Yamanaka Onsen – A Hidden Treasure in the Mountainside of Ishikawa
Ishikawa’s Famous Hot Spring Area
As one of Ishikawa’s most popular onsen resorts, Kaga Onsen, a 30 minutes-drive south from Kanazawa, is a place worth to visit. However, Kaga itself is not a single city, it rather consists of four different hot spring towns. The towns are called Yamanaka Onsen, Yamashiro Onsen, Katayamazu Onsen and Awasu Onsen. The whole area extends from the Japanese Sea to the mountainside close to Mount Haksuan, so depending on which kind of landscape you like, Kaga always offers you the right place to go.
You can reach the area easily by train from Kanazawa (arriving from the north) or Kyoto/Osaka (arriving from the south) via the Thunderbird bullet train. From the train station of Kaga Onsen, you can discover the whole area by a round trip bus called Can Bus to all various hot spring resorts and major sights. There are two loops offered, the Mountain and the Sea Route. It’s a perfect way to travel around the area as you can hop off and hop on the bus on any time. Day-tickets (1100 Yen) are available at the train station and you can upgrade them to a two-day ticket easily (pay 500 Yen to expand your already used one-day ticket or by the whole two-day-ticket for 1300 Yen).
If you want to see the mountainside and enjoy spectacular nature, special hot spring waters, as well as the finest Japanese craft, Yamanaka Onsen is the right place to go. In this article, I want to give you some ideas of what you can do in this beautiful mountainside town and how to spend a nice day there.
About Yamanaka Onsen
As the name tells you, Yamanaka Onsen is a small hot spring town in the middle of the mountains of Ishikawa. The hot springs were discovered over 1300 years ago and are said to have a perfect water quality and powerful healing abilities, e.g. in case of muscle or joint pain. In general, people believe that bathing in these waters can improve your health and speed up recovery from sickness. Therefore, this town is famous for its hot spring waters and a lot of people are visiting it for this reason every year.
The easiest way to access Yamanaka Onsen is from taking a bus – either direct bus (Fare: 420 Yen) or the Can bus – from Kaga Onsen main station (about 30 minutes ride). There is also a direct express bus running from Kanazawa station that brings you to the town and costs about 1,370 Yen.
You will arrive at the center plaza of Yamanaka Onsen, directly next to the public bath house called Kiku no yu. But before you will take a bath there, let’s first go exploring and find out more about this little charming town!
Yugo-Kaido Street: Yamanaka’s Downtown
If you follow the main road, the Yugo-Kaido street, you will pass a lot of nice little craft shops where you can admire the original lacquerware that is famous for this town as well as a lot of sweets stores. This main road has been beautifully redesigned in the past years (for example, all power lines run beneath the ground) and contributes to Yamanaka’s special atmosphere. You will also listen to some traditional music that is played through various loudspeakers at the street.
After walking for 10 minutes, if you turn right, you can visit a hidden and remote shinto shrine called Hasebe Shrine. I recommend to take this small detour because this shrine has a special atmosphere: the stones are all covered in moss and a small river runs through the whole shrine grounds. You wouldn’t think that the lively street is just five minutes away. This is also a good place to go to if you need a quiet minute after browsing through the stores.
Discovering the Kakusenkei Gorge
If you continue to follow the main road, you will pass a lot of famous ryokans that are worth to consider for a longer stay. Of course, all Ryokans have their own private onsen and serve delicious Kaga styled food. They are always a good choice if you want to spend some days in the area to explore more and relax at the same time.
Passing all the nice ryokans, you will arrive at the Kohrogi Brige. The so-called cypress bridge is one of Yamanaka’s major sights and runs over the Daishoji River and the Kakusenkei Gorge, a beautiful natural landscape that will take your breath away, no matter which season you come for a visit. If you cross it, you enter the Kakusenkei Gorge trail, a 20 minutes long trail along the river which will take you to many beautiful places. The trail is in good shape so you don’t need any specific footwear, however I recommend watching your step as the stones can sometimes be very slippery.
Before continuing your walk, I suggest having some coffee or tea at a very unique coffee place called Kakusenkei Kawadoko, which is only a five minute walk away from the Kohrogi Bridge. This place is an outdoor café: you are sitting next to the river and within the waters of a waterfall while enjoying your drink under red sun umbrellas. A very special place to have a break and if the weather is nice enough, I truly recommend trying it. The place is open from April to October.
While sitting there, you can not only watch the river and admire the crystal-clear water quality but also have a close look at the Ayatori Bridge above, which exhibits a spectacular architectural design. The metal bridge is quite high and designed in an S-like shape which makes it look very interesting. I recommend going up there after your coffee break to experience the view from above.
Afterwards, you can continue the trail along the water and climb up and down some soft hills. Along the way, there are some possibilities to have a short break and watch nature.
At the end of the trail, you can take a detour and further climb up the mountain to the Higashiyama Shrine. It takes about 10 minutes and some stairs but the view of Yamanaka from above is worth the climb! The shrine itself is also very beautiful and displays an interesting mix of traditional and modern elements.
Relaxing Afternoon: Shopping and Onsen
Before you finally leave the trail, have a look at the Basho-do Hut, a memorial site for the Japanese poet Basho and the place, where he is said to compose one of his famous haikus 300 years ago, while passing through Yamanaka. Then you cross the Kurotani Bridge and re-enter again the main center of Yamanaka. There are some restaurants on the way to the plaza where you can enjoy a late lunch and regain some energy before getting back to the shopping site for browsing for some souvenirs.
As mentioned before, Yamanaka is famous for its lacquerware craft. You can go to a lot of shops for finding the perfect lacquerware souvenir, but you can also visit the Yamanaka Lacquerware Traditional Industry Museum if you want to learn more about this tradition. The museum is located at the entrance of the city and there is also a nice gift shop included.
After a very active day, what’s better than taking a long, hot bath in the public bath house of Yamanaka? There you can test the highly praised waters yourself and see how well you feel afterwards. The women’s bathhouse is separated from the men’s, so each bathhouse has its own entry. Entry fee is 440 Yen and towels as well as bathing equipment are provided by the bathhouse.
If you don’t like going to an onsen, you can also relax your feet at the public foot bath at the plaza and enjoy the hourly music of the public clock.
Perfectly relaxed you can wait for the bus to take you home – I hope you had a great day at Yamanaka Onsen!