The landscape rises leisurely as you drive away from Toyama Prefecture’s coast — until it doesn’t.

The 30-minute drive from the town of Tonami pulls you fairly quickly onto an expressway, from which it’s hard to miss the sheet of rugged peaks curtaining the horizon. The visual is equal (if not in scale then in grandeur) to a drive through southern Bavaria — towering Alps hemming in your field of view wherever you look. You pass along the few roads that cut through the ever-engrossing countryside — and “cut,” here, is a literal term: Occasionally, the expressway passes through artificial notches in low-lying hills, an expedient method of road construction while the landscape still allows it.

Soon enough, though, the mountainous terrain of southwestern Toyama Prefecture forces the car into a tunnel that takes no less than 10 minutes to clear. Even then, it’s only for a precious few seconds of open-air driving that you’re greeted by steep, tree-lined mountainsides so close to the road you feel like you can reach out and touch them and the rivered gorge below. Then, it’s back into another snaking tunnel — a clear reminder that this is a slice of the Japanese countryside just barely brought to heel.