10 Things to Do on the Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa
While Ishikawa may not be Japan’s most internationally famous prefecture, countless tourists flock to its capital, Kanazawa. This well known city is a place where one can experience the charms of Japan's past. It is understandably a popular spot, but it is not the only thing Ishikawa has to offer. The Noto Peninsula is only a short drive away from Kanazawa, and it has many interesting things to do and see. The coastline is stunning, and there are two important, beautiful temples in the area. You can also find the region’s largest aquarium as well as a unique glass museum. It's a great day or weekend trip from Kanazawa, and the perfect way to relax and escape the crowds.
Myojo-ji temple in Hakui City is only 45 minutes away from Kanazawa, and the temple has a long history. It was founded in 1294, and now, it is the Hokuriku headquarters of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. It's most famous spot is a stunning wooden pagoda that dates back to the 1600s. The wooden hondo or main hall and the large wooden gate at the entrance are beautiful as well. The temple grounds themselves are lovely and surprisingly spacious. The atmosphere is the real sell as it is not overly crowded and the tree lined approach to the pagoda and the moss covered gravestones only enhance the mood; it's a peaceful, relaxing place to escape into nature and religion. Entrance is 500 yen, and the temple is open from 8 until 5. For those without a car, you can take a 45 minute train ride from Kanazawa to Hakui, and from there, a twenty minute bus ride to the temple.
Located further north up the coast in Monzen town, Soji-ji temple is the other famous temple on the peninsula. Soji-ji temple was founded in 1321, and it was previously one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It was the head temple for the Soto sect until many of the buildings were destroyed by a fire in 1898, and the headquarters were relocated to Yokohama. While some of the buildings you can see now are reconstructions, that does not diminish the temple’s beauty. One of the most impressive buildings on the grounds is the Kyozo, where sutras and scripture are stored. Across a red bridge lies the relatively modern but still striking Sanmon gate, and this is the most famous site at Soji-ji. From there, you can enter the main area, which takes you by the Butsuden and a small courtyard. Entrance is 400 yen, and it is open from 8 until 5. From Kanazawa, it is a 2.5 hour bus ride or 1.5 hours by car.
The coastline spans 14 kilometers along the west side of the peninsula, and the drive itself is beautiful and worthwhile on its own. There are a few spots along the coastline that are especially noteworthy though. Ganmon Rock is one of the most famous stops here, and it is only half an hour from Myojo-ji by car. The massive rock is 6 meters wide and 15 meters tall. It sits right by the rocky beach, and it is shaped like an arch, forming a cave. This impressive cave and the coastline can be explored by sightseeing boats, but walking around the area is just as enjoyable. The rocky beach area and dramatic coastline is stunning as well; walking by the perfectly clear tide pools while listening to the waves crash into the rocks is a wonderful way to spend your time, and the area near the beach where the sightseeing boats depart is much less crowded than the Ganmon rock itself.
Hatago Iwa is located only a short drive away from Ganmon Rock, and it is a worthwhile, albeit short stop; you only need a few minutes here and for those coming by car, you need to be careful not to pass it as the car park is tiny. That said, it is not to be missed if you are in the area. Here you can find two sacred rocks that are tied together with a shimenawa. It's a scenic spot that is much less crowded than the more famous wedded rocks in Ise, Mie but just as beautiful. According to local legend, Nunkai Irihime-no-mikoto was the god responsible for the spread of Noto's booming weaving industry. One day he was being chased by bandits so he threw the fabrics he was carrying into the sea so the bandits couldn't have them. These fabrics then turned into Hatago Iwa.
If you want a beach, Masuhogaura is located a few minutes farther. This beautiful stretch of beach is considered one of the top 55 beaches in Japan, and with its crystal clear waters, it's not hard to understand why. One of the other main draws are the countless shells that wash up on the beach. It's been dubbed one of the top three beaches for shells in Japan, and it's sakuragai shells that resemble cherry blossoms are particularly noteworthy. Personally, I was excited to find numerous tiny, perfect sand dollars but any shell collector will be delighted by the variety and number of shells. Even when it's too cold to swim, the beach makes for a nice walk due to the great views. For those looking for a longer summer getaway, there are cabins right by the beach that can be rented, and camping is also possible.
