Road Trip on Toyama Chihō Railway Main Line (Part 1)

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Summer
ep48: Road Trip on Toyama Chihō Railway Main Line (Part 1)


Japan Hour:

Road Trip on Toyama Chihō Railway Main Line (Part 1)

Join us for a two-day trip on the Toyama Chiho Railway Main Line, which runs along the Tateyama Mountain Range. Nicknamed “Chitetsu” by the locals, the route has 41 stations, covering a total distance of 53.3km from Dentetsu-Toyama Station to Unazuki Onsen Station.  

We start by taking the train from Dentetsu-Toyama to Inarimachi Station, where there is a train garage. We arrive at 9.15am and ask a resident for directions to the garage, which is popular among train buffs. Tours of the place are held a few times a year. One can see different trains from various companies here. Used train cars from big cities, such as from Tokyu Railway and Seibu Railway, are bought and modified accordingly. An example is a two-level Keihan Railway train, which used to run between Kyoto and Osaka. It is currently used as a tourist train. A new train car can cost between 100 million and 200 million yen so it is cheaper for the garage to buy used train cars. 

We ask the staff of the train garage to recommend another famous spot. He mentions Kanaoka-tei, a museum of medicine which is a registered tangible cultural property. It is located near the Higashi-Shinjo Station so we catch the 10.15am train and reach the station in less than five minutes. 

During the Edo and Meiji periods, Kanaoka-tei was a wholesale drug company for merchants who travelled around Japan selling medicine. Toyama is surrounded by rivers and the yield of rice was not stable at that time. So feudal lord Masatoshi Maeda tried to find other sources of income and made people study medicine. They then started selling Hangontan, a medicine for stomach ailments. Then in 1690, a lord at the Edo Castle had a stomachache. Lord Maeda gave him some Hangontan and it is said to have cured his stomach discomfort. The medicine then became famous and that is how the sales of traditional medicines in Toyama started. The travelling merchants also had a unique way of selling the medicines. They had their clients keep the medicines at home and got paid for whichever medicines the clients had consumed. 

At Kanaoka-tei, all sorts of traditional medicines are displayed. They include insects, which are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Many of the materials and ingredients showcased at the museum have been imported from overseas. 

We ask the museum owner to suggest a restaurant and he recommends Sakae Zushi. Opened in 1972, it serves local seafood caught in Toyama Bay. At the restaurant, we order the popular sushi set, featuring varieties of seasonal fish from Toyama Bay. It comprises 10 pieces of sushi, salad, small dishes and dessert.  

Snowmelt water rich in nutrition and oxygen flows down from the Tateyama Mountain Range - at an elevation of 3,000m - into Toyama Bay all year round. This makes the area a conducive place for fish to breed. Our sushi set includes yellowtail amberjack, raw octopus, deep-water shrimp, shrimp roe and glass shrimp, known as the jewel of Toyama Bay. 

After our lunch, we speak to some diners at the restaurant. One of them recommends we check out Funahashi, the smallest village in Japan. From Higashi-Shinjo Station, we travel by the 1.10pm train and ride for 10 minutes to Etchu-Funahashi Station. The total area of the village is 3.47 square kilometres and it has a population of about 3,000 people. Ironically, Funahashi is known for having one of the highest population growth rates in Japan. Convenient transportation and education for children are among the reasons behind this.  

Next, we drop by Okome Shokudo, a restaurant that uses locally grown rice. We order its popular soy sauce and malted rice chiffon cake. The rice flour is made from rice harvested in Funahashi, while the malted rice is from a malted rice shop in Toyama. We chat with the restaurant owner who tells us about the Hotaruika (firefly squid) Museum. We then hop on the 2.35pm train at Etchu-Funahashi and advance to Namerikawa Station. 

We walk towards Toyama Bay and soon see the signboard for the museum. As it is not the season for firefly squid, there are none on display at the gallery. However, we manage to learn about them. The coast in Namerikawa is the closest to where firefly squid, which live deep in the ocean, come at the time of spawning. They glow in the sea like fireflies and there are three theories behind this phenomenon. Firstly, when they are attacked by enemies, they intimidate them by glowing. Secondly, they glow to communicate with other squids. Lastly, they glow to protect themselves. When firefly squid come up to the water surface from the deep sea, other fish can see their silhouettes from below because of the sunlight. So in order to hide their silhouettes, they make their body glow in order to blend in with the sunshine and not get detected.

There is another interesting fact about their behaviour. When firefly squid sense the moonlight, they come up near the sea surface from the deep sea and then return to the deep sea. However, when there is no moon and it is pitch black, they lose their sense of direction when they want to get back to the deep sea. So they get washed up on the beach, which is where many people would often find them a few times a year. 


1)    The train garage near Inarimachi Station is popular among railway fans for its different used train cars on display
2)    Visit the Hotaruika Museum near Namerikawa Station to learn interesting facts about firefly squid

Featured places -