Over the centuries, the area of Kaga has acquired a large and well-deserved reputation throughout Japan for the quality of its hot springs. Onsen, the Japanese word for “hot spring”, is indeed a very common natural phenomenon in Japan, owing to the country’s geology. Regularly stroke by natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, hot springs come as a blissful counterpart to all the sufferings endured by the population. Besides being well known for having countless therapeutic properties, soaking in hot spring also provides exquisite moments of relaxation and welcome soothing for the traveler’s fatigue. Onsen bathing has a long history in Japan and is rightly considered a crucial aspect of Japanese culture.
The area of Kaga gathers together no less than three hot spring resorts: Yamanaka Onsen, Yamashiro Onsen and Katayamazu Onsen. The profusion of hot springs around Kaga and the neighboring area is due to the unmissable presence of Mount Hakusan, one of Japan’s three sacred mountains and still a potentially active volcano, as its last recalled eruption occurred in 1659. On the edge of mythology and history, local tales relate how the hot waters springing out from Mount Hakusan’s depths were once discovered, helping to shape the three resort towns’ distinctive characters.
Yamanaka Onsen: the rejuvenating
At the dawn of the 8th century, a Buddhist itinerant priest named Gyoki set up a pilgrimage journey to sacred Mount Hakusan. Making his way into a tranquil valley towards the heights of Kaga, he is said to have had an encounter there with the Buddha of medicine who told him the location of a healing source. Later on, Yamanaka Onsen’s hot spring waters would be praised by the famous haiku writer Matsuo Basho, who mentioned their rejuvenating properties in a famous poem. Known as well for being the homeland of the acclaimed Yamanaka Lacquerware, Yamanaka Onsen has preserved the typical atmosphere of traditional Japan. Serene and elegant, it breathes along the gentle flows of the river nearby, cascading from the mountains through the beautiful gorges of Kakusenkei.
Yamashiro Onsen: the versatile
Short after having discovered the source of Yamanaka Onsen, Gyoki resumed on his pilgrimage journey. Following a purple cloud trail, he stopped by the slopes of a small hill where he spotted a three-legged crow apparently healing his wounds in a puddle. The mythic bird (yatagarasu) had just allowed Gyoki to discover another hot spring that would long be referred to as the “Yatagarasu-yu”. With the construction of an important complex of temples, the hot springs draw more and more attention from famous visitors of various backgrounds, nurturing a highly versatile heritage. Simultaneously contemplative, exuberant, popular and refined, Yamashiro Onsen is thoroughly keeping alive its secular traditions and hedonistic life-style, particularly through very demonstrative and colorful popular festivals and performing arts spectacles.
Katayamazu Onsen: the rejoicing
Seeing Mount Hakusan majestically rising in the distance above the surrounding mountain range from the shores of the Shibayama Lake is certainly one of the most picturesque natural sceneries of Kaga. Folk tales recall that, while enjoying falconry here around the year 1653, the Lord of the Kaga clan, Maeda Toshimatsu, spotted a group of swans gathered at the center of the lake where a hot spring would soon be discovered at the depths of the lake. By proposing regular houseboat cruises, summertime fireworks and lighting-up at all seasons, the people of Katayamazu constantly rejoice with gratitude over their beloved lake. Right from the center of the lake, a fountain shoots water up to 70 meters above the surface at each hour of the day. Water springing out of water playfully celebrating water springing into water…