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Off the beaten track in Japan – Ishikawa with kids

When winter hits Japan, travelling families muster on the ski slopes like flocks of Japanese red-crowned crane. The island nation is famed for its exquisite snowscapes and excellent powder skiing. But why not add a little garnish to your winter holiday in Japan? Veer off the beaten track and immerse in culture and tradition on a pre- or post-ski stop in Ishikawa prefecture. Sitting snug between the Sea of Japan and Japanese Alps, the north-western region makes for a perfect stay or day trip with primary schoolers and teens. From hot springs, Zen meditation classes and scrumptious cooking, Ishikawa is an exciting year-round addition to your family-friendly Japan itinerary.

Hot Springs in Ishikawa

After a few days on the slopes, you’ll be ready to soak your tired muscles in an onsen, or hot spring bath. Kick things off near Kanazawa, the capital of Ishikawa prefecture. Just south of the capital lies Kaga Onsen, a group of four traditional onsen villages. One of these is the well-known Yamanaka Onsen, whose springs were discovered by a monk more than 1300 years ago in the middle of the Kakusenkei Gorge. Splurge on a night in a luxury ryokan for the full experience.

Yamanaka Onsen, nestled in the autumn colours. Credit: Ishikawa Prefecture

Kenroku-en Garden

This 25-acre Kanazawa attraction promises to deliver at any time of year. One of Japan’s Three Great Gardens, its name translates to ‘six qualities.’ A wander through the garden makes it easy to see why; you’ll encounter spaciousness, tranquillity, artifice, antiquity, water features and stunning views in spades. Winter brings extra magic with snow-tipped trees and frozen ponds. Winter opening hours (8am to 5pm) extend until the end of February. From 1 March to mid-October, Kenroku-en Garden opens from 7am to 6pm.

Kenroku-en Garden transforms into a winter fairytale every year. Credit: Ishikawa Prefecture.

Kanazawa Castle and samurai culture

The culture of the old samurai districts of Ishikawa remains beautifully preserved. Once upon a time, more than 20,000 samurai warriors lived in Kanazawa under the command of the Maeda Clan. These feudal lords from Kanazawa Castle. Step back in time by wandering the castle grounds for free. Then visit the historical Naga-muchi district full of samurai-style mud-walled houses.

In April, cherry blossoms bloom at Kanazawa’s samurai castle. Credit: Ishikawa Prefecture

Zen Temple

Immerse in the simple beauty of Buddhist tradition at Sojiji Soin Buddhist temple. Stay overnight to experience how the monk’s live, sharing vegetarian meals and sleeping in traditional-style rooms with futon beds. You can also stop by for a day to see the historic buildings. An English-speaking monk in training runs guided Zen meditations – a unique family activity. The cost is 1000 Japanese yen or roughly $14AUD. The temple is in Waijima, which is a 2-hour express bus from Kanazawa.

Live like a Buddhist monk for the day at Sojiji Soin. Credit: Ishikawa Prefecture

Gold Leaf

Capital city Kanazawa’s name means ‘marshes of gold.’ It is from here that the vast majority of Japan’s gold leaf masterpieces are produced. Both delicate and decadent, the ancient craft is unmasked at Kanazawa Kinpaku. Make your own souvenir creation year-round, on any day but Wednesdays.

99% of Japan’s gold leaf crafts come from Kanazawa. Credit: Ishikawa Prefecture

Museums of art and architecture

The famous father and son duo of architecture, Yoshiro and Yoshio Taniguchi, are celebrated in a brand-new museum. Unveiled in July 2019, their Museum of Architecture is open daily from 9am to 5pm, ideal for inquisitive, design-minded teens. Children enter for free. Kanazawa also boasts a renowned 21st century Museum of Contemporary Art. The building itself looks like a UFO, and most of the art inside is interactive and immersive. Enjoy a work that will make you feel like you’re standing on the bottom of a swimming pool, a flower wall and a room with an open-ceiling showing off the canvas of the sky.

This quirky Museum of Contemporary Art is highly interactive and immersive, inside and out! Credit: Ishikawa Prefecture

Learn to cook

Is your family full of fans of Japanese cuisine? At any time of year, you can attend a cooking lesson in Kanazawa House. Collect your ingredients from Omicho market. Then make your own tempura, sushi or ishiru ramen. The best bit? Eating your creations!

Getting there

Flights from major Australian airports run direct to Tokyo. It is then an easy 2.5-hour shinkansen bullet-train ride to Kanazawa, Ishikawa’s capital. Cross Japan’s famous high-speed train off your list as you go!
Coming straight from the slopes? Catch a direct regional flight from Sapporo to Ishikawa’s Komatsu airport. If you were skiing at Nagano’s Hakuba or Shiga Kogen resorts, enjoy the 1-hour bullet-train from Nagano to Kanazawa. On a side note, Nagano is home to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you can see the famous snow macaques! Perhaps you were skiing in Ishikawa’s neighbouring prefecture, Gifu, which boasts 35 ski resorts. There are plenty of trains between the two regions.


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