The Hokuriku region (北陸地方) is located in the northwestern part of Honshu, the main island of Japan. For both domestic and international tourists in Japan, the Hokuriku region is less explored as it is less conveniently connected to the rest of Japan previously.
Starting from March 2015, the Nagano Shinkansen line introduced a new extension providing service to Kanazawa. The new trains that run to Kanazawa, called the Hokuriku Shinkansen, have three different shinkansen, all of which are available with the use of the Japan Rail Pass.
In the past, to explore the area, one would need to take a flight to Komatsu Airport in the city of Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, of which Kanazawa is the capital. Travel is then carried out from there using local trains or motor vehicles.
With the new Hokuriku Shinkansen, one can now travel from Tokyo to Kanazawa in just 2.5 hours!
Why explore Hokuriku?
If you like nature, hot spring, small towns and a more laid back vacation in a quieter backdrop, this is the area to be in Japan. I understand that Hokkaido is the most popular travel destination for Singaporeans traveling to Japan and I am assuming it is because we like the cooler weather plus it is less crowded. Singaporeans live in a cosmopolitan city packed with over 5.8 million people on a tiny 700 hectres island. It is no wonder we prefer holiday destinations where there is no or less people everywhere!
How to explore Hokuriku on the new Hokuriku Shinkansen line?
Consider getting the JR Hokuriku Area Pass, a rail pass for exclusive use by foreign tourists. It provides pass holders with four consecutive days of unlimited travel on designated JR train lines (including unreserved seats on limited express trains) in the Hokuriku Region. It can be a good pass for exploring the area around Kanazawa, Kaga Onsen, Fukui and other attractions in the region. If you purchase it outside Japan or online, it cost just 5000 yen for a 4 consecutive days pass versus 5500 yen if you purchase it within Japan.
Do you have a recommended itinerary for exploring the Hokuriku region?
I went on a one week trip touring the Hokuriku region of Japan, visiting 9 prefectures, starting from Tokyo to Saitama to Gunma to Toyama to Ishikawa to Fukui to Osaka where I took a flight back to Singapore. Sounds crazy and packed, but it is very doable with the new Shinkansen route, covering over 2,000 kilometres.
Below is a condensed version of my itinerary for sharing. I will be sharing more detailed individual posts for each destination later on.
Starting from Tokyo, we got our Shinkansen tickets and took a train ride to Omiya Station, a railway station in Ōmiya-ku, Saitama. We checked into Palace Hotel (Address: 1-7-5 Sakuragicho, Omiya Ward, Saitama, Saitama Prefecture 330-0854, Japan, Phone: +81 48-647-3300), a business hotel located just by the station.
The next day, we set off to explore Saitama prefecture, coving the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum (Address: Japan, 〒331-0804 Saitama Prefecture, Saitama, 北区土呂町２丁目２４−３, Phone:+81 48-780-2091), the world’s first public bonsai art museum; Kawagoe’s Warehouse District (蔵造りの町並み, Kurazukuri no Machinami) which provides a nostalgic scene from the Edo Period (1603-1867) of Japan; and Kashiya Yokocho (Candy Alley, 菓子屋横丁). The latter is a bustling old town with many unique stalls and is worth spending some time exploring.
In the evening, we depart from Omiya Station and headed to Takasaki Station, a railway station located in Yashimachō, Takasaki, Gunma, where we checked into a ryokan hotel in the Ikaho Onsen District (伊香保温泉).
The next day, we explored the Ikaho Onsen District by foot in the morning.
Ikaho Onsen is a hot spring town located on the eastern slopes of Mount Haruna. Known for its reddish brown, iron-laden thermal waters, Ikaho Onsen is one of the four most famous hot spring resorts of Gunma Prefecture. The rustic old town area of Ikaho centers around the 300 meter long stone stairs which lead up through the middle of town and are lined by ryokan and old fashioned shops.
We then headed to Haruna Lake and Mount Haruna. At the centre of Mount Haruna stands a perfectly symmetrical, cone-shaped projection called Haruna Fuji, due to its resemblance to Mount Fuji. A ropeway leads up to the top of Haruna Fuji, from where we get to look out over the surrounding landscape. It was foggy when we visited, so we did not get much of a view.
