Day One – Toyama

Posted by on Sep 15, 2011 in Toyama, Travel Volunteer Journey | 7 Comments
Day One – Toyama

There was part of me that thought we might get an easy start to life as travel volunteers. That part – the fool – was completely wrong. Between jet-lag interrupting our sleep (again) and the possible consumption of one sake too many the night before, the start of our real journey crashed in on us at 6:30am.

Some breakfast and not quite enough coffee later, we were saying farewell to the Travel Volunteer Project Office at the train station. We’d only known them a couple of days, but as they’d done literally everything for us since arriving – not to mention giving us this tremendous opportunity in the first place – it felt quite emotional. There was no dramatic music playing, and steam didn’t fill the platform, but there should have been.

Less than an hour later, we were in our first prefecture, Toyama. One of the smallest in the country, it’s on the west coast and, like so many other parts of Japan, has a reputation for producing excellent seafood – more on that tomorrow.
There we were met by Mieko-san, our local guide, who quickly transferred us onto one train, then another that led through 41 tunnels and over 22 bridges, high into the Kurobe Gorge. This is close to what are known as the Japanese Alps. It’s hard not to worry that a comparison like that could be false advertising, like a shoddy restaurant sticking cheese and bacon in a baguette and marketing it as French cuisine.

Toyama needn’t worry: as the train followed the river, soaring pine trees clung desperately onto the sheer faces of a vast valley. In winter we’re told the place is blanketed in thick snow too. If you added a bit of schnapps here, and a fondue there, it could definitely be mistaken for Switzerland.

An hour of chuntering through the pine breeze later, and we had arrived at Keyakidaira, the end of the line. From there we began a manic dash along a trail towards Monkey Jumping Rock (so named because monkeys can allegedly jump the gap – we didn’t see any, and I doubt even Sylvester Stallone would have made it in his hey day).

It was made all the more manic by two film crews who had been following us throughout the day. The men were unendingly nice, but we found it hard to know how to act properly – we talked with our hands more than usual and pushed our “interested” faces. Of course all of that was genuine, but until we learn to relax a bit around the cameras, we seem to be involuntarily over-doing it whenever we know they’re shooting.

Still, there was plenty to distract us: at the rock, the river makes a sharp right hand turn after thundering into a great wall, where it turns turquoise and gallops off in another direction. In spring, when the snow and ice melt into the valley, it must be a ferocious sight.

To finish, we raced our way back along the valley floor, to arrive breathless for the return train. Just when we thought when bed might be a possibility, we were invited out by the staff at the Hotel Kurobe for a spot of much-harder-than-it-looked Owara street dancing.

It might not have been a relaxing start to life on the road, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t brilliant.











  1. Eric
    September 15, 2011

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m so jealous! LOL ;-) )

    Great first post and pictures… Well done!

    Good luck on your trip and “gambatte” for Day 2… This is only the beginning!

    Have a good sleep and rest, you deserve it!


  2. Michelle
    September 16, 2011

    It really is amazing right, how puncture the trains are. Do keep your eyes wide open and share with us all the details … oh! and lots of photos! I look forward to your postings. :D Have fun!

  3. Ami
    September 16, 2011

    looking at the itinerary section on this blog, I remember the not so long ago time when I was first learning on this project how I opened google earth and pinned up all the destinations trying to imagine how would be like to travel almost every day, but realised that the distance was never too far :) … and reached the conclusion it was mostly like taking the bus from home to work and back…. in the same direction :P … this of course comparing the time would take an japanese high speed train to make 100km while a romanian bus would spend the same time on a 15km trip :P

    K&J … my personal curiosity …. how did u manage to pack for 100 days… :D … I thought and thought and opened my wardrobe many times thinking of that… but never got to any conclusion

    • Katy & Jamie
      September 20, 2011

      Ami, we actually just had to have a guess. We’ve done quite a bit of travelling before, so we know a few tricks to try and get the most out of what we do pack. The thing is that we were arriving at the end of summer and will be leaving in the middle of winter, so it was quite hard.

  4. Ami
    September 16, 2011

    I don’t like not having a “like” button … loool :P

  5. Kat
    September 19, 2011

    Definitely envious! You guys sound like you’re having a blast!

  6. ly
    September 19, 2011

    Great pictures =)