Only 15 minutes by car from both Kaga Onsen Station and the resort town of Katayamazu Onsen, discover the peaceful and picturesque fishing port town of Hashitate. Wandering between some of the area’s most spectacular maritime view spots and the town’s historical district, you will catch remaining glimpses of a highly praised cultural heritage forged by dynasties of prominent trading vessels company owners who, throughout the Edo period, sailed back and forth off these shores and colonized the area.
JR Kaga Onsen Station
Kitamaebune (north-bound ships) were trading vessel companies active largely along the coasts of western Japan during the Edo Period. The museum is hosted in this splendid mansion is dedicated to the legacy of this fleet of trading vessels, which brought in vast wealth and prosperity to the region, and was the economic force that enabled the small port town of Hashitate to be named as the wealthiest village in Japan during its heyday. The splendid mansion housing this museum was originally built in 1876, and was the residence of a highly esteemed and influential Kitamaebune shipowner named Sakaya Chobei.
In the typical architectural style favored by the wealthy Kitamaebune folk, the mansion was built in an understated, almost paradoxical style, with an austere exterior juxtaposed with an opulent interior.
On the surface, the mansion appears to adopt an understated aesthetic, with its external walls made up of old planks repurposed from retired ships, a practical solution to the perennial problem of erosion and damage from sea winds, and its red, tiled roof, a symbol of affluence in ancient Japan, being its only apparent accession to opulence.
Once inside, however, the vast wealth of the Kitamaebune shipowners immediately becomes apparent. In true Kitamaebune fashion, Sakaya Chobei spared no expense in furnishing his living quarters with top-quality materials brought in from diverse and far-flung regions of Japan. Rooms and activity spaces were also generously portioned, illustrating the immense material resources of the Sakaya family in real, spatial terms.
In honor of the Kitamaebune shipowners’ contributions to the area, as well as their role in Japanese history, this building, together with 30 other Kitamaebune residences in the area, have been registered for preservation and designated as a collective cultural asset by the Japanese Government. Visitors to this museum are invited to learn about the history and contributions of the Kitamaebune and their shipowners through the large collection of maps, pictures, handwritten documents, and navigation tools on display in the facility.
The town of Hashitate was once a port of call for many Kitamaebune vessels. Conveniently set midway along the maritime road connecting Osaka to Hokkaido, many Kitamaebune shipowners built splendid estates in this area. Amongst them, the Zorokuen is one of the most iconic embodiments of the architectural style that characterizes many of the Kitamaebune residences preserved in the Hashitate district. Featuring a red-tiled roof and wide-spaced, lavish interiors, both the materials used to construct the estate, and the collection of crafts displayed in the seven storehouses of the estate paint an illuminating portrait of the wealthy lifestyle enjoyed by the Kitamaebune shipowners back in the day.
Built in 1870, the Zorokuen was formerly the residence of another Sakaya family shipowner, Sakaya Choichiro. Though of a smaller scale compared to the neighboring Kitamaebune Ship Museum (former Sakaya Chobei residence), the Zorokuen is rich in history, having played host to the 14th head of the ruling Daishoji clan, Maeda Toshika, during his visit to the area. In fact, the Zorokuen’s very name was given to the estate by Maeda Toshika himself – inspired by tortoise-shaped rock he saw in the gardens, the lord decided to name the residence ‘Zoroku’, which means ‘hidden six’, after the shelled animal’s ability to withdraw its head, tail, and limbs into its shell. The estate also houses an expansive collection of Kitamaebune artefacts, including old Kutani porcelain, Kanazawa-made stone lanterns gifted to the Sakaya family by the Maeda clan, and rare landscape rocks gathered from all over Japan.
Aside from the cultural and historical experience, visitors are also invited to relax and enjoy some light refreshments in the retro-style tearoom onsite. The tearoom also has a souvenir corner featuring art and crafts by local artists, which interested parties are welcome to purchase as a souvenir of their visit.
One of the many commanding views of the Sea of Japan to be found along the Hashitate coastline. Others follow all the way through this path, ultimately leading to the Kasa no Misaki Point. A delightful stroll on a sunny day, best taken at a leisurely pace to get the best of this gorgeous panorama.
Easily recognizable by its white lighthouse, Kasa no Misaki Point provides another stunning viewpoint over the Sea of Japan. Here, you will find yourself in nature's realm as strong marine winds erode the land and tireless waves keep pounding on the rocks. On a clear day, both the Tojinbo and Noto coastlines can be seen in a single gorgeous panorama.
A great variety of seafood is unloaded at this peaceful and very picturesque fishing port throughout the year. It provides highly sought-after delicacies such as amberjack, sweet shrimp, and especially the snow crab, attracting masses of tourists seeking a culinary experience hardly available elsewhere.
Any time of the year, many restaurants and shops in the vicinity offer the freshest seasonal seafood on their stalls and tables. So do not hesitate to cross their threshold to add a gourmet moment to the emotion of a sightseeing day on the seaside.
Yet another splendid spot on the Sea of Japan, it is often associated with a crucial moment in Japanese history. At the end of the 12th century, in a context of raging samurai clan wars, the powerful general Minamoto Yoshitsune and his entourage were exiled from Kyoto and started roaming the roads of Japan trying to sneak back in. Amagozen, a young courtesan, chose to escape her fate here by letting herself fall off the cliff.
Nearby, there is the Amagozen expressway service area where you will find restaurants, souvenir shops, and a café with a nice panoramic view of the harbor and the sea.
JR Kaga Onsen Station