Coastal drives along the Noto Peninsula

Posted by in Mike's blog

We picked a spot and went on an impulse road trip for 3 days.

We realised recently that it had been a full year since we had gone anywhere in Japan that required an overnight stay.  2014 was a busy year with work and the kids.  We were also suffering from a small lack of inspiration – when we open maps, we only see places that we’ve already been to/are too far away/expensive/not kid-friendly.

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This was our route. I wish Google could estimate how long driving takes with kids in the back seat. That would be a cool feature!

The spot that we picked was the Noto Peninsula (能登半島) in Ishikawa, just one prefecture north of us.  Fukui is barely on the map.  To us, this place is way more remote.  Few people we spoke to before we left had been there.  According to preliminary research, there would be lots to see, but nothing was “on the way” to anywhere (peninsulas are like that).

We took the expressway to Kanazawa, then we proceeded along roads that we hadn’t been on before.  There’s a straight stretch along the west coast in before Hakui city that can include the Chirihama Nagisa Beach Driveway:  A beach with sand hard enough to drive along for 8km!  Unfortunately, it was closed because of waves.  This handy website lists the conditions in Japanese.  When we got to the area, we discovered why it had been closed – that straight stretch of highway was getting battered by crazy intense winds and rain.

We arrived in Suzu city by mid-afternoon.

An awesome public bath/guest house in Suzu

I used Airbnb made a reservation from December 30 to January 1.  The listing: “Historic Route249BathHouse Takarayu” (at the time, it could change in the future) was for up to 10 people for a flat rate of ¥5000 per night for a room in…something.  We knew a bit, but we found out more when we arrived.

It turned out that we were staying in a room adjacent to a GIANT (100 tatami mats) conference area with a stage.  Our room was big too.  This space was above a small public bathhouse – it was still public, and it was very much in use by the locals.  There was no private bath or shower.  Others may have been mortified…but we thought this was SO COOL.  The bath was a scalding 43ºC – perfect after long days of winter driving.

The bath/guest house was cool, but what really made our stay was our hosts.  The building, as well as a small sake shop across the street are owned by the same family.  The son ran the Airbnb part, his parents worked the sake shop and the front desk of the onsen, and his wife stayed at her parents’ place the whole time because she was 39 weeks pregnant!  The family lived across the street, and they surprised us by inviting us into their home for supper the day we arrived!  Food was not part of the reservation.  They didn’t charge us anything.  This was hospitality at its finest.

The son spoke a bit of English, his parents didn’t speak any.  We were served exquisite food…and the Bunny & Turtle made a scene.  The Turtle regurgitated his food and threw it at Mary, more than once while the Bunny attempted to explore their home and asked for candies instead of eating her food.  Nevertheless, we had a great time.  They invited us BACK after that, and not for just any meal.  We had breakfast with them on New Year’s Day.  That’s a big deal in Japan.  We were honoured.  The kids were…mostly the same.

The untouched coastal countryside

Most of the places we went on the Noto Peninsula looked like they hadn’t changed much in the past few hundred years.  The villages we drove through probably have the same families and industries now as they did last century, and the century before, and probably the one before that.  We split our time in and around Suzu and Wajima.  Suzu is the smallest city in Japan with  ~17 000 people.  Wajima is the biggest city on the peninsula with ~30 000 people.

We used wikitravel, the Ishikawa JET wikiRoad Trippin’ from Kanazawa and awesome insider info from our friend Walter (if you are reading this, THANK YOU!) for research before we set out and throughout the trip.  The views were awesome!  Mouseover or touch the photos to read more about our trip: