The chance to experience the ancient Edo streets of Kanazawa via the new Hokuriku Shinkansen will surely draw many to the long-neglected west coast of Japan. But those who travel this way on a clear day will no doubt feel spendor as they pass by the sight of the massive Japan Alps towering over a cityscape that thins out into the distance. A few may feel that irresistable draw of going further off the beaten path, wondering what secrets are hiding in those distant settlements and mountain peaks. For those craving such adventure, a stop in Toyama is a good place to get started while maybe enjoying another detour or two along the way.
Known for its chemical and pharmacutical industries since the Meiji era and beyond, 99.5% of Toyama was obliterated in the firebombing raids of the second world war. Rather than fall into decay, however, these strong industries, combined with the promise brought by the opening of the shinkansen, have helped Toyama to rise above the ashes. Designed to be a "compact city", Toyama has seen large development in transportation, living, recreation and shopping facilities in recent years, perfectly suited for its population of half a million. You won't find all of the conveniences of some of the larger modern Japanese cities, but those who visit can enjoy some nearby comforts without having to travel very far.
While the city proper offers a few interesting attractions within its center, many of Toyama's sightseeing and hiking opportunities are scattered throughout the several surrounding towns it administers, as well as in the dense mountains to the south. Thus, for many visitors, Toyama serves as a hub to reach these surrounding areas.
Toyama has its own airport, from which buses run to the city center (25 min, ¥400). Toyama Kitokito Airport has international flights to Shanghai, Seoul, Vladivostok, and Dalian and local service to Tokyo, Sapporo, and Fukuoka. However, flight schedules change heavily with the season so it would be worth checking out in advance what is available for when you will be traveling. With the recent start of the Hokuriku Shinkansen and relative inaccessabilty except by car or bus, the burden is on Toyama airport to keep customers. When travelling to Toyama on a budget, be sure to check flight prices to see if you can't get a cheaper deal over the Shinkansen.
From Tokyo Station, Toyama can be reached in just over two hours by taking a Kagayaki-class train on the recently opened Hokuriku Shinkansen. At 310 km, a one-way trip regularly costs ￥12,730 for a reserved seat, ￥17,360 for Green Class, or ￥25,580 for a "Grand Class" seat, though JR Rail Pass holders pay no extra costs for a basic reserved seat. The first train departs Toyko Station at 6:16am and the last leaves at 10:04 in the evening. If you're a fan of scenic travel, be sure to stay awake through the last leg of the trip after the long strech of tunnels from Itoigawa Station. The view of the towering Tateyama mountain range on a clear day is really spectacular.
Frequent Thunderbird (サンダーバード) limited express trains run to Toyama from Osaka and Kyoto in Kansai, and will take you as far as Kanazawa, where you'll need to transfer to the Hokuriku Shinkansen. From there, Kagayaki trains are the most direct, whereas Hakutaka and Tsurugi trains will stop at ShinTakaoka Station along the way. The full trip will take at least three hours - not including transfer time - and costs ￥9430 one-way with reserved seats (free for JR Rail Pass holders). If you need to save a little money and time isn't an issue, an unreserved seat and a transfer to the IR Ishikawa Railway at Kanazawa will save you a marginal amount at ￥8350.
Seibu runs three daily buses (one of which is overnight) to Toyama from Ikebukuro and the Sunshine City Prince Hotel. It costs ¥7340 one-way (¥13210 round-trip) and takes seven hours to make the journey.
Several companies have bus runs from Osaka and Kyoto to Toyama. West JR Bus has a morning run (5 1/2 hours) and an overnight run (8 hours) from JR Osaka station, while Hankyu has an evening run (5 hours) and an overnight run (7 3/4 hours) from Umeda. The one-way cost for these lines is roughly ¥5200 from Osaka and ¥4800 from Kyoto.
Central Toyama prides itself on being a "compact city" and most sights of interest may be reached from the station on foot or by bike. The public transportation is excellent with several upgrades in the past few years.
By Street Car
Two light rail systems operate directly from the north and south sides of Toyama station with trains running several times an hour throughout the day.
Toyama station is served by the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen, as well 3 regional lines, Ainokaze Toyama Railroad (servicing all major stations from east-west), Toyama Chiho main line, and Fujikoshi line (from southeast), all of which may be used to get around town and/or beyond. The Hokuriku Shinkansen continues toward Kanazawa, the Takayama main line heads southwest.
To complement the 4 light rail lines and 4 regional rail lines are the riverboats going north-south through the center of town and a bus system.
Matsukawa River Cruises - One of the highlights of a trip to Toyama is a riverboat ride around the center of the city. Boats leave at regular intervals from a stand next to Toyama Castle and a 30 minute trip costs ￥1,500 for adults, and ￥750 for children.
Many festivals can be enjoyed in Toyama and the surrounding region year round. National holidays and festivals also provide opportunities to catch events in Toyama, including Tanabata, Kaze-no-bon, and cherry blossom viewing in spring. The Toyama International Center has up-to-date listings on notable events in Toyama and the surrounding area in several languages including English.
The new station building at Toyama Station offers a small selection of restaurants to sample the local cuisine without traveling very far. In the area immediately surrounding the south side of the station can be found many restaurants serving local and international food, including Korean, Chinese and Indian. If you want a decent selection without searching the back alleys, Marier, the shopping mall right next to the station, has a restaurant floor with food samples and menus on display outside each shop. Another area densely packed with restaurants are the alleys around and behind the Sogawa shopping arcade, as well as the Daiwa department store.
The most popular area for nightlife for foreigners is around Toyama station, and home to Toyama's only major nightclub, Club Mairo  (Japanese Language), as well as My Pleasure Karaoke(歌んだ村） Also just south of the station is a building named 'Twenty One', which is home to many small, friendly bars, most of which offer karaoke and nomihodai. Some charge a cover, others do not.
Just around the corner from My Pleasure and down the street from the Lawsons convenience store you'll come across the Irish pub Pot Still which has a sign (an image of a traditional Irish distilling apparatus) remotely resembling a pile of crap. Grab a pint of Guiness and Bass to go with a plate of the best fish and chips in town. Pot Still has darts and pool and a very foreigner friendly environment.
For a more relaxed bar/club, try Beeline in an alley off the Chuodori end of Sogawa. This area is also home to a few bars and Izakaya. Just opposite and south of Daiwa, the quirky De Niro lies in an alley.
Right across from Beeline is a restaurant called Pepin. Good food and service with and English menu. Food is smaller portioned and presented but is still a casual relaxed dining atmosphere. Generally, modern music plays low in the background and a small counter/bar for those dining alone or just like a drink.
Hotels around Toyama station, even business hotels, seem to run a bit expensive.
ANA Crowne Plaza. Many weddings held here but good service, comfortable beds and great breakfast. Traditional Japanese breakfast on 5th floor at the Unkai restaurant. edit
Daiwa Roynet Hotel, ☎ 076-420-0055, . Business travelers hotel. The price is very reasonable (<8000 yen) and the amenities are excellent. Plus, for a small addition <1000 yen, you can add a buffet style breakfast. edit