Toyama’s Fugan Canal – retooling an industrial waterway

I have always been fascinated by locks; the use of gravity to move water–and whatever is floating on top of it–up or down in a controlled fashion.  Although Japan has lots of natural waterways–often with quite sharp descents to the sea–, I was pleasantly surprised to find a lock on a man-made canal in the city of Toyama.

The Fugan Canal was dug out in the late 1920s/early 1930s, as part of a city project to promote industrial development while reducing risk of flooding.  The Jinzu River took a sharp bend as it flowed north through Toyama, as a consequence of which it tended to flood in the spring.  As a flood control measure the council determined to straighten the river and eliminate the bend.  At the same time, the council decided to dig a canal just east of the river, using the dirt from that excavation to fill in the former river bed.  The canal would carry manufactured items from a newly-developed industrial area through a lock and out to the port of Higashi-Iwase, from which goods could be shipped to the world.

The canal was opened in 1935 and was said to play an important role in the industrial development of the area.  Alas, it only operated about 2 decades before its use was supplanted by trucking.  The canal, and its lock, were effectively abandoned.

Fortunately, the Toyama council still has vision and the waterway was subsequently developed as a public park that is well loved by locals but is also a tourism highlight of the area.

Located just a short walk from Toyama Station, the park centers on a lagoon, situated in part of the old riverbed.  A wetland area and other “bio-zones” have been developed in the park; there is also an amphitheatre for outdoor performances.

A large footbridge crosses over the lagoon, anchored by two towers that provide expansive views of the park and the surrounding area–including the mountains nearby.

A Starbucks–said to be the world’s most beautiful Starbucks, though the photo below doesn’t do it justice)–overlooks the pond, as does a local restaurant.

From a dock near the restaurant tourists can catch a boat that makes a leisurely trip down the canal, through the lock, and out to the port (approx. 1 hour; 3 sailings per day; one-way fare: JPY1,500). From there you can return to Toyama Station on the light rail, affectionately known by locals as “Port Tram”.

There is also a return trip that goes down through the lock and then back up the canal again (approx. 70 minutes; 5 sailings per day; JPY1,200).

A highlight of the boat ride is traversing the lock.  The boat pulls in to the open lock and is secured.  The upper lock doors are closed and the water is released through the lock’s drains, dropping the water level.  Then the lower lock doors are opened, the boat’s moorings are released and it moves out to the lower level of the canal.  On the return trip, the boat pulls in from the low side and then water is released from above the lock into the lock itself to raise the water level.  The entire process is fascinating to watch, and surprisingly quick.

If you’re in the vicinity of Toyama, or even passing through on your way to Kanazawa, take a little time to drop by and check this out!


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