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Raina's Japan Travel Journal
by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2017/10/11 - Dipping into the three onsen towns of Yamanaka, Yamashiro and Katayamazu

In early October, I took a three day two night trip to Kaga City, exploring three out of four onsen towns that make up Kaga Onsen. I kicked off my journey by first taking the limited express train from Kanazawa to Kaga Onsen. The Kaga Onsen area is served by the convenient Can Bus, but I went with a rental car so that I could travel at my own pace. Rental car outlets can be found near Kaga Onsen station and I set off once armed with my rental car. The onsen towns are not far from one another and I never drove more than 20 minutes between them.

A Can Bus
Centuries old tree in Yamanaka Onsen

The onsen towns I visited were Yamanaka Onsen, Yamashiro Onsen and Katayamazu Onsen, and all three are centered around their soyu-public bath houses. It was interesting to see the different towns and how well loved the public baths are by the locals. In my conversations with the public bath receptionists, I learned that the majority of visitors are locals and there was no real need for a bath at home if you had a quality bath right at your doorstep. I also heard stories of the healing properties of the waters and of how one of them saw an old lady who had a hunchback fixed just from regular baths!

Before taking the plunge and jumping into the onsen towns, I made a stop at Natadera Temple, a major temple in the area. Natadera was built in a forested clearing with parts of the temple built into a cliff face. The spacious temple grounds were very attractive to walk through and I spent some time checking out the various structures. The main shrine is actually built into a cave and houses the eleven headed thousand armed carved wooden image of Kannon. The place is considered sacred as it is believed that walking around the statue of Kannon in the belly of the cave cleanses a person from their sins and making them clean again.

Komorebi (dappled sunlight) along the main approach
Looking down the small valley from the main shrine
Door leading out to the walking trail from the main shrine

The recommended visiting route starts off along the main approach which is flanked by tall trees and a moss undergrowth and includes the walk around the main shrine before carrying on to the other attractions on the grounds. I also found the forested walking trail around the outer borders quite appealing but ended up skipping it as I was short on time. From there, the plan was to head to Yamanaka Onsen before working my way back up towards the station.

A cliff face with steps cut into it and torii
Bell tower

Yamanaka Onsen is home to the public bath Kiku no Yu, where the mens and womens baths are located in separate buildings. One of the features of the town is that it is home to Yamanaka Lacquerware. I visited Yamanaka Urushi-za, a museum and showroom displaying Yamanaka Lacquerware to learn more about it before heading to the center of the town. Yamanaka-za theater and the public bath can be found in central Yamanaka and there, I was treated to seeing exquisite lacquerware in the theater. Be sure to check out the doors, ceiling and wooden panneling inside the theater for an up close look of Yamanaka lacquerware in use.

Wood grinding workshop at Yamanaka Urushi-za
Museum and shop at the Urushi-za
Lacquerware Zaku from the Gundam universe
Kiku no Yu public bath house
Inside Yamanaka-za where visitors can participate in events are held over the weekends
Don't forget to look up at Yamanaka-za theater

As I strolled along the main street in town, I came across shops selling the local lacquerware as well as Kutaniyaki ceramics and local sake. For those who want to try their hand at making Yamanaka Lacquerware, there are businesses that offer wood grinding experiences to shape wooden bowls before they get lacquered. One of the highlights for me in Yamanaka was going for a walk along the Kakusenkei Gorge. The walking path runs for about one kilometer providing views of the river and three bridges along the way.

Main street in Yamanaka Onsen is named the Yuge Kaido
Croquette is one of Yamanaka's local delicacy. I can't argue with it's deliciousness
Artist at work
Visitors can try to make either one of the two, a bowl or a small container
The Koorogi Bridge at one end of the gorge
Not quite autumn color season yet
Monument to celebrated poet Basho
Kurotani Bridge at the other end of the gorge

The next day, I made my way to Yamashiro Onsen, where Kutaniyaki ceramics is one of the main features of the town. I embarked on a short walking course which brought me to the different places showcasing Kutaniyaki starting with the Kutaniyaki Kiln Museum (Kutaniyaki Kamaato Tenjikan). There I saw one of the oldest kilns used to fire Kutaniyaki ceramics and marveled at the ingenuity of a climbing kiln, or a noborigama. Adjacent to the kiln is a studio, museum and activity center all in one.

Kutaniyaki Kiln Museum
A smaller climbing kiln that you could get right up to
Painting in session
Studio and pottery making area

My next two stops in Yamashiro Onsen have an additional connection aside from Kutaniyaki ceramics, which was the relationship between Kitaoji Rosanjin, an artist, caligrapher, seal engraver, painter, potter and foodie, and the founder and namesake of the Suda Seika kiln. The two were friends and collaborated on works used in Rosanjin's home: Suda Seika produced the ceramics while Rosanjin painted the decorations.

Now, the Kutaniyaki-gama Suda Seika is a museum-shop carrying the works produced by the Suda Seika kiln and where visitors can see Rosanjin's engraving work in the signboard. Eager to see the other side of the relationship, I went to Rosanjin's Iroha Soan, his holiday home in Yamashiro Onsen. The simple residence offers a glimpse into Rosanjin's life and has some of his work on display.

