Experience the real Japan pre or post ski
Ishikawa Prefecture – located on the north coast of Japan’s main island – blends scenic and cultural attractions available to international travellers year-round.
This season, Australians heading to Japan’s slopes can add a cultural element to their travels with a pre- or post-ski visit to Ishikawa – located between the Sea of Japan and the Japanese Alps – which can be easily reached by land or air from Japan’s premier ski areas.
For those with ski trips already booked this season who can’t fit in an overnight adventure, Ishikawa’s history-filled capital of Kanazawa is also a great day trip option for a quick culture fix.
Away from the tourist trail, the region is easily accessible with a direct 2-hour 30-minute Shinkansen bullet train service from Tokyo or flights to its regional airport (Komatsu) operating from Hokkaido, Tokyo Haneda and Tokyo Narita. See details below for how to get to Ishikawa from Japan’s premier ski areas. The three closest ski areas that are popular with Aussies are Hakuba, Nozawa and Myoko Kogen.
Winter activities in Ishikawa
Whether you prefer to end a week on the slopes bathing in natural hot springs, your après sparks a taste for Sake or you’d like to swap ski gear for a traditional Japanese outfit, cultural activities during Japan’s winter months are plentiful. Here’s a selection of experiences to sample the best of Ishikawa’s culture whilst taking in the historic and scenic surrounds:Bathe in a hot spring – Ishikawa is renowned for its hot spring (onsen) culture. A stay in luxury onsen resort being the perfect way to end a ski trip. Kaga Onsen is a collection of four traditional hot spring villages that is located south of Kanazawa. Of these, Yamanaka Onsen is a quaint resort located along the Kakusenkei Gorge. The village’s hot springs were discovered more than 1,300 years ago by a monk and are known for producing some of the best waters in the region that are enjoyed by both visitors and locals year-round. Yamanaka Onsen is home to a selection of luxury ryokans, including The Ryokan Collection’s Kayotei, which has shared baths for its guests in addition to private in-room bathing in some suites. The onsen baths at Kayotei are always open, with only ten guest rooms ensuring an element of exclusivity. The main bath at the property is surrounded by towering glass walls with views of the surrounding forest, bringing bathers close to nature, whilst traditional touches throughout the ryokan – such as hand painted screens and fine pottery adorning the halls – add a Japanese decadence.
Discover a wintry Kenroku-en Garden – Kenroku-en Garden is one of the Three Great Gardens in Japan. Extending more than 25 acres, the garden has been open to the public since 1871 and has been one of the key year-round attractions in the city of Kanazawa ever since. Kenrokuen, which translates as ‘having six factors’, was given the name because of the six attributes that bring out the perfect landscape of the garden, these being spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water and a magnificent view from the garden. The winter months at the garden have a magical beauty, as snow coats the trees and pathways and ponds are frozen and glistening. Winter opening hours are 8am – 5pm daily (until end February), extending to 7am – 6pm from 1 March (until mid-October), with the garden’s Shigure-tei tea house serving matcha and Japanese delicacies from 9am – 4.30pm (last entry 4pm, closed 29 December – 3 January).
Learn to cook with a local – available year-round, this interactive activity immerses visitors into the region’s food culture while providing visitors with new culinary skills to take home with them. Based in Kanazawa, cooking lessons take place in Kanazawa House with ingredients purchased from Omicho Market – the city’s largest fresh food market in operation since 1721. A two-hour hands-on cooking lesson led by a local food researcher and expert in Kanazawa’s culinary scene includes creating and tasting tempura, sushi or ishiru ramen.
Visit a Zen temple – Culture seekers can experience an authentic Zen tradition steeped in over 700 years of history at the Sōtō-sect Buddhist Sojiji Soin Temple. Sojiji Sonin provides pilgrims and visitors with overnight accommodation in which the simple lifestyle of Buddhist monks can be experienced – from sleeping in traditional Japanese-style rooms with futon style beds and vegetarian meals (shojin ryori) which are developed around the Buddhist morals that prohibit taking the lives of other creatures. Day visitors can wander the grounds and historic buildings within the temple walls and attend a guided Zen Meditation, costing ¥1,000 (approx. $AUD14), with an English-speaking German monk in training at the temple to guide English-speaking visitors. Located in Waijima, Ishikawa, the temple can be reached by public transport via a 20-minute bus ride from Anamizu Station on the Nanao line of the Noto Railway or a 2-hour Express Bus from Kanazawa.
Try your hand at the ancient craft of Gold Leaf – Kanazawa accounts for 99% of Japan’s production of Gold Leaf crafts, which has led to its designation as the Gold Leaf Capital of Japan. While visiting Kanazawa (which translates as ‘marshes of gold’), travellers can try the craft of decorating with Gold Leaf at Kanazawa Kinpaku, to create a unique souvenir to take home. Open daily year-round expect for Wednesdays and New Year’s Holiday.
What’s new in Ishikawa
The Yoshiro and Yoshio Taniguchi Museum of Architecture, Kanazawa opened in July 2020. Including designs and works of the prolific father and son architects who hailed from Kanazawa City, the museum is open daily from 9am – 5pm (except holidays). Entry is ￥310 (approx. $AUD4.10) for adults, ￥210 over 65 (approx. $AUD2.80) and free for children.
New hotel openings will provide 2,380 more rooms in Kanazawa by the end of 2020. This includes Hyatt Centric Kanazawa (250 rooms) and Hyatt House Kanazawa (90 rooms) which will open in June 2020. Now open for this ski season in the Hotel Forza Kanazawa, located a 10-minute walk from JR Kanazawa Station and 3-minute walk from Omicho Market with locally inspired breakfasts and iPads available for guests’ use in each room. Agora Kanazawa opened its doors on 1st November, designed to reflect the town spirit of Kanazawa – evident from the warm and social atmosphere of its guest lounge, which captures the living room of a tea house, offering complimentary Matcha green tea and Japanese sweets.
As Japan’s arts and culture scene garners global interest, local and international artists will be celebrated at an Art Triennial Festival which will take over Ishikawa’s ‘festival peninsula’ in 2020. Named the Oku Noto Art Triennial, the anticipated event will take place in the city of Suzu from 5 September – 25 October 2020.
Accommodation spotlight: Ryotei-Ryokan Kinjohro
Long-established Ryotei-Ryokan Kinjohro is located alongside the Asanogawa River – one of Kanazawa’s most picturesque neighbourhoods. This traditional Japanese ryokan comprises six guest rooms which are all available to book inclusive of breakfast and dinner, with the locally inspired and sourced meals being a highlight from it’s over a century old restaurant – including seafood direct from the Sea of Japan, Sake made with quality water from Mt Hakusan and Kaga vegetables grown only in Kanazawa soil. www.kinjohro.co.jp/english
Travel to Ishikawa
When: Now until the end of March
For: A cultural trip that is easy to reach from Japan’s ski fields
How: Flights to Japan are available direct from Australia to Tokyo serviced by ANA, JAL, Jetstar and Qantas, with a two-hour 30-minute bullet train service to Kanazawa. From Japan’s popular ski areas, regional flights operate to Ishikawa from Sapporo and public transport options are available from Nagano.
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