Central Gems of Japan

We’ve left the charm of Kyoto and the flash of Tokyo behind, swung a left on Mt. Fuji—poetically speaking, of course—and now find ourselves deep in Japan’s Chubu region, where each season carries a different palette and nature puts on a show at every turn. Famous for keeping tradition and therapeutic onsen (hot springs), for rugged mountains and flashes of angry sea, it’s a part of Japan that loves visitors yet sticks to its roots when it comes to attractions.

in kanazawa Sitting by the Sea of Japan, Kanazawa is a treasure chest of customs and conventions. Visitors wanting to dig deep into Japanese culture will have a ball here. It’s home to Kenrokuen Garden, regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful, with more than 27 acres of tranquil, strolling landscape with ponds, short bridges and fountains adding to the mix. During the fall, we got an eyeful of crisp reds and yellows and more cold than we expected, but it’s easy to see why this has been designated a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty. From here, visitors can catch an eyeful of Kanazawa Castle, where the Maeda family lived and led the Kaga Clan in the region for close to 300 years.

Kanazawa is the capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture, with three chaya districts—Nishi Chaya, Kazue-machi and Higashi Chaya, the largest—where rows of ancient homes reveal a number of teahouses where female entertainers or geiko have been performing delicate dances and playing instruments for centuries. In Higashi Chaya, Kaikaro is the largest of these houses, a 190-year-old structure protected by the Japanese government where new clients must bring a letter of introduction from existing ones or get sent home. Your clients can get a tour of the facilities, however, for 700 yen (approximately $8.50), and enjoy some green tea for 400 (approximately $5) more. The district itself is also home to a variety of shops and restaurants, where sophisticated geiko walk about in their customary attire. Each of the districts holds a geiko performance on Saturdays.

Clients might also want to indulge in a bit of shopping, particularly gold leaf pieces (maybe cookies with gold leaf mixed in), lacquer ware and intricate hand-dyed fabrics, or perhaps take in a show of Japanese music and dance. Kanazawa is also home to Omicho Market, one of the oldest in the country, a paradise for the culinary inclined rich in seasonal delicacies. Also worth a stop: the shiny-new 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Clients who choose to explore on their own might want to hop on a sightseeing bus that departs daily from JR Kanazawa Station.

detour to wakura For a distinctive experience, point clients north: the hot springs of the town of Wakura, in the Noto Peninsula, are considered by many to be among the best in Japan and Kagaya Hotel uses this location to full benefit. Because of its attention to traditional customs, the ryokan-style luxury hotel is a hit with visitors longing for the full immersion and willing to pay for it: picture kimono-clad ladies welcoming your vehicle as you pull in, bathrobed guests shuffling about on their way to and from the hot springs and Japanese-style, tatami-matted accommodations with private baths and room attendants at the ready to prepare your room for the night. The lounge by the lobby, which overlooks Nanao Bay, includes a floating stage where Koto music is played. There are a number of gift shops on site to stock up on cookies and souvenirs. The hotel is huge with a theater, dance club and cabaret area with live shows. And despite the decadent meals available in different restaurants (a meal from Master Chef Nakamura is a humbling experience), the main attraction here is the natural hot springs for women and men. Let clients know to leave inhibitions behind—they can only enjoy the hot, mineral-rich baths and their gorgeous surroundings au naturel. Guests arriving by train have access to complimentary bus transportation from the Wakura-Onsen train station in Nanao. Rates for a Japanese-style room start at $688 per room, per night for two.

On the way to Wakura, clients might also get a kick out of visiting the Chirihama Beach Driveway, where one can drive along the edge of the water.