Now One Fast Train From Tokyo: Culture, Crafts and Hot Springs

At the southwest corner of Ishikawa, a verdant prefecture hugging the Sea of Japan, traditional craftsmanship thrives alongside contemporary art and architecture in the small towns that make up Kaga City.

Three of these towns — Katayamazu Onsen, Yamashiro Onsen and Yamanaka Onsen — are famous for their onsen, or hot springs. In centuries past, monks and merchant seamen made pilgrimages to these restorative waters. The 17th-century haiku master Matsuo Basho even penned two poems during a visit.

Japanese tourists still flock to Kaga’s onsen towns every fall, when the leaves turn fiery and snow crab is in season. But few foreigners find their way here, in part because the journey from Tokyo has not been easy.

That changed in March. A new extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, the high-speed train that rockets passengers from Tokyo to this region, now includes a stop at Kagaonsen station. The trip takes less than three hours on a single train.

When I first came to Kaga in 2015, the journey took two trains and nearly four hours from Tokyo. There was little English signage at the station and Google Maps didn’t yet list the (infrequent) local buses.

I had come to apprentice at a bar in Yamanaka, where I met people who craft wooden bowls, brew sake and make paper from mountain shrubs. Enchanted, I returned to write a book about how their work weaves into the vibrant local culture and community; by the time it was published, Yamanaka had become my home.

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