After visiting the beautiful historic city of Kanazawa and one of Japan’s three great gardens (read the post), our excursion will now take us to one of of Japan’s 3 Great Gorges – Kurobe Gorge (黒部渓谷).
While we were planning our itinerary for our 1 week trip in Japan, the goal was to spend 2 nights in each hotel throughout the trip. The reason for this is because traveling with our young children, we knew it might take a toll on them physically if we had to check in and out of a different hotel everyday. At least by spending 2 nights in each location, it gives them a break and Mr. JOC doesn’t have lug around our suitcases everyday.
For our summer trip this year, we had our mind set on Kanazawa (金沢) and Takayama (高山) as 2 places we wanted to visit for sure, but we weren’t sure where else we wanted to visit and explore. We debated between visiting Noto Peninsula (能登半島) north of Kanazawa, or explore the Kurobe Gorge and snow corridor (雪の大谷) of Mt. Tateyama in the region. We thought our children would have fun riding on the Torokko train (トロッコ電車), so Kurobe Gorge here we come!
For the next 2 days, we decided to stay in a hotel in Toyama (富山), which is a central location for traveling to Kurobe Gorge and to Mt. Tateyama. I’ll share details on the accommodation later in the post.
Transportation to Kurobe Gorge
Our hotel was in Toyama in the evening and we weren’t sure if Kurobe Unazukionsen station has a large coin locker that fits our luggage, so we got off at Toyama station first to store our luggage in the station coin locker (¥600 for a large locker, which fits 3 carry-on suitcases).
From Toyama to Kurobe Unazukionsen station, it only takes 12 minutes via Shinkansen, or alternatively 51 minutes by the local train. For instructions on how to use Google Maps for transportation options in Japan, please read my Asakusa post.
When you arrive at Kurobe Unazukionsen station, you will need to exit the station and head across the street to Shin Kurobe (新黒部) station to go to Kurobe Gorge. The station is fairly new but quite small with seating for just a few people inside. You will purchase your ticket to Unazuki Onsen (宇奈月温泉) station inside the Shin Kurobe station.
While waiting for our train to arrive, we got to check out the Torokko train on display outside the station. Our children were very excited!
The Shin Kurobe station is located in a remote countryside setting. It was very peaceful looking at the rice fields and enjoying the scenery while waiting for the train to come.
The ride to Unazuki Onsen station from Shin Kurobe will take 16 minutes or 24 minutes depending on the time of your departure. Unlike what you may be accustomed to seeing in Tokyo and other large cities in Japan, the Toyama Chiho Main Line trains for this route are a bit older.
Along the way to Unazuki Onsen, you pass by many small stations. It was interesting for my family to see these older forgotten stations, as they are used to bustling train stations with thousands of people that utilize the stations each day.
When you get to Unazuki Onsen station, you will need to walk about 5 minutes to the Unazuki (宇奈月) station, where Torokko trains will depart. I know the station names are similar and is a bit confusing…
Kurobe Gorge Torokko Train
What is a Torokko Train (トロッコ電車)? The Japanese word Torokko actually comes from the English word “truck”, and its primary meaning is the mining or transportation cars used to haul materials for construction. These days Torokko means passenger cars, but with bare minimum comfort and usually the main purpose is for sightseeing.
This incredibly scenic route was originally built by Kansai Electric Power company for transporting materials and personnel for the construction of hydro-electric plants back in 1937. For a long time, it was just used by the company to maintain and build power plants. Due to its unique scenery unlike anywhere else in Japan, there was a demand from people to see the sights and the company started transporting passengers in 1953.
There are basically 2 types of seats you can get for the Kurobe Gorge Torokko train (even though the website and info page make it seems like 3). The seats are either open-air or enclosed. The enclosed ones are called second class car (特別車) and first class/relax car (リラックス車).
With your tickets, you are assigned to a specific car number but you can choose any seats within the car. The open-air cars have benches and the enclosed ones have individual seats, with an option to fold down the arm rest in the center to create a bench. You can reserve and book the Torokko tickets online but the site is in Japanese only.
