Though Shiga Prefecture’s small northern city Nagahama might seem a bit sleepy, its tourist area, Kurokabe Square, is something of a hidden gem, combining traditional architecture, handmade wares, and delicious food in a few rows of covered streets. Nagahama in general and Kurokabe in particular are popular among Japanese tourists. Only an hour north of Kyoto on the JR, a trip to the area makes for a nice day trip.
Photo: peter-rabbit on Flickr
Sights to see
Daitsuji, the temple at the center of Kurokabe, has huge open grounds, a beautiful garden, and incredible architecture (including a massive, intricately carved wooden gate at the grounds’ entrance). It is far less crowded than the famous temples of Kyoto and while somewhat less well kept, there have been recent efforts to preserve and renovate. It is really a rare treat to be able to walk around with so few other people obstructing the great views. Admission is 500 yen.
Photo: Isaac Bordas on Flickr
Photo: felgeel on FlickrNagahama is famous for its glassware, and has a large multi-story glass shop, Kurokabe Glass, decorated with a curtain of round shimmering prisms hanging around the entrance. Prices vary hugely, from sets of whiskey glasses for tens of thousands of yen to small glass animal figurines for a few hundred yen. Make sure to go upstairs to admire the craftsmanship of incredible glass bowls and music boxes, all is worth browsing even if you aren’t interested in buying anything. You can also try your hand at glass-blowing yourself; lessons are offered a few times a day at a studio up the street.
Photo: peter-rabbit on Flickr
Where to shop
Caddy corner to the glass shop is Amisu. A far-cry from the many standard omiyage shops around Kurokabe, Amisu sells a huge variety of Japanese specialty foods (dried foods, noodles, sauces, and more) and drinks, including a gift box of beer from Nagahama’s own Roman Brewery. If it’s a warm day, be sure to get a treat from their excellent gelato bar.
Where to eat
Photo: pelican on FlickrKurokabe is flooded with restaurants serving any kind of food at any kind of price. There are sushi restaurants and places specializing in Ohmi beef side by side with yakitori and croquet stalls, there are even two pizza cafes. For the most local and traditional fare, Yokaro serves Nagahama’s specialty, mackerel over somen noodles. If you are in the mood for western food at a reasonable price, café Caramel Papa offers sandwiches and pastas with a French inspired décor.
Hidden within the tourist-friendly streets of Kurokabe is another, smaller market. Take the narrow alley adjacent to a British café and antique store (you’ll know it by the large British flag in the front) to Kurokabe’s weekend market, a group of old wooden stalls brimming with various curiosities and handmade items for sale at great prices and a 20 foot tall kaleidoscope that you can walk inside of. In the warmer months you can enjoy yakitori under a veil of grape veins, and maybe even snag a few grapes.