Yase no Dangai is another scenic spot further up the coast. From the car park, you can walk to a short trail that gives you amazing views of the the cliffs and the Sea of Japan. The most famous spot is a 50 meter cliff, which you can see from a small observatory. Further down the trail you can find Yoshitsune Funakakushi, a narrow inlet where warrior Minamoto Yoshitsune hid his boats. This area is also popular due to its role in the mystery novel Zero no Shoten (Zero Focus) by Matsumoto Seicho and its two film adaptations. In the novel, a wife goes searching for her missing husband and discovers some unsettling things about his past. The husband is an Ishikawa native, and much of the story takes place around Noto and the Yase no Dangai area. The area is best accessed by car, and it is a twenty minute drive from Ganmon.
On the eastern side of the northern most tip of Noto lies a stretch of coastline called Enmusu Beach. The name is a bit of Japanese wordplay, coming from the word enmusubi or marriage or matchmaking. This 3.5 km coastline stretches from the Koiji coast to Mitsukejima, its two most famous spots. Koiji means lover’s road so predictably, a love story is connected to the beach. Legend goes that two lovers used to meet there in secret; she would wait on the tiny island and light a lantern so her lover could swim out to her in the night. However a rival, hoping to win her for himself, moved the lantern, causing her lover to drown. Distraught, she drowned herself in the same spot. This romantic but heartbreaking story makes the already lovely beach a more interesting stop. There are striking rock formations, and a torii gate sits in the water in front of a small island. The beach remains a popular romantic spot, and its sunrises are particularly noteworthy.
Mitsukejima is located only a few kilometers away. Legend goes that when the monk Kukai came to Noto, this island was the first thing he saw, and he named it “Found Island.” It is also called Gunkanjima due to its resemblance to a battleship, and it’s strange triangular shape certainly makes this a fitting name. When the tide is low you can even walk out to the little island though the view from the shore is beautiful as well. Of course, as it is a part of “matchmaking beach,” Mitsukejima has its own romantic mythology. Here, you can find a bell, and it is said that ringing it will help you in love, making it a popular spot for couples or single women. Mitsukejima and Koiji are located about 2 hours from Kanazawa by car. The closest bus stop is Minami Unkai on the Kanazawa-Ushitsu/Mawaki line.
Notojima is an island on the eastern side of the peninsula. It offers picturesque views, and during the drive, I found myself stopping numerous times just to take in the scenery. Aside from the bay, there are two main attractions. The Glass Art Museum is worth visiting just to see the spaceship like building. It's set up a hill and the lawn surrounding the museum is filled will all kinds of interesting glass sculptures. In the museum, you can find everything from Qing dynasty era Chinese glass pieces to works by Italian artist Egidio Costantini, who collaborated with artists like Picasso. There are even a few Dali pieces as well as works by contemporary Japanese artists. Entrance is 800 yen, and the museum is open from 9 to 5. A glass workshop is also right next to the rest stop shop and restaurant if you feel inspired to buy glass souvenirs.
The glass museum is located near Notojima's most famous attraction: the Notojima Aquarium. This is the largest aquarium in the area, and one of the big draws is the tunnel "dolphin's paradise." There are also dolphin and sea lion shows, and a giant tank with a whale shark. One of the more unique offerings is a chance to go for a walk with penguins, and there are plenty of other interactive activities. The 1850-yen entrance fee may be a bit on the high end but the aquarium does have over 500 different species, and there is plenty to see and do. Both the Glass Museum and aquarium can be accessed by bus from Wakura Onsen station (1 hour from Kanazawa), alighting after 30 minutes at Bijutsukan-mae and Notojima Suizokukan respectively. The drive is also 1.5 hours from Kanazawa.
While Noto may be less accessible than some of the more popular tourist stops, this underrated gem has much to offer. This is just a taste of the many things you can do in Noto; you can also find a lacquerware workshop, salt farms, a driving beach, and terraced rice fields plus, of course, fresh seafood. Still, the highlight is the spectacular scenery; any nature lover is sure to fall in love with the gorgeous coastline, and it is an amazing place to drive through. By car is the best way to get around though there is public transportation to some parts of Noto. For those who can drive, Noto is easy to access from Kanazawa or Toyama, and most of the roads in Noto are toll free.