Many of us are familiar with Japan’s famous high-speed bullet trains called shinkansen. Operated by Japan Railway Company – called JR for short – the shinkansen network consists of multiple lines, amongst which the oldest and most popular is the Tokaido Shinkansen that connects Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, reducing rail travel time from eight hours to only three.
The Hokuriku Shinkansen line was popularly known as Nagano Shinkansen because it connected Tokyo to Nagano in 1997 for Nagano Winter Olympics. Over a year ago, the service is extended to Kanazawa, which is part of the Hokuriku region. Hokuriku Shinkansen connects passengers between Tokyo and Kanazawa for only two hours and a half.
|Standard Class (unreserved)||Standard Class (reserved)||Green Car||Gran Car|
|Tokyo ⇔ Negano||¥7,680|
|Tokyo ⇔ Toyama||¥12,210|
|Tokyo ⇔ Kanazawa||¥13,600|
The new extension into the Hokuriku region allows travellers to access more destinations, especially within the Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures. By purchasing the 7-Day, 14-Day or 21-Day Japan Rail Pass, travellers can enjoy unlimited rides on all JR trains, including the shinkansen, allowing them to really optimise their visit to the Hokuriku region.
There are other regional passes too such as the Hokuriku Arch Pass, which is an unlimited-ride pass for affordable trips to Tokyo/Osaka and Hokuriku areas. A 7-Day Pass can be purchased from outside Japan for ¥24,000 (MYR 934.15).
Experiencing the Hokuriku Region
The Hokuriku region includes Ishikawa, Fukui, and Toyama Prefectures. The following is the itinerary covering the said prefectures using shinkansen during a three-day jaunt, which readers can use as ideas on what to see and do. Gaya Travel Magazine’s trip to Hokuriku was made possible by Hokuriku Shin-Etsu District Transport Bureau, together with Japan Tourism Agency.
Day 1 – The Shinkansen Ride to Kanazawa
As we arrived at Narita International Airport near Tokyo, we went directly to Tokyo Station to board the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Two hours and a half later, we arrived at Kanazawa Station.
We had lunch at Omi-cho Market. The menu was kaisen-don, a rice bowl with various sashimi (raw seafood) on top. Kaisen-don is famous in Kanazawa, and the best place to get it is definitely at Omi-cho Market, the largest fresh food market in Kanazawa that began since the Edo Period, 280 years ago. This market opens from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Though open throughout the day, the market is more hectic in the morning and afternoon.
Since the day was still early, we walked around Higashi Chaya District, one of the three Chaya districts that are still alive in Kanazawa. We were lucky to spot several geisha girls walking under street lights as the day slowly turned to dusk.
Day 2 – Kanazawa, the Capital City of Ishikawa Prefecture
In the morning, we were taken on a trip to learn the history of Kanagawa and why it is still called Kaga Hyakuman Goku, etymologically originated from the era when the Maeda clan was in power over Kaga (known today as Kanazawa). Kaga means “a million koku of rice”, symbolising Kaga’s wealth, whilst koku was a traditional unit used to measure the production of rice. This phrase is still used to refer to Kanazawa until today.
Then we were brought to the world-famous Kenroku-en Garden, one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan”. We then walked across the street to Kanazawa Castle Park where most parts of the original castle have been restored. We were told that Gyokusen’inmaru Garden next to Kanazawa Castle was reconstructed just in time for the launch of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, which should be visited by all travellers.
About 10 minutes’ walk to the southern gate of the castle park, we visited 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, where exhibitions of renowned contemporary artists from Japan and all over the world are being held. Amongst the most prominent artworks being exhibited is the clever Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich.
Before leaving Kanazawa, we visited Nagamachi Samurai House District where many samurai houses are still preserved, either by corporate organisations or the descendants of the samurais and wealthy merchants. One of the samurai houses that is open to the public is the Nomura Samurai House, which contains archives and artefacts from the samurai era. Before leaving, we recommend that visitors stop at Taro’s Yokan for a cup of Japanese tea to enjoy Japanese traditional sweets made of red bean paste, jelly and sugar called yokan.
We then travelled an hour to the south to Yunokuni No Mori, a traditional handicraft village in Komatsu. This is a theme park for tourists to experience Kaga traditional cultural amenities of Hokuriku like ceramicware, silk, lacquerware, paper-making and gold leaf. Afterwards, we had keiseki lunch before taking a tour around this vast cultural village.
