Let’s Play it by Ear!
Let me start by saying that I’m jealous that tourists can get a JR rail pass. This free ticket to ride even gives you access to most Shinkansen bullet trains. You’re losing money by not abusing it! How about a spontaneous day trip away from Kanazawa? You don’t have to change your hotel or carry your baggage. This article introduces a few ideas for a day trip to a city in the fabulous Noto Peninsula. Don’t sweat the small stuff—Let’s play it by ear!
Published: January 31, 2011
Skyscrapers and Spas!
December 8: An unexpectedly beautiful day. The urge to travel to Nanao hit me that morning. Kanazawa has fickle weather, so I jumped on the chance. Armed with my trusty camera, I rushed to Kanazawa station to catch Thunderbird #5, which departs at 11:09, making it the earliest limited express train for Wakaru Onsen.
An hour later I arrived at the final station on the JR Nanao line. It was my first time there, and I felt like a total stranger. Private limousine buses from classy spas were lined up outside waiting for their guests to arrive. Of course, I wasn’t one of them. Anyone can take a cab, but I prefer more public transportation. I asked a bus driver which line I should take, and he pointed me in the right direction. I didn’t know how long the ride would take, or what the fare would be. All I knew is that the bus stop was on the busy street overlooking the ocean. No sooner had I started off towards it that the bus pulled up, displaying “Bound for Noto-Jima island.” Apparently it goes through the spa area. Since this was a weekday, my only companions were a few elderly passengers.
After a few stops, I arrived in the heart of the spa town. I expected that I would be on the ocean, but in reality multiple high-rise spa buildings blocked my view and I lost sight of the sea. Skyscrapers first, spas second.
Wakura Onsen has a 1200 year history. Legend has it that a fisherman found a white heron treating its wounds at a hot spring. Near the ocean I first found a nice park with a hand bath, heated bench, and, more. They say that the 90℃ water is good for neuralgia, arthritis, backache, and other ails. Checking the water at in the hand bath revealed that, yeah, it’s pretty hot!
It’s snack time! Not having eaten anything since the morning, I needed to replenish my sugar reserves. I had no idea if I could find a restaurant or café in this strange land, so I bought a Miso-Manju cake and a bottle of Japanese tea at the station just in case. This local confectionary is famous in the Noto Peninsula. Taking a break on the heated bench outside was so comfortable.
As a matter of fact, I’ve stayed at one of those spa hotels with my parents when I was a kid. All I can remember is the gorgeous dinner served in our private room, and the ocean. I wonder how much it all cost? My parents aren’t wealthy, but we would have these luxurious treats from time to time. We went by car and didn’t bother to explore the town, opting to hole up in the hotel. That’s not so uncommon, however—Most spa hotels are so big that you never need to go outside. My parents took several soaks in the hot springs, while I explored the huge building with my brother. Modern hotels even provide night cruises or fishing packages.
Next up is the plaza, Waku-Ura no Yutsubo. You can’t miss the bronze statues of white herons. On my way there I found that many stores were selling raw eggs. Half-boiled eggs, or Onsen-Tamago, go hand in hand with hot springs, but this town lets you boil your own! A shop owner provided me with a simple explanation. It takes 20 minutes to boil, and at only 30 yen per egg, it’s a steal!
The eggs are normally cooked in the heated hot spring waters, which leaves the yolk slightly hardened and the white fluffy. Eating Onsen-Tamago is almost a national pastime.
Normally you’d sprinkle salt on a boiled egg, but the owner suggested I try it au natural. Not bad, not bad. The spa is on the ocean, so the water I used to cook the egg contained sea salt. Pre-salted eggs. Amazing!
Time to move to the next destination! Checking the bus stop timetable, I made sure that I could go directly to Nanao Station. Taking pictures on the bus roused the driver’s suspicion. He probably thought I was a lost tourist. “Do you know where you’re going?” He asked me. Yes, thank you very much! To my surprise, the elderly passengers also seemed concerned about me. Deep down I felt relieved—If I needed help, the people of Noto would be happy to give it to me.