Noto Peninsula is located in the backyard of Kanazawa and stretches deeply into the Sea of Japan. Because of this geographical condition and the Tsushima Current, a branch current of the Kuroshio (Japan Current) flowing through the Tsushima Straight eastwards into the Sea of Japan, Noto Peninsula has been receiving various kinds of visitors from the Korean Peninsula. In the ancient time its port Fukuura was the official entrance port of the delegations from Balhae (*). Recently North Korean agents abducted innocent Japanese citizens from the deserted coasts of Noto Peninsula.
|(*)||Balhae: a successor state to Goguryeo and existed on the west coast of the Sea of Japan (698-926).|
When we visited Noto Peninsula, we found there nostalgic landscape; most houses were built in traditional design with black wooden boards covering their walls and shining black tiles on their roofs. Settlements were surrounded by paddy fields and hilly mountains covered by thick forest. Here and there shrines and temples were seen. Such a typical "satoyama" landscape was what I had long been missing in the neighborhood of Tokyo. In Tokyo it is even forbidden to cover the outer walls of houses with wooden plates, because they are weak against fire. However, here in Noto we can see everywhere that the tradition is alive. To my surprise, despite of the seemingly old fashioned appearance and the low density of people, the houses and settlements in Noto appear to be rich.
Coming from Tokyo, I changed trains at Echigo-Yuzawa from Shinkansen to a limited express Hakutaka. I got off at Kanazawa, while Hakutaka went further north to Wakura Onsen.
I rent a car a few days later in Kanazawa and drove to Wakura Onsen. Wakura Onsen is an old spa town, but now high-rise onsen hotels stand at its coast and their view does not correspond to my image of ideal onsen. Therefore, I did not spend much time there and drove through Notojima Island to Nishigishi. After visiting the famous unmanned railway station (see another article), we noticed a banner indicating an oyster restaurant operated directly by an oyster fisherman’s family beside its oyster processing firm.
We entered the restaurant where there was no other visitor because it was on a weekday just after Golden Week. Fresh oysters were delicious and cheap, though some cooked dishes were not well prepared. But, we should not complain, because no proper cook but a kind and friendly fisherman’s wife was standing in the kitchen and serving what she personally made.
An interesting place we visited was Shiroyone-Senmaida. More than 1,000 pieces of paddy field were constructed in terrace form on a steep slope facing the Sea of Japan. While there are many terraced rice fields in Japan, Shiroyone-Senmaida is located in an especially impressive landscape. In fact the agricultural landscape of Noto which I described above was nominated for a "Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems" by FAO in June 2011 and Shiroyone-Senmaida is the symbol of the agriculture landscape in Noto.
While the eastern coast of Noto has calm and peaceful sea, its north and west coast including the area of Senmaida has severe sea and landscape. There are also some interesting places such as Megane-iwa (spectacle rock) and Tarumi-no-taki (Tarumi waterfall). Even in Japan where there are many waterfalls due to steep mountains waterfall falling directly into the sea is a rarity.
The center of the northern Noto is Wajima. Its Kamogaura Coast is a rocky coast and in the winter we can see the coast covered with bubbles - people in Noto call them "wave flowers" – they are the products of phytoplankton subject to harsh wave and chilly temperature.
Wajima was traditionally a town of port for trading goods along the Japan Sea coast. In its prosperity the technique of producing high quality Wajima lacquerware (Wajima-nuri) was born and handed over generation by generation.
We can choose our favorite lacquerware objects in the morning market. A road of Wajima is occupied by stalls of fishermen's wives and other younger and older women. They sell among others seafood, flower and homemade pickles. There are a number of lacquerware and other handcraft shops along the street and if we are tired of shopping there are also Japanese confectioneries and coffee shops for temporary rest. Though there are many high quality and expensive lacquerware, I bought this mug cap at 1,000 yen for my daily use.
The most important cultural institution in Noto Peninsula is Soujiji, a respected head temple of Rinzai Zen Sect. An old temple was converted into Rinzai Zen temple in 1321 by Keizan Shokin (1268-1325) who was the restorer of Rinzai Sect. Sojiji was parallel to Eiheiji in Toyama Prefecture the center of Rinzai zen for centuries. However, it was severely damaged by fire in the early Meiji Period and Sojiji moved to Yokohama which is nearer to the capital of Japan than Noto and became the new center of Rinzai Sekt. The original Sojiji in Noto came to be called Sojiji Soin (Sojiji Original Temple). However, it still keeps a series of impressive buildings and despite of heavy damage to them by Noto Peninsula Earthquake in 2007, reconstruction works are smoothly going on. We could already enjoy the solemn and religious atmosphere in the court of Sojiji, when we were there.
Our final destination was Ganmon, a cave created underneath a rocky point. Compared with the east coast, the west coast of Noto Peninsula has more violent sea with stronger waves. It is therefore understandable that a fragile cliff rock could be eroded by strong winds and waves. There is a tradition that Yoshitsune hid himself in the cave to escape from pursuers. Yoshitsune was a younger brother of Yoritomo, the founder of the first samurai government, and the most popular tragic hero in many traditional literatures and theatres. After glorious victories against the common enemy Heike Clan, he fell under suspicion of treason by his brother. It is said that he was in the cave on his escape journey to the North. But, there is no evidence.
When we come from Tokyo, we feel a different time is flowing in Noto. Noto still keeps what we lost decades ago in Tokyo and its surroundings. In Noto Japan in nostalgia still exists in reality.