What do you get when you cross Shirakawa-go with Yamanaka? Kanazawa’s onsen town of Yuwaku.
A sleepy village set deep in the mountainous forests, Yuwaku Onsen is quiet getaway from central Kanazawa. With its 1300-year-old hot spring and slow pace, it’s easy to forget that it actually falls within Kanazawa’s city limits.
Beautiful any time of year, it shines in autumn and winter, when the natural hot springs can be most enjoyed against the chilly air.
Literally meaning “Edo town,” this open air museum hosts a dozen buildings ranging from the early Edo to the early Meiji periods. Each has a special history connecting it to Kanazawa and has been carefully reconstructed in its original style and, whenever possible, with the original materials. Each is unique yet distinctly Japanese, from the thatched farmhouse of the Daira family to the royal inn of the Ishikuras.
The English audio guide is excellent and gives ample information about each building and the people who resided within. To get the most out of your visit, I strongly recommend footing the deposit for them (1000 yen per unit, fully refunded upon return).
The other museum in Yuwaku is Yumeji-kan, named for artist and poet who made Yuwaku Onsen his home for a time. In addition to a selection of his works, the museum features his biography. In short, it is the the oft-romanticized story of the self-taught struggling artist who loved too hard and lived too short.
The gift shop near the front is free to enter and gives an accurate glimpse of the work inside. His style can be found elsewhere throughout Kanazawa as well. Yuzu Otome, a cider produced in Yuwaku, features his art on the label and is a main ingredient of Kanazawa Music Bar’s style of mojito.
Both Edomura and Yumeji-kan are free with the museum lovers’ Cultural Passport.
I passed the Shirasagi no Yu onsen house, intending to come back after a trek into nature…
Himuro Koya, Icehouse Cottage
Under the gasshou-style roof of this tiny hut by a lake on the mountainside rests a deep cellar. Centuries ago, ice and snow were packed into it and the chill held the ice through summer. Blocks of ice were specially cut and delivered all the way to the capital of Edo.
The ancient practice is still celebrated today at two events during the year. The last Sunday of January, the cellar is packed and June 30th, it is reopened. During these events, visitors are encouraged to share in the festivities and enjoy a specially-made manju for the event.
Outside of the events, the hut marks the entrance to Sansaku-en Park.
Yuwaku Sansaku-en Park
On this drizzling autumn day, I didn’t venture far in. The park takes up an entire hill, and nearly all travel, save the driving road on the north side, is up steps, some covered mud and leaves.
There are two flats, each with views of the surrounding misty mountains to reward the intrepid climber, along with a covered table. What a perfect place to picnic in the fall! Had I known before coming, I would have brought my own bento. (Should you have more forethought than I, always remember to bring your own trash back with you.)
After making my way down the path back into town, I crawled up the steps between the Yumeji-kan Museum and Shirasagi no Yu to dunk my feed into the Shirasagi Footbath. Despite the rising steam, the water was not as hot as I expected. I let my feet get soft in the water while I watched the rain tap the leaves of a tiny maple.
I popped further up the stairway to the small Yuwaki Inari Shrine. It was quiet today, but in October, this shrine hosts the late-celebrated Bonbori Festival, an homage to the festival of the same name from the anime Hanasaku Iroha (Blossoms for Tomrrow in the English dub), whose setting is based on Yuwaku.
Shirasagi no Yu, public onsen
Along the mountains, the mist reminded me of steam, but there was no mistaking the white clouds rising from Shirasagi no Yu as anything else.
After dropping off my umbrella at the front entrance, I was immediately met with a ticket vendor. I deposited 380 yen for the ticket for one adult, stepped inside where I took off my shoes and up to the register to give my ticket to the owner.
As with many onsens in Japan, the sexes are divided on a binary. Both the men’s and women’s sections have a large changing area with 100-yen coin lockers and an indoor bath. The ladies’ side also includes a small outdoor bath where bathers can enjoy the fresh air, a changing station for infants and toddlers, and an activity chair for a little one.
There’s no English, but plenty of illustrated signs. In short, remember to tie up the hair on your head so it doesn’t touch the water (no dunking), wash thoroughly at the showers before entering the baths, don’t sit too close to the water source, and don’t stare at others. How chatty everyone is feeling changes from time to time. As with all public onsens, this one accepts tattoos. (Keep in mind that many of Shirasagi’s regulars are older folks.)
The water wasn’t at all hard, though my skin felt soft after the soak. The bath warmed me up so much, I didn’t even need my jacket on the walk back, and that night, sleep came easily.
14 km from Kaname Inn Tatemachi
10 minutes by bus to Omicho Market (I got breakfast at Mori Mori Sushi), or Kanazawa Station
50 minutes by the No. 12 bus bound for Yuwaku (600 yen)
Look for “湯涌温泉 ゆき” on the front or ask the driver “Yuwaku ikimas’ka?”
Half a decade ago Rachel fell off a bus and then fell in love with this traditional-crafts and ice-cream-consuming capital of Japan. Editor and amateur photographer with a penchant for nature and history. Not actually fifty songbirds in a trench coat. (Former penname: Ryann)