By Ignatius Koh
The diverse climates, local culture, and nature of the Hokuriku region also sculpt unique communities with a way of life that for those who live there is just normal. But for the traveler, this is an eye-opening experience that truly broadens one's horizons. Join us as we explore everything from claustrophobic pop-cultural caverns to remote villages where daily life has remained largely unchanged over the centuries.
Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma
Kusatsu is blessed with ample hot water with therapeutic qualities, and the main source is known as Yubatake, or "hot water fields." The town also boasts the ancient custom of yumomi, the stirring of the waters, whereby the steaming waters are stirred with wooden paddles to bring down the temperature for comfortable bathing. Visitors can watch daily performances of this ritual near the Yubatake.
Super Potato in Akihabara, Tokyo
There are many faces to contemporary Tokyo, with the "electric town" of Akihabara being one of the most iconic. Even that area has many faces of its own, with the townscape giving way to tiny shops packed with element after element of unique culture. Retro game specialist Super Potato is one such place, a museum to gaming containing more video games than it is possible to play in a single lifetime!
Owara Kaze-no-bon Matsuri Festival in Yatsuo, Toyama
The rural district of Yatsuo in southern Toyama City is the site of this annual folk festival, which takes place over the first three days of September. The festival is a prayer for a bountiful harvest and asks the gods to protect the rice crops from damage from the weather before they are harvested. In an area where farmers live at the mercy of the elements, these special dances have been performed by generation after generation for some 300 years.
Obuse Historic Town in Nagano
This tiny town is rich in both agriculture and culture. A 600-year tradition of chestnut cultivation is reflected in the tempting chestnut sweets on offer, while the local passion for gardening can be seen in the town's beautiful flower gardens. The renowned ukiyo-e woodblock print artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) also lived here for some years, and the town proudly pays homage to his artistry.
Ine-no-funaya Fishing Village in Kyoto
Featuring about 230 boat houses set on Ine Bay, Ine-no-funaya is quite unlike anywhere else in Japan! The buildings date back to the 1700s but have been lovingly maintained. Today the lower portions generally serve as boathouses for fishermen, while the upper levels are used as living quarters. Some have been turned into guesthouses, allowing visitors to experience the rhythm of life in this picturesque fishing hamlet.
Higashi Chaya District in Ishikawa
The chaya district was the traditional quarters of the elegant and sophisticated geisha, who entertained the town's elite with classical Japanese music and dancing. You can experience the ambiance of a bygone era with its beautifully preserved buildings, some of which have been turned into restaurants and gift shops, or drop into one of the remaining tea houses for an encounter with a modern-day geisha.
Sado Tub Boat in Niigata
Although they look like something from the pages of a children's picture book, these barrel-like "tub" boats served a very practical purpose during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). The shape provided stability in the coastal waters around Sado Island, where fishermen collected shellfish and seaweed. Today, boat women in traditional attire literally take tub loads of tourists for a short scenic trip in these unique vessels.
Dotonbori Arcade in Osaka
This lively entertainment area of Osaka never sleeps. As you head through the throngs of people that are there until the early hours of the morning, your arrival at Dotonbori will be marked by bright neon lights and sculptural signage pointing to its collection of bars, restaurants, and variety of shops. Alternatively, escape the crowds on a yellow boat river cruise right through the calm canals of central Dotonbori.
Obama Sancho-machi Historical District in Fukui
Due to its importance as a source of seafood and point of entry for commerce, this small coastal town in Fukui Prefecture had close ties to ancient Kyoto. As a result, Obama adopted Kyoto's elegant teahouse and geisha culture. A designated national heritage site, today the Sancho-machi area is a well-preserved reminder of a bygone era.
Shirakawa-go in Gifu
Set against a backdrop of verdant green in summer and pristine white in winter, the tiny rural village is nestled among the mountains of northwestern Gifu Prefecture. The steep, thatched roofs of the houses reflect an architectural style dating back hundreds of years. Known as gassho-zukuri, the style resembles hands clasped in prayer and is designed to withstand the region's heavy snowfalls.
Bell of Time and Warehouse District in Saitama
Take a step back in time as you stroll the streets lined with clay-walled warehouses dating back to the Edo Period (1603-1867). The architecture is reminiscent of the era when Kawagoe was a bustling center of commerce. Set in a three-story tower, the Bell of Time serves as a symbol of the area and chimes four times a day.
Hachiman-bori Canal in Shiga
This picturesque canal connects Omihachiman City to Lake Biwa, and once played an important role in the region's commerce. It also divided the nobles from the common folk, but these days anyone can experience a boat ride along the canal. Take in the traditional homes and white-walled storehouses that line the route, which is particularly lovely when the cherry blossoms bloom in spring.
For more information on rail passes, routes, and everything you need to plan your Hokuriku adventure, please visit the Explore Japan website below.
Explore Japan Official Website
Visit the official Hokuriku Arch Pass website here:
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