Over the centuries, the area of Kaga has acquired a 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 struck 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 a hot spring also provides exquisite moments of relaxation and opportune soothing for the weary traveler. Onsen bathing has a long history in Japan and is rightly considered a crucial aspect of Japanese culture.
The Kaga area is comprised of 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 presence of Mount Hakusan, one of Japan’s three sacred mountains and still a potentially active volcano whose last recorded eruption occurred in 1659. Somewhere beyond the fine line between mythology and history, local folk tales recall how the hot waters springing out from Mount Hakusan’s depths were once discovered. Those founding moments did a lot to 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 to sacred Mount Hakusan. Making his way into a tranquil valley, he is said to have had an encounter there with the Buddha of medicine who told him the location of a healing spring. 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, the town stretches along the river nearby, which cascades from the mountains through the beautiful Kakusenkei Gorge.
Yamashiro Onsen: the versatile
Shortly after having discovered the source of Yamanaka Onsen, Gyoki resumed his 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 known around as 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 drew more and more attention from famous visitors of various backgrounds, nurturing a highly versatile heritage. Simultaneously contemplative, exuberant, popular and refined, Yamashiro Onsen is 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 Lake Shibayama is certainly one of the most picturesque natural scenes of Kaga. Local memories 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. There underneath, yet another hot spring would be soon discovered at the depths of the lake. 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 its center, a fountain shoots water up to 70 meters above the surface at each hour of the day.