Suda Seika shop
Inside the showroom and shop
Unassuming entrance to the Iroha Soan
Atmospheric lounge area in the residence

My final stop in Yamashiro Onsen was to experience the public bath houses, of which there are two: Soyu (the modern bath) and the Ko-Soyu (the traditional bath). Both bath houses offer different personalities, the Ko-Soyu with its dark wooden interior complete with stained glass and tiles, and the Soyu with Kutaniyaki ceramic tiles that line the walls and a skylight allowing for lots of natural light. I enjoyed both bath houses but preferred the Ko-Soyu as it was a lot more atmospheric.

Part of Yamashiro Onsen
Ko-Soyu in the center of town with the Soyu behind it
Rest area on the second floor of the Ko-Soyu. Note the stained glass in the doors
Shops and restaurants around the town center

I started my last day in Katayamazu Onsen, the onsen town closest to Kaga Onsen Station. The town is located along the shores of the Shibayamagata Lagoon and offers plenty of water views regardless of where you visit. The town is compact and most of the attractions are within walking distance except for the Museum of Snow and Ice which is slightly further out. Katayamazu also has a walking and cycling path along the shore line which allows visitors to enjoy the lagoon view.

A public footbath in Katayamazu Onsen
Ryokan and hotels lined the shores of the lagoon
One of the main streets in the small town
A Benten shrine in the lagoon
Shrine illuminated at night

One of the things I was looking forward to in Katayamazu was going on a mini architecture tour, which was visiting two buildings by two famous architects; The Nakaya Ukichiro Museum of Snow and Ice by Isozaki Arata and the Kaga Katayamazu City Spa (the public bath house) by Taniguchi Yoshio. Both are also popular attractions in the town and I thoroughly enjoyed learning at the highly educational museum about the creation of snow crystals and the dedication of Nakaya Ukichiro who devote his life to learn more about snow and ice. Then it was off to the public bath to defrost and thaw while appreciating clean lines, design aesthetics and hot spring waters.

Looking at the Nakaya Ukichiro Museum of Snow and Ice by Isozaki Arata
The roof is pretty interesting
Known as diamond dust, this is the essence of a cloud
Watching ice crystals form in real time
Inside the bathhouse looking out
The baths get swapped everyday, so you can enjoy different views
Large glass windows of the Kaga Katayamazu City Spa and its rooftop terrace

With that, I ended my trip to Kaga City with at least six baths in three days under my belt, learnt more about Yamanaka Lacquerware and Kutaniyaki ceramics. I boarded the train at Kaga Onsen Station happy to be able to have a variety of learning experiences and activities on this short trip.

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List of Posts:
2017/10/25 - The 45th Tokyo Motor Show
2017/10/11 - Dipping into the three onsen towns of Yamanaka, Yamashiro and Katayamazu
2017/07/24 - Remote Riches in Toyama
2017/07/03 - Spiritual Chichibu
2017/05/02 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2017/04/14 - Sneak Peek from Ginza Six
2017/03/21 - A bit of everything in Fukui
2017/03/13 - Nikko Toshogu Uncovered
2017/02/15 - Subculture in Ikebukuro
2017/02/07 - Travel to the Goto Islands
2017/02/06 - Nagasaki Lantern Festival

2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/12/19 - Winter Illuminations in Tokyo
2016/10/24 - The way of old on the Kunisaki Peninsula
2016/10/11 - Following the Tadami Line in Oku Aizu
2016/08/27 - Fool's Dance at Koenji Awa Odori
2016/08/16 - The three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan
2016/06/20 - Train travel into the Ise-Shima region
2016/04/03 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2016/03/08 - The hunt for Namahage on the Oga Peninsula
2016/03/02 - Sake Sangria
2016/02/20 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
2016/01/26 - Tour de Reinan: Obama, Oi and Takahama
2016/01/25 - Tour de Reinan: Tsuruga, Mihama and Wakasa

2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/10 - 48 hours in Tokushima
2015/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Kankakei
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2015/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/10 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Koyasan
2015/11/08 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2015/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Dazaifu
2015/10/28 - The 44th Tokyo Motor Show
2015/10/21 - Hirado, where East meets West
2015/10/20 - Kujukushima Islands and Winter Illumination at Huis Ten Bosch
2015/10/19 - Navigating the Christian sites in Nagasaki
2015/10/18 - Cosplay at Haco Stadium Tokyo
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2015/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2015/09/24 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2015/09/16 - Nakanojo Biennale 2015
2015/08/19 - Traditional culture and hot springs of the Aizu Region
2015/08/17 - Nature and Hot Springs at Naruko Onsen
2015/08/04 - Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale 2015
2015/04/30 - Sapporo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/29 - Hakodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/23 - Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/22 - Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/21 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/16 - Sendai Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/09 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/08 - Fukushima Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/06 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/02 - Nara Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/01 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/31 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/27 - Fukuoka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/26 - Kumamoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/25 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Sendai
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Tokyo
2014/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kanazawa
2014/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2014/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2014/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/10/31 - Autumn Color Report: Karuizawa
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2014/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2014/10/01 - Autumn Color Report: Oze National Park
2014/09/29 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/06/19 - Toranomon Hills opens in Tokyo
2014/04/24 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/23 - Morioka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/22 - Aizu-Wakamatsu Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/16 - Matsumoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/15 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/14 - Yoshino Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/13 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/12 - Kanazawa Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/10 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/06 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/05 - Hiroshima Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/04 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/02 - Nagoya Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/31 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/26 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/04 - Early Tokyo Blossom Report