Located on the west coast of Japan’s main Honshu island, Ishikawa juts out into the Sea of Japan and is bordered by Toyama, Gifu and Fukui prefectures. Continue reading for ultimate Ishikawa prefecture travel inspiration and find out more:
Combining tradition, nature and modernity, Ishikawa is an ideal destination for those who truly want to soak up their surroundings – quite literally. There are geothermal hot springs (Onsen) to enjoy in the southernmost region of Kaga and Hakusan, while neighbouring Kanazawa offers a fascinating deep-dive into samurai districts. Further north, the Noto Peninsula is particularly remarkable for its scenic coastlines paired with authentic landscapes. Discover what else Ishikawa Prefecture has to offer with its much-loved Kanazawa City and further afield.
Wondering how to get to Ishikawa? Hop aboard the shinkansen (bullet train) or express train from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya. Trains pull into Kanazawa and Kaga Onsen stations with a journey time of 1hr50min to 3hr. You can also fly into Komatsu Airport or the Noto Peninsula from Tokyo, with a flight time of around 1hr. Or do you fancy travelling by road? Buses can be a much more affordable option and depart from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Shirakawago to Kanazawa and Kaga Onsen and take an average of 4hr, with night buses running from Tokyo (8hr30min/10hr).
Local cuisine is one of the top specialities in Ishikawa. Dining at a restaurant that serves multi-course Kaga-ryori cuisine offers up the chance to taste the area’s natural ingredients, while opting for Jibu-ni will see you tuck into stewed duck or chicken with vegetables and mushrooms, another hallmark of Ishikawa prefecture food.
Food aside, Ishikawa’s other speciality is in its craftsmanship. For centuries, talented craftspeople have shaped Ishikawa’s artistic culture, creating specialised crafts such as gold leaf, Ohi ware, Kutani porcelain and Kaga-yuzen silk dyeing. There are ample opportunities to experience this artisan skill yourself, from visiting museums to meeting local artisans.
Start off your Ishikawa prefecture travel in Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture. This is a city with a rich heritage; the ruling Maeda family had a seat of power here during the Edo period and were responsible for building the sweeping Kenrokuen Garden and expansive Kanazawa Castle, both of which you can visit today. Its history can also be explored in the former Nagamachi samurai quarters and traditional teahouse districts, as well as in its skilled craftspeople who use a silk-dyeing technique called Kaga-yuzen to create kimonos. Kanazawa’s artisan craft still reigns supreme today, producing 99 percent of Japan’s gold leaf. While traditional aspects of Kanazawa make it an ideal spot to visit, there’s also a burgeoning modern side to the city as well, namely in its 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa and Katamachi and Korinbo entertainment districts.
Famed for being one of the country’s best traditional landscaped garden, Kenrokuen Garden is one of the top places to visit in Kanazawa city. Situated next to the equally impressive Kanazawa Castle, this vast garden is perfect for a stroll through, where you can admire cherry blossoms in the spring, thick green moss in the summer, Japanese maple trees in the autumn and bamboo- and rope-supported trees in the winter to protect against the snowfall. Kenrokuen Garden combines six diverse garden elements which not only gives the garden its name (“garden of the combined six”) but its popularity, too. While you’re here, don’t skip the eighteenth century-built Yugao-tei teahouse, which is the site’s oldest surviving structure.
This historic neighbourhood is made up of cobblestone streets, restored Edo period homes and earthen walls. Nagamachi was where wealthy samurai once resided with their families; similar neighbourhoods gradually expanded around other parts of Kanazawa. This fascinating insight into unique Japanese culture can be best appreciated at the likes of the Nomura Residence, where you can view an authentic full suit of samurai armour on display. To see the other end of the scale, pay a visit to the Ashigaru Museum to see what life was like for the lower-ranked foot-soldiers.
As fascinating as Kanazawa’s heritage is, there’s no denying the buzz that surrounds the modern aspects of the city, too. Make time to visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa where you can take in a range of forward-thinking artworks created by local and international artists alike. As well as a range of permanent displays, there’s also art installations that double up as jungle gyms – perfect if you have children with you! All of this is included in its free entrance price, with a small charge required to view the roster of temporary exhibitions.
