Chubu Region: Northern Chubu/Hokuriku
This is the region - made up of Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui Prefectures - between the Japan Alps and the Sea of Japan. It experiences heavy snowfall in winter and high temperatures in summer and is the country's main rice-growing area. Its coastal scenery, especially on the large Noto Peninsula, is among the most beautiful in Japan. On the other hand, the area is also home to about a third of Japan's nuclear power plants.
A craftsman making wajima-nuri lacquerware
A stone lantern in Kenrokuen, Kanazawa
The fifth-largest of Japan's islands, Sado has a rich and varied history. It was a place of exile during medieval times, but prospered from the early-17th century when gold and silver mines were opened. The Sado-kinzan gold mines are now a museum, located near Aikawa. It was an independent province until the late-19th century and now is part of Niigata Prefecture. The island is a rough H-shape with a plain sandwiched between northern and southern mountain ranges. There is a lot of picturesque coastal scenery and people also visit to see the old customs that live on here, such as the okesa dance. In 1999, the birth of a rare toki (crested ibis) chick named Yuu-Yuu on the island became the focus of national media coverage. A popular attraction of the port town of Ogi is a trip in the harbour in a round, wooden tub-boat. These boats were originally used by ama (women divers) for harvesting shellfish and seaweed. More recently, Ogi has become the venue for the annual Earth Celebration festival, held in August. The 3-day festival is hosted by the wonderful drum group Kodo and features the group playing with top-class musicians from around the world. The festival attracts hundreds of people from Japan and abroad. Ogi is also one of the island's ferry ports, connecting with Naoetsu on the mainland. The other is Ryotsu to the northeast which connects with Niigata. The trip takes 1 hour by hydrofoil or 2 hours 30 minutes by ferry.
This peninsula is largely mountainous and there is quite a difference between its 'inner' and 'outer' coasts. The 'outer' coast is bounded by the Sea of Japan and is rugged with lots of cliffs. The 'inner' coast, around and Toyama Bay, has many indents and inlets with great views of the Alps to the south. Myojoji temple, located halfway up the west coast, and Sojiji temple, near Wajima on the north coast, are important Buddhist centers (although the Sojiji site is now a branch temple - the original was moved to Yokohama in 19911). The coastline near Sojiji is known as Noto Kongo and is famous for its views and rock formations. The small city of Wajima is famous for its morning market, held on Kawai-cho Street, and the high-quality wajima-nuri lacquerware. A few kilometers east along the coast is Shirayone-senmaida, a scenic terrace of rice paddies overlooking the sea.
Coming back around on the 'inner' coast is the strange-looking island of Mitsukejima, with what looks like a wig of greenery on top. There is a beautiful view of the green islands in the small Tsukumo Bay, near Ogi Onsen. Further south, on the far side of Nanao Bay, is Wakura Onsen (hot spring resort). With salt water of up to 95 degrees Celcius, it is the largest on the peninsula and very popular.
Kanazawa was one of only two major cities to escape bombing during World War II - the other was Kyoto and Kanazawa is sometimes referred to as 'Little Kyoto'. Apart from places of historical interest, like the remains of the 16th-century castle, the old samurai town of Nagamachi and the geisha district of Higashi, the city also boasts Kenrokuen. Located next to the castle, it is considered one of the three best landscaped gardens in Japan. The park was begun in 1819 by the powerful Maeda family and continues to attract many visitors year-round. The city is known for such handicrafts as kutani ware (porcelain), kaga-yuzen (printed silk) and maki-e lacquerware, which can be obtained at the Kanko-bussan-kan (handicrafts center). Edo-mura is a village of 20 or so Edo Period (1600~1868) buildings, located in Yuwaku Onsen, about 12km from Kanazawa.
Between Kanazawa and Wakasa Bay, there are a large number of onsen around the coastal city of Kaga. The most famous are Katayamazu, Yamashiro and Awara. The former is a modern resort on the shores of Lake Shibayamagata while the others have many traditional inns with beautiful landscape gardens. The nearby scenic spot known as Tojimbo is made up of spectacular pillar-like rock formations, projecting up to 90m from the sea. The scenic Echizen Coast stretches for 100km from Kaga to Tsuruga in Wakasa Bay, with Echizen-misaki cape at its center. Echizen-yaki, sold mostly as gifts or for the tea ceremony, is another of the ceramic wares of the Hokuriku region. The area is also renowned for its crab seafood. The Mikata-goko (Mikata Five Lakes) are about 20km beyond Tsuruga and are a popular recreation spot. They are in the Wakasa Bay Quasi national park, which extends to the famous Amano-hashidate in Kyoto prefecture.
Fukui is another castle city and the capital of the prefecture. The existing castle is a reconstruction after the original was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and then again by an earthquake in 1948. Also worth seeing is Asuwayama Park.
- See our page on the official websites for each prefecture and major city: Guide to Japan's Regions and Cities