or car.


Would highly recommend paying a visit during winter not only for its iconic winter wonderland scenery but also for the season’s limited illumination scheduled right after sundown which can be admired from a nearby mountain observation deck. If you were to ask me which season is the best time to visit, I would say “come back every season” and I’m not joking either because each season offers a different perspective and atmosphere, making it hard to actually pick a favourite XD

Snow accumulation can get taller than this!

Travel Tip: To get a memorable and instagrammable shot of Shirakawa-go, head up to the mountain observation deck it’s a five-minute shuttle bus ride for 200 yen (one-way) or if you don’t mind some light trekking, it’s about a 25-minute walk up but do be careful especially during winter as the pathway can be quite slippery. I prefer to get a ride up and slowly walk down after just to enjoy the view.

Coin lockers and luggage rooms are available near Shirakawa-go’s Bus Terminal.

 

Me and postboxes lol 

Takayama Historical District 高山 古い町並


Leaving Shirakawa-go by noon, hop unto the next available Nohi bus heading towards Takayama city. Upon arrival drop off your luggage at the bus stop/ train station’s coin locker before walking down to a nearby historical landmark- Takayama Old Town to admire the town’s beautifully preserved Edo period buildings. It consists of 3 main streets filled with shops, cafes, art galleries and sake breweries, not too far from it is Miyagawa River which we’ll save for the final day of this trip.
 


The sake in "Your Name" anime can also be bought here, makes a great souvenir for fans!


Dekonaruzaでこなる座

Within the vicinity of this area, you can also catch local troupes performing traditional theatre arts such as taiko drumming, Shinobue (bamboo flute), and shamisen with Japanese dance, just to name a few at Dekonaruza! They also encourage visitors to join in parts of their show segments, don’t be shy! Just do it because not every day you’ll get this golden opportunity to dance alongside professionals lol.


P/s: Takayama jinja & Nakabashi is also within the radius and don’t forget to try some delicious roasted dango coated in soy sauce at Jinya Dango


Jinya Dango is so good 

Foods to try in Gifu (岐阜グルメ)

Gifu is known for its tender and well marbled Hida beef that melts in your mouth, it’s even said to be on par with Kobe beef by food lovers and I couldn’t agree more! It is also relatively easy to find restaurants serving Hida beef all around Gifu.



In Shirakawa-go there are stalls selling local street foods like Hida-beef skewers/ croquette & Gohei-mochi (rice dumpling roasted with miso) which you must try!

Must eat in Shirakawa Go- Gohei Mochi

 
DAY 5: Final day

Miyagawa market (Morning market) 朝市


The last day of this trip so we have to make it count, starting by heading out early to catch the bustling local morning market along Miyagawa river. Did you know that this is one of the three majors morning markets in Japan, selling almost everything from flowers to homemade pickles, local snacks, handcrafted goods and various kinds of locally grown/ caught fresh produce at a good bargain price, think of it as your Japanese version of “pasar pagi” lol. Last stop to shop for this trip so make it count!

There are roughly around 50 open-air stalls set up along the 400 metre stretch linking from Kaji bridge to Yayoi bridge. It also makes a scenic spot for pictures, especially during sunrise when the mist hovers over the river, giving off some mysterious vibes.

Hida Furukawa 飛騨古川

I bet you guys would be wondering by now if I’ve purposely missed out on this train station which was featured in Makoto Shinkai’s well-loved animation film- ‘Your Name’ (君の名は) lol. Of course I didn’t! It’s called saving the best for the last haha and you guys need to know that anime/ movie pilgrimage is an actual thing that people do when visiting Japan so don’t be surprised if you find people crowding around certain spots with their camera gears aimed and ready for the perfect shot. There’s a timetable in Hida Furukawa station that states the exact time of incoming trains for visitors looking to shoot the scene from the movie, which I’ll attach below for reference.



From Takayama station, ride the JR takayama line for 20mins heading directly to Hida- Furukawa station and get off there

And there you have it guys!


How to make full use of your 5 days- Takayama Hokuriku Area pass, you have conquered 4 different prefectures and visited most of the Chubu’s main attraction spots without breaking a sweat and now it’s time to head back home.

But with the pass still valid till midnight, you can stretch it abit more by ending your trip either in Nagoya for some bargain shopping and delicious Hitsumabushi (can’t say no to Unagi lol) or slowly make your way back to Osaka through the same route we have taken from day 1 (just in reverse mode) as the pass doesn’t cover direct rides from Nagoya to Kyoto/Osaka.

You can get these adorable piyo cakes inside Nagoya station from CAFE GENTIANE (カフェジャンシアーヌ)

I’ve roughly calculated the approximate time needed to head back to Osaka from Nagoya using the pass and it takes almost 7 hours lol but if you skip Nagoya and head back directly after visiting Hida Furukawa station it would only be 5 hours+. Anyway, you can take this time to catch some snooze or enjoy the final scenic route.

  • Nagoya station -Takayama station via Hida Limited Express (2 hrs 20 mins)
  • Takayama station- Kanazawa station via NOHI bus (2 hrs 15 mins)
  • Kanazawa station to Osaka station via Thunderbird express (2hrs 40 mins)

Doing the basic math calculation on transportation alone, you have definitely saved a lot this round thanks to this amazing pass.

For more details and to make a purchase, please do visit this website

Additional travel Tips:

  • Select hotels that are near the stations so you can immediately drop off your luggage at the concierge first before heading out for sightseeing. This way you’ll save abit from using multiple coin lockers.
  • Make use of coin lockers if needed. It’s generally easy to find coin lockers around train stations and popular tourist spots (Eg: Shirakawa-go).
  • Make sure to reserve your NOHI bus seats heading to and from Shirakawago in advance, to avoid disappointments as this route is quite popular.
  • Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass can be redeemed at major the JR counters, there’s one in Kansai Airport. And from March 2021, Tourist Pass holders will be able to go through automatic gates without having to show staffs their passes.
  • Tourist Pass holders can reserve seats on Limited Express trains but however limited to non-reserve seats for Shinkansen (bullet train) rides.
  • For dining out, to check on seat availability in restaurants (especially during dinner time), get your hotel concierge to call them up before hand and if possible to make a reservation as well.

Hope you guys enjoyed this detailed entry on Central Japan travel!
And remember, it's never too early to plan for your next upcoming Japan trip, i totally support planning ahead and making a wishlist of places you want to visit so you'll have a rough idea of how much you'll need to save up for it 💁  



Yours Truly,

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