On the Kurobe Gorge Railway (黒部峡谷鉄道) route, there are 3 stops you can get off the train from Unazuki station. Options are Kuronagi (黒薙), Kanetsuri (鐘釣), and the final stop is Keyakidaira (欅平). You are not allowed to hop on and off the train on the same ticket between your start and final destination. After discussing the different options, we opted to go all the way to Keyakidaira. The ride to Keyakidaira takes 80 minutes each way.
As you are getting ready to leave Unazkuki station on the Torokko train, sit on the right side of the train for the best view. When the locomotive starts moving, you hear the rhythmic sound of the locomotive ahead of you and feel the vibrations and movements that are signatures of a Torokko train.
Soon after leaving the station you will see the long and red Shin-Yamabiko Bridge (新山彦橋) and one of the many tunnels you’ll go through.
As you look around, the area is surrounded by pristine forest and undisturbed natural surroundings, with little evidence of humans being there (outside the power plants and the railroad).
Thousands upon thousands of trees and greens as far as your eye can see.
The first dam that you will see is Unazuki Dam (宇奈月ダム), which was completed in 2001. The view of the expansive emerald green water and the blue sky was absolutely gorgeous.
As you proceed along the route, the Shin-Yanagawara Power Station (新柳河原発電所) that resembles an European castle comes into view. Kind of a odd shape for a power plant but definitely one of a kind.
I felt adventurous when the train went through parts of the routes supported by steel beams, as if I was in an Indiana Jones movie.
This area due to it’s natural setting still has wild monkeys and there’s a suspension bridge built just for them to cross the gorge.
We caught a glimpse of a monkey right by the side of the road from the train. Can you find it below?
As the train moves along, you can imagine the difficulty the workers must have experienced in building this railroad route.
For the most part, the route barely hugs the mountain one side and usually a steep cliff on the other.
It was a bit terrifying and definitely exhilarating looking down Atobiki Bridge (後曳橋) while crossing, the thought of what happens if an earthquake happens right now went through my mind.
After the Kuronagi station, near the Atobiki Bridge, you can see the aqueduct that carries water from Dashidaira Dam (出し平ダム) to Shin-Yanagawara Power Station.
The bridge connects one of the many V shaped ravines in the gorge.
This region in Kurobe snows a lot, so the train only operates from April through November. How do the electric company workers maintain the power stations in the winter? There is a winter walking path tunnel they have to use (see below) to hike all the way in.
During the entire ride there are explanations of the locations and various interesting facts along the way but it’s all in Japanese.
It was really awe inspiring to see the vertical 200 meter high cliffs of the gorge (ねずみ返しの岩壁) which was form by Kurobe River.
There is only one track so when there’s a train coming from the opposite direction, both trains have to stop and wait as they change tracks at the stations.
Another power station you see on the route is the Kurobe River No. 2 Power Station (黒部川第二発電所).
At Kanetsuri station, the second stop along the way where tourists can disembark, we saw the never melting snow (mannenyuki 万年雪) near the station. This snow pile is created by avalanches during the winter and there is so much snow that it will not melt before snowing season starts again.
As you continue to enjoy the amazing scenery, you will soon pass Koyadaira Dam (小屋平ダム).
Even though summer’s color was not the prettiest for the gorge compared to the fall, I really loved the different shades of the green.
The ride started out in fairly comfortable weather; however, as you go deeper and deeper in the gorge, it get really chilly when you go through the tunnels. Each tunnel feels colder than the last one. We did research beforehand and brought jackets with us to stay warm. I highly recommend bringing extra jackets or long pants. Some of the tunnels are quite long and it feels extra cold with the wind chill factor in open cars even during summer.
Keyakidaira Kurobe Gorge
After you arrive at the last stop, Keyakidaira Station, I recommend you to book and reserve your ticket back to Unazuki station at the ticket booth if you haven’t done so. We upgraded our tickets from standard car to special car (enclosed car).
We got to Keyakidaira station just around lunch time, and one of the few dining options available is the restaurant above the station.
It offered standard Japanese comfort food: udon, soba, ramen, and curry rice. It also offered the local specialty Deep-fried White Shrimp (白海老のかき揚げ) over rice, udon, or soba.