You may find Mount Haruna familiar if you are an avid manga and anime fan. This is because this is the mountain where the story of the hit car-racing series, Initial D, was set.
In the evening, we visited the Usaburo Kokeshi factory to learn more about the art of making traditional Japanese kokeshi dolls. This is one of my favourite attractions, where tradition meets contemporary, through the preservation of the art of making kokeshi dolls.
We then took another shinkansen ride from Takasaki Station to Kurobe Unazuki Onsen Station in Kurobe, Toyama, checking into a ryokan hotel, Unazuki Suginoi Hotel upon arriving.
There are lots of cosy and accessible ryokan in the west coast of Japan, thanks to the beautiful nature. In my 7 days trip, we stayed at 3 different ryokan hotels over 3 nights.
The next day, we spent the morning exploring the Kurobe Gorge on the Kurobe Gorge Railway which operated small rail trains for tourists. We took the train from Unazuki to Kanetsuri and back, visiting a natural foot hotspring along the way.
We then visited the Shinminato Kitokito Market where we participated in a short sushi making class, followed by a seafood dinner.
In the evening, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage site, Gokayama Ainokura Gassho-zukuri Village, a village consisting of many straw-roofed traditional Japanese houses which reminded me of the village the cartoon characters, smurfs live in.
Gokayama was registered as an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in December, 1995. Thatched-roof houses called Gassho-zukuri (style) are precious examples of an old farmhouse style which exist only in Gokayama and Shirakawa-go in Japan today. In Gokayama, there are 23 Gassho-style houses in Ainokura and 9 in Suganuma.
We then departed from Shin-Takaoka Station and headed to Kanazawa Station in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, checking into the Kanazawa Miyako Hotel.
The next day, we explored Ishikawa prefecture in the day, visiting Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Garden as well as a tea ceremony experience at Gyokuseninmaru Garden which is within walking distance.
From 1583 to the end of the Edo Period, Kanazawa Castle (金沢城) was the seat of the powerful Maeda Clan, lords of Kaga, a feudal domain ranking second only to the Tokugawa possesions in terms of size and wealth. Today, it is one of the must-see visit when you visit Kanazawa, because of it’s historical importance.
We also got to make gold leaf chopsticks in the Higashi Chaya District, a historic entertainment district with teahouses where geisha perform.
In the evening, we departed from Kaga Onsen Station to head for Awara Onsen Station in Awara, Fukui, Japan, where we checked into another ryokan hotel, Awara Onsen Mimatsu.
We went to the Ski Jam Katsuyama ski resort for a site inspection, followed by the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (Address: Japan, 〒911-8601 Fukui Prefecture, Katsuyama, 村岡町寺尾51−11, Phone: +81 779-88-0001). The latter is one of the main attractions in Fukui.
This was followed by visiting the Eihei-ji Shrine and Tojinbo.
Eihei-ji is the main headquarters of the Zen sect Sotoshu. It was opened in 1244 as a temple for practicing Zen meditation, and is one of a number of old Japanese temples with a history of more than 750 years.
Tojimbo is a magnificent scenic spot where you can catch sight of waves breaking along 1 km of cliffs on the Japan Sea. The peculiar rock formations were caused by magma solidifying to form pentagonal and hexagonal columnar rocks called “columnar joints”. These pyroxene andesite columnar joints are a very rare geological phenomenon, and only exist in three places in the world.
From Fukui Station, we took a train ride to Osaka Station, where we stayed for the night at Osaka Shin-Hankyu Hotel before heading back the next day.
As you can see, we covered a lot of destinations within just 7 days. You can do the exact same route too to explore the west coast, traveling from Tokyo to Osaka and then flying back straight from Osaka. My recommendation is to do a 2 weeks tour on the same route so as to have a more leisurely tour.
Stay tuned for my upcoming individual travel posts on Saitama, Gunma, Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures which I will cover each of their must-visit sites in more details.