Tucked away on the north coast of Japan, just above Gifu and Nagano, you’ll find a real jewel of Japanese natural beauty and rural culture — Toyama Prefecture. The capital city shares its name, and was once known as a center of Japanese medicine, and once had quite a formidable castle at its center.
Nowadays, visitors are much more likely to come for the incredible scenery which lies outside the bounds of the city. This prefecture is home to one of the most familiar and idyllic postcard scenes in the country: the traditional old houses of the UNESCO-listed Gokayama.
This area is home to the villages of Ainokura and Suganuma, which are filled with triangular thatched-roof houses built in a style called gassho-zukuri. In winter, the snow resting on the roofs creates one of the most stunning rural scenes in the country.
For another vision of rural Japanese living, head along to the capital in summer for the Ukai Festival: a showcase of traditional cormorant fishing in which fires are lit to attract fish, before the tamed birds are sent to catch them. The warmer months also mean the thawing of the mountain snows, leaving them open for adventurers to explore. Hikers flock here to walk the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, and to enjoy the dramatic scenery of the Kurobe Gorge and Dam.
If rural exploration is what gets you going, then you should put Toyama right at the very top of your to-do list.