While Kanazawa is becoming a popular destination among foreign tourists, few visitors venture up to the nearby Noto Peninsula, where Wajima, the largest town in the area, is located. Wajima is a rural town, overlooking the sea, with local vibes, and where you can buy fresh fish every morning at the town’s market.
Known among connoisseurs for its fine lacquerware, Wajima is also the birthplace of Go Nagai (the creator of Mazinger) and home to the museum that houses the impressive Kiriko Matsuri floats that light up the summer weekends on the Noto Peninsula.
Not reached by Japan’s rail network, Wajima is a niche destination for those seeking a Japan away from the crowds and classic destinations covered by theJapan Rail Pass. However, it is still conveniently reachable from Kanazawa in a couple of hours by bus.
The best option is still to rent a car; that way you will also have a chance to drive along Chirihama Beach on the way to Wajima!
We visited Wajima on a weekday, but if you can, I recommend visiting Wajima on a weekend. Being a rural town, with a much lower flow of visitors than other better-known locations, weekend are never overcrowded and some activities are implemented in the weekend. If you are going to visit Wajima during summertime, it is on the weekend that the very interesting matsuri take place and you can experience the unique atmosphere typical of these traditional celebrations.
If you’re moving by public transportation, I would recommend overnight in Wajima, since buses are infrequent and you need time to reach points of interest outside the city center. However, even with only one day available and good organization, you can visit the main things to see in Wajima.
Wajima Morning Market
The first stop to make when visiting Wajima is definitely its morning market: every day merchants arrive here, open their stalls, and sell their wares, each at the assigned place, until late morning. While weekly or even daily markets are quite common in some countries, in Japan, it is rare to find them nowadays. Usually, shopkeepers have permanent stores in commercial areas and not stalls that are dismantled and reassembled every day.
The stall are mainly run by women, often the wives of fishermen, and sell fresh and dried fish, but also handicrafts, pickles and souvenirs. The Wajima morning market has been held for more than a thousand years, every morning except on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, but it is best to visit on the weekend when the small barbecue area where you can grill freshly purchased fish, is also open!
Along Asaichi Street, where the morning market takes place, is also the Go Nagai Wonderland Museum, dedicated to the creator of Mazinger and other anime, who is a native of this very city. Admission 520 JPY.
Kiriko Hall Museum
Between July and September, the Noto Peninsula is animated by the lights of the Kiriko Matsuri held every weekend at various locations in the area. When not used in the matsuri, the impressive “Kiriko” lantern-floats can be seen at Kiriko Hall in Wajima, where they can also be admired from the elevated observatory.
There are also 3 floats dating back to the Edo period, which are truly impressive and still used in matsuri. The largest Kiriko is a whopping 18 meters tall, and to think that it is carried around on the shoulders of mikoshi bearers is definitely impressive!
Admission 630 JPY – open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wajima Nuri Kaikan Lacquerware Museum
For fans of lacquered bowls and utensils, Wajima is a veritable paradise. The products lacquered with Wajima-nuri are extremely durable and made from several layers of lacquer that allow for the repair of products ruined by time, thus never having to throw them away!
These fine products can be admired and bought at Wajima Nuri Kaikan, the Wajima Lacquer Museum.
The second floor is used as a shop and has free admission, while a fee of JPY 300is required for the second floor, open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Rice paddies of Shiroyone Senmaida
One of the absolutely unmissable things to see in Wajima are then the terraced rice fields of Shoroyone Senmaida, about a 30 min bus ride from the city center. Overlooking the Sea of Japan, they are an awe-inspiring landscape, especially in the springtime when the terraces are filled with water and seem to merge with the sea in front, in a landscape that becomes even more exciting with the colors and reflections of sunset. In summer, on the other hand, it is the deep green that gives the classic Japanese landscape, while in the winter months, when the rice fields are not covered with snow, 25,000 LED lights illuminate the shapes of the terraces, creating a surreal atmosphere.
Access to the rice fields is open and free year-round, and the illuminations run from October to March.
Sea Salt Production Center
Moving further away from the city center, along the coast of Okunoto, you will encounter sea salt production villages-one of the few areas in Japan where sea salt is produced! The two main areas where you can witness the salt production process are the Wajima Salt Station and the Okunoto Salt Village in nearby Suzu.
We went to the Wajima Salt Station where a very nice old man told us how salt is produced and the difficulty of producing it on precise timetables so as not to lose a single second of the precious sunshine that is used precisely to evaporate seawater. The tour is all in Japanese, but an English sheet is provided explaining the various steps. At certain times it is also possible to take part in the salt-making experience, or you can opt to create your own “salt mix”, which you can take home to season your dishes in style.
Moving away from the center of Wajima, but in the opposite direction from the rice fields and coast of Okunoto, is one of the two most important Soto Zen temples, Sojiji Temple.
Founded in 1321, it was also visited the following year by Emperor Godaigo, who proclaimed it a temple built for the Emperor and then authorized it to use the imeprial coat of arms of the chrysanthemum. The original temple was destroyed in a major fire and only one gateway survived, but now the reconstructed buildings can be seen, and even today Sojiji Temple is, along with Eiheiji Temple in nearby Fukui Prefecture, the focal point for Soto Zen Buddhism, and many monks come here to train in meditation. Visitors can also take part in zazen sessions, as well as get a taste of monastery life by overnight in the temple, eating vegan meals according to traditional Shojin Ryori cuisine, and participating in temple activities. Thanks to the presence of a monk originally from Germany, it is possible to communicate in English with ease.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, entrance 500 JPY
How to get to Wajima
Although the car is the recommended way to visit Wajima and the Noto Peninsula, you can also get to Wajima by a two-hour bus ride from Kanazawa, conveniently reached via Shinkansen covered by JRPass.
Alternatively, especially for those who do not have JRPass or want to activate it later, one can take a domestic flight to Noto Airport and from there reach Wajima by bus.
From downtown Wajima city there are buses (but beware they are infrequent) to both Sojiji Temple and the Shiroyone rice fields and salt production center.
Honestly, Wajima is not a suitable destination for a first trip to Japan, unless you have a lot of time or are looking for something away from the classic tourist destinations, but it is instead a recommended option for those who have already seen more touristy Japan and want to discover a more rural, slow-paced destination full of unique traditions.
Adoro viaggiare. Ma non ho mai abbastanza ferie. E non mi piace spendere. Però appena posso scappo, per scoprire posti nuovi, incontrare nuovi amici, capire nuove culture. Dalla gita fuori porta, alla vacanza all-inclusive, all'itinerario massacrante...perché rinunciare? Ogni occasione è buona per partire!