A taste of Real Japan: Yamanaka Onsen

Yesterday was my last day in Kanazawa so given my imminent departure I rang up Mio, my sensei in all things local, and jumped into her Jeep for a last minute excursion to the Japanese Alps.

Our destination, Yamanaka, was a tiny Onsen village crammed into a steep river valley some ninety minutes from Kanazawa. Clears skies made for temperatures reaching an uncomfortable thirty-five degrees but down on the valley floor the river acted as natural airconditioning: perfect for an easy hike upstream through groves of cypress trees. The river valley, barely altered by its occupants, had the appearance of a traditional Japanese garden, a simple stone pathway wound it's way through a blanket emerald moss that was interrupted only by a littering of spherical boulders and the occasional Gorintō (miniature pagodas that represent the five elements). Yamanaka is defineately of Kanazawa's better kept secrets and there were relatively few tourist, especially given that this was technically a resort town. Indeed, I think I was the only foreigner to have come to town which afforded several double-takes from those we passed.

As if things weren't already picturesque enough, the end of our ramble led us to a cluster of little wooden pavilions straddling a strip of land between the river and a natural pool so clean that you could see right through to the bottom. Here we were served Wakashi (Japanese sweets) and a serving of Bōcha, or “stick tea” and cake (600¥) that put Kyoto's teahouses to shame!

Sweet tooth indulged, we made our way back to the car late afternoon and drove down to Kaga Onsen, an unappealing resort town just north of the mountains. Though not much to look at, Kaga's claim to fame are the multiple hot springs that bubble up across the town, the legacy of close proximity to several volcanoes. This made it the perfect place to stop by for a dip in one of the local Onsen, or Japanese spas. Our bath of choice, a relatively modern Ryokan boasted a wide variety of baths, most interestingly a shallow pool with underwater sun loungers that jutted out over a nearby lake, giving you the feeling of being suspended out in the middle of nowhere, if you managed to ignore the ten other baths behind you that is!

Having simmered ourselves to a bright shade of pink, we headed back to the Kanazawa for the last time. Time has flown since I arrived here a month ago, and while I wish I could stay longer, I am glad to have been more than a tourist and really gotten to know the city and it's people. Next post, I will write a little more about my experiences at the hostel and what impact I feel they may have had on my Japanese.

The Cat's Cradle

Fancy a quick break?

The river.

Somewhere along the trail.

Bōcha cake, Wakashi and Tea. Yum.


Traditional Japanese sweets (Wakashi) in a Matcha Tea soup.


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