The northern section of Ishikawa is the Noto Peninsula, which stretches out roughly 100km into the Sea of Japan. Surrounded by the sea, this is the spot to come to for spectacular coastlines, mountain views and idyllic landscapes. While you can easily make the most of the great outdoors here, just as important is its thriving agriculture scene. The Noto Peninsula is home to one of the three largest morning markets in Japan serving up fresh seafood and vegetables – all in all, it’s a great spot to taste some delicious Ishikawa prefecture food!
Combine the best aspects of the Noto Peninsula with a trip to Shiroyone Senmaida Rice Terraces. Here you’ll be rewarded with coastal viewpoints and natural surroundings, all while you’re immersed in an esteemed agricultural tradition. Due to the rice terraces’ steepness, rice is planted and harvested by hand, which has led it to be recognised by the UN as part of a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.
Simmer by the seaside at Wakura Onsen. This hot-spring resort has a whole host of accommodation options to choose from, from smaller inns to larger hotels. People have enjoyed these natural hot springs for the last 1200 years, but there’s plenty more to do in the area too – in Yuttari Park you can enjoy a footbath while overlooking Nanao Bay.
The 2000-year-old Keta Taisha Shrine is surrounded by highly sacred woods called Irazu no Mori. It’s long been associated with romance as it worships Onamuchi, the deity of love. Impressively, you can still see the shinmon gate still standing today, which was built around 1584, and the haiden worship hall which was built in 1654. It’s also the site of two annual festivals: Heikokusai Festival (March) and Umatsuri Festival (December). Romance, history and festivals alike are all celebrated here.
The southernmost section of Ishikawa prefecture, Kaga and Hakusan combines tranquility and nature with sports and an abundance of activities. In Kaga you can enjoy its numerous geothermal hot springs between the valleys or surrounded by historical scenery, while in Hakusan you can climb Mount Hakusan, one of the top three most spectacular mountains in Japan. In the summer months, you can even go paragliding, which offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience along with unforgettable views.
Head out on a scenic walk on a designated trail through Kakusenkei Gorge. Spanning 1.3km from Korogi Bridge to Kurotani Bridge, highlights along the route include unique rock formations, the S-shaped Ayatori Bridge and a statue of revered haiku poet Matsuo Basho. Once you’ve taken in the route, stop off at the cafe near Ayatori Bridge for a well-deserved respite.
Hike your way up Mount Hakusan, truly one of the most unmissable experiences in all of Ishikawa. Not only is it the region’s tallest mountain but it also has sacred connotations and has been a site of worship for centuries. There are various hiking routes to choose from, but one of the most popular starts at Bettodeai, and takes up to five hours to reach the summit. You can easily break it up with a stay at a campground or lodging facility – just be sure to book in advance!
Your trip to Kaga and Hakusan wouldn’t be complete without an Onsen visit, and Yamashiro Onsen boasts high-end ryokan accommodation and an old public bath to boot. This is a fantastic way to immerse yourself into the cultural heritage of this region in the most relaxing way possible, as you can choose to soak yourself in Soyu (the public bath) or Ko-Soyu (the old public bath). While you’re doing so, be sure to take in the restored architecture and local Kutani porcelain tiles.
You may find that while larger stores accept credit cards, the majority of other businesses only accept cash – so plan accordingly, whether you opt for a currency exchange service or take out a cash withdrawal.
Travelling with baggage? Not to worry: Kanazawa Station and Kuroneko Hotto Station have coin-operated lockers, allowing visitors to safely store luggage in a convenient location. On a similar note, Kanazawa Station runs a luggage courier service, meaning that your bags can be delivered anywhere in Ishikawa on the same day.
As well as free wi-fi spots and tax-free shopping (conditions apply), tourist information centers can be found all over Ishikawa and provide the latest information, multilingual brochures and personalised advice.
Ishikawa is a terrific region with more than enough to offer travellers, from ancient traditions to rejuvenating natural resources. Our Ishikawa guide has all the information you need to start planning your next trip.
Top image: Yamashiro Onsen hot springs resort district © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
This article was created in partnership with Ishikawa Travel.
Aimee is an in-house Senior Travel Editor at Rough Guides and is the podcast host of The Rough Guide to Everywhere. She is also a freelance travel writer and has written for various online and print publications, including a guidebook to the Isle of Wight. Follow her on Twitter at