At Gold Leaf House, we learned the delicate procedure on how to make gold leaf decorations on the cover of a hand mirror. Japan takes pride in its gold-leaf handicraft, which has an elaborate history since the days of early Christianity throughout many cultures and civilisations. However, it is significantly special in Ishikawa because Kanazawa boasts 99% of gold leaf domestic production in Japan.
Yunokuni No Mori offers more for tourists to learn deeper about Kaga culture and participate in hands-on activities such as Kutani Ceramicware, Kaga Yuzen printed silk, tea ceremony, Wajima Lacquerware, Washi Japanese Paper and more. Travellers are recommended to spend half a day here.
On our way to Tōjinbō, we visited the famous Korogi Bridge, also known as Cricket Bridge. This area consists of three bridges: Korogi Bridge, Kurotani Bridge, and the unique S-curved shape Ayatori Bridge. This scenic area is beautiful throughout the four seasons.
Later that evening, we travelled for an hour heading south-west to Tōjinbō in Fukui Prefecture to catch the sunset. Unfortunately, we were 10 minutes late. We were told that Tōjinbō is one of the most amazing spots to watch the sunset in Japan. Although we missed it, we were still able to witness the colourful evening sky over the Japan Sea at dusk.
We stayed the night at Mikuni Kanko Hotel in an area called Awara Onsen, famous for its variety of ryokans and Yunomachi Hiroba, where we get to see a filming of a Japanese movie being done. That night we experienced Japanese onsen culture, which was relaxing and rejuvenating.
Day 3 – Fukui Prefecture
In the morning, the autumn air was fresh and breezy. We walked through the historical port city of Mikuni Minato-machi. This port has been in existence for 1,700 years along the Kuzuryu River.
Mikuni is still an important port for Japan Sea trading. Many merchant stores and samurai mansions still exist, including several shrines.
Every year, between May 19-May 21, Mikuni Festival is held where big warrior dolls as tall as six metres are paraded on floats along the street heading towards Mikuni Shrine, accompanied by ohayashi (traditional Japanese festival music comprising flutes and drums).
Other than the old shops and houses, we recommend a visit to Kitamae-dori to taste delightful gourmet and a stay at Tsumesyo Mikuni Inn, a converted traditional machiya townhouse in a project led by Alex Kerr, a researcher of eastern culture, especially Japanese culture.
We left Mikuni and headed to Maruoka Castle, 40 minutes away by bus. Like every other castle in Japan, Maruoka Castle has gone through several lords since 1576 until it was completely destroyed by earthquake in 1948. It was reconstructed in 1955 and is part of the Important Cultural Properties of Japan because it has the oldest donjon (fortified tower).
For lunch, we then feted on the popular Takeda deep-fried tofu at Taniguchiya, located along the winding road climbing up Mount Hakusan near Sakai City. Taniguchiya takes pride in its tofu because they are made from selected soybeans, oil and salts.
That was the first time ever we have ever tried Takeda deep-fried tofu. It has the texture of a croissant but square-shaped, moist and salty but tastes creamy in the mouth. It is best served hot on the plate together with miso soup, deep-fried potato balls and either cold soba or brown rice. When visiting Fukui and Sakai City, travellers should ask around how to reach this restaurant.
Before leaving Fukui Prefecture, we made two more stops. First, we visited Fujino Foods Co to learn how to make fish-based miso and grilled fish sticks. Second, we stopped by at the biggest fish market along the coast of the Sea of Japan, Sakana Machi Seafood Market in Tsuruga City. The vendors in this market sell all kinds of seafood from white fish meats and big shrimps to fresh octopus and giant crabs. Travellers can eat fresh sea food at any of the food stalls and restaurants located inside the market. The Japanese consider this market as one of the cheapest places for seafood in the country.
With our bellies full of fabulous Japanese food, we took a train at Tsuruga Station that took us along the Hokuriku Line through Osaka and Kyoto towards Kansai. We stayed a night at Kansai Airport Washington Hotel before departing back to Kuala Lumpur in the morning.
It was indeed an amazing experience exploring Hokuriku regions, especially the part least travelled by foreigners. Malaysians rarely talk about this region and we feel that many would love to experience it using the iconic shinkansen. We hope that Japan Railways could further extend its shinkansen services throughout the Hokuriku regions all the way from Kanazawa to Osaka and Kyoto while passing by Fukui and Toyoma along the way, which would be a boon to all travellers.
Gaya Travel Magazine expresses our heartfelt gratitude to Hokuriku Shin-Etsu District Transport Bureau and Japan Tourism Agency for making our trip to Hokuriku a reality. Browse www.jreast.co.jp/E/routemaps/hokurikushinkansen.html for more info on the Hokuriku region using shinkansen.