While Toyama (富山) is often overlooked by tourists who flock to the neighboring Ishikawa (石川), this off-the-beaten-path city has a lot to offer. Toyama is home to a small castle, a spectacular glass museum, and the amazing hotaru ika (ほたるいか) or firefly squid. However, there is one more spot that makes it a worthwhile city to visit – the Uozu Buried Forest Museum (魚津埋没林博物館) which is unique to Toyama. Nature lovers will surely be intrigued by this one of a kind museum.
During the construction of Uozu Port, a forest that had been buried and flooded up to 2,000 years ago was discovered, with many of the trees still well preserved. Most of the trees found were sugi (杉) or Japanese cedar trees. The Uozu Buried Forest Museum was then built to display some of the massive tree roots and stumps. Despite the name, the museum doesn’t exhibit a forest exactly. After all, these trees are hundreds of years old and are no longer living. That doesn’t take away from the museum, though. The roots and stumps presented are immaculately preserved and beautiful in their own right. While it’s not exactly a forest’s worth of trees, you do get to see the trees up close. They are huge and you can imagine how giant the trees must have been. The museum itself, built into a tall triangle, is striking. The location is also perfect as you have the ocean on one side and the Japanese Alps on the other.
The museum is divided into three parts. The main draw is the wet area that holds a massive tank where you can see the trees preserved underwater. The room is kept dark and cool to prevent algae growth. In fact, scientists believe that it was these conditions that allowed the forest to be well preserved in the first place.
You can view the tank from above or from ground level, and it’s well worth it to see the trees from both vantage points. From above, you can see the impressive reach of the roots, but the real highlight is seeing the trees from ground level. Due to the dim light, the huge submerged trees are rather eerie, and it’s certainly one of the most striking forests that I’ve ever seen. Looking into the tank, it’s not hard to believe that you have somehow stumbled into another world. Be sure to walk all the way around the tank; on one side, you can see an impressive mirage that makes it look like there is another tree floating upside down above one of the large tree stumps.
The next section is the dry area. These are other rooms that show trees that have been dried and preserved, some of which you can even touch. Information on the process is given in English and Japanese. Many of the trees have an info card in Japanese in front of them displaying the estimate of how long ago the tree lived and the height of its trunk.
It’s a fairly small museum, but it’s an interesting spot for nature or science lovers and is a fascinating look back in time. I was impressed by the scale and age of the trees, and the tank, in particular, was striking. As someone who loves Japanese forests, I was quite excited to see one underwater and I was not disappointed. The trees alone make the visit worthwhile and it’s easy to understand why this museum was built.
While the museum is dedicated to the buried forest, that’s not all it covers. The museum also introduces the shinkirou (蜃気楼) or the mirage that can be seen on some spring or winter days by the water in Toyama Bay. This is Uozu’s other claim to fame, and the mirage’s inclusion makes sense given the museum’s close location to the bay.
In the high vision hall, there is a video that gives a good explanation of the science behind the mirage. However, it’s only available in Japanese. But even if you can’t fully understand the language, it’s still interesting to see photos and videos of the mirage, and it’s easy enough to grasp the basics. Right after, a video on the forest is also shown, again in Japanese only. After you exit the theater, there’s a small section with hands-on displays about the mirage. The day’s mirage forecast is also displayed in the museum. The Uozu Mirage is best seen on clear days in April or May, or on cold sunny days from November through March.
If you want to try your luck and hopefully see it for yourself, one of the museum’s exits takes you right to the port. Alternatively, you can climb up to the top of the museum where a small observatory is located. The views are beautiful even when the mirage can’t be seen as the Japanese Alps can be seen in the distance.
The Uozu Buried Forest Museum is rather out of the way. Trains from Toyama to Uozu take 24 minutes and cost 560 yen, but the train only runs once every 40 to 60 minutes so be sure to plan your visit accordingly. There is a bus that heads in the direction of the museum, but it is not well timed to the train. The easiest option is to take a taxi or a 20 to 25-minute walk. The information center outside of the station to the right can give you a map, and it’s a fairly straightforward walk; for much of it, you can see the museum as its height makes it easy to spot.
Museum hours are from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM and tickets cost 520 yen. If you want to spend more time in the area, you can buy a combo ticket for the Buried Forest Museum and Uozu Aquarium for 1,030 yen. But be warned as there is a three-kilometer distance between the two so by car is the best way to visit both. Alternatively, you can make a stop at Namerikawa (滑川) on the way back and enjoy Toyama’s other unique museum – the Hotaruika Museum. As for Toyama itself, it can be reached in a little over two hours from Tokyo, and it is also easily accessible from Kanazawa, Ishikawa.
While the museum is rather small and out of the way, it absolutely leaves an impression. Nature lovers will not be disappointed by the massive, stunning trees that are displayed there. It’s a fun and interesting way to see Japanese forests in a new way, making it a must-see while in Toyama.
Uozu Buried Forest Museum Website *Automatic translation available