You order your food and get a number ticket at the entrance first. Then bring your ticket to the kitchen counter in the back. They will call your number when the food is ready. Water and tea (both cold and hot) are free and self service.
Our tempura shrimp udon was decent quality considering how remote the location was. Our kids enjoyed the kids curry menu.
At the station near the ticket booth, they had a large map of nearby points of interests and shows you the approximate time it takes to walk to those locations from the Keyakidaira station. It also tells you if specific spots were closed due to landslides.
The entire area is very prone to rock slides and landslides so do check what areas are open before exploring. Unfortunately when we visited, the trail to both Sarutobikyo Gorge (猿飛峡) and Babadani Onsen (祖母谷温泉) were closed so we had very limited sights to see.
We were able to explore the viewing platform by the riverside. We crossed the Okukane Bridge (奥鐘橋) to look at Hitokui-iwa (人食い岩), the mouth shaped rock formation that looks like it’s going to swallow people up.
There was a gigantic boulder next to the trail that had just recently fell.
After we exited the tunnel from Hitokui-iwa, you will see Meiken Onsen (名剣温泉).
For an adult it’s ¥750 to enjoy the onsen (hot springs) and ¥1,300 if you would like to soak and rest for an additional 1.5 hrs inside (towel is extra ¥250). Optionally you can stay overnight.
The foot bath (足湯) by the Kawara Tenbodai/viewing platform (河原展望台) was also not working because landslides had cut off the hot spring.
On the hiking trail, one of the workers explained to us that the area is actually quite dangerous due to the frequent rock slides.
As the sun was setting, we decided to head back Unazuki station after spending about 2 hours in Keyakidaira. It was a good choice that we upgraded from the open-air car to enclosed car as it started to rain…
Eating and Staying in Toyama
Izakaya Oyaji Toyama
As we made our way back to Toyama, we found a local Izakaya on Tabelog – Oyaji Toyama.
The restaurant is quite small but we were lucky and got seated in a private room. It was nice because that meant we didn’t have to deal with the smoking patrons.
They had a simple menu with today’s sashimi, grilled fish and sake on one side of the menu, and recommended dishes on the other.
Majority of dishes are between 400-800 yen.
The Potato Salad and local vegetable, Kinjiso (金時草) Ohitashi Salad.
Beef Tongue Yakitori, Octopus Karaage, and Shungiku Gomaae.
Assorted Sashimi for two, with local fish like Gando (カンド) and Hyomi Maguro (氷見マグロ).
Grilled Gando Kama (I’m sorry if I scared you…).
Chicken Tempura with Daikon Radish & Ponzu Sauce.
Salmon and Ume Chazuke (Ochazuke) to end the meal.
The food was okay, definitely not great and was a bit disappointing compared to Kuroya in Kanazawa (read the post). The seafood was fresh, but most dishes lacked the delicacy and sophistication we had expected from a highly reviewed restaurant.
After dinner, our hotel in Toyama was about a 10-minute walk from the station so we took the street trolley which stops right in front of the hotel.
Our room was very clean and pretty standard. It had 2 western beds and a tatami area that could fit 2 futons. Unlike a ryokan, you have to make the futon bed yourself in this business hotel.
What was nice about this particular hotel is that it had a large bath on the top floor for you to soak and relax, free for guests! But there’s also a spacious bathroom with a big tub inside the room.
So would I recommend the Kurobe Gorge Torokko train for you to visit, yes, most definitely! It was a fun experience for our family, taking in the beautiful gorge scenery which changes with seasons and the rustic trains take us back to a different time.
However, if we had known so many spots were closed at Keyakidaira, we would have gotten off at Kanetsuri station and save us the extra travel time and cost for riding the train.
The best time to visit Kurobe Gorge is after mid October, when the leaves starts changing and the beautiful red and yellow colors decorate the green forest.
If you have any additional question, here are some FAQs from the Toyama Tourism Association.
Now let’s continue our trip, next stop is Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (Snow Corridor)!
If you enjoy this post, check out my travel blog posts! I’ve shared my travel experiences in Sapporo, Asakusa, Kyoto, and other places in Japan. I hope my travel and eating guide are helpful for you when you visit Japan.
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