30 minutes by bus from the Kaga Onsen station, Yamanaka Onsen lies in a peaceful valley on the banks of a river flowing down in cascades from the mountains nearby. In addition to the charming Kakusenkei promenade that offers exquisite scenic views at every season, Yamanaka Onsen has managed to preserve the typical atmosphere of remote hot spring towns as much as a long lasting excellence in performing arts and fine crafts.
JR Kaga Onsen sta.
The name of Yamanaka Onsen’s public bathhouse, “Kikunoyu” (chrysanthemum hot spring) refers to a haiku poem by Matsuo Basho, one of the town’s famous visitors, in which he celebrated the rejuvenating properties of the waters. Famously, he assimilated the Yamanaka hot springs with the chrysanthemum flower, which is known as a symbol of eternity according to the Chinese folklore. With a high rate of sulfate and having a history of more than 1300 years, Yamanaka Onsen’s hot spring has great skin moisturizing properties. Baths for men and women are in two separate elegant buildings facing each other. The men’s bath displays an interesting narrative illustration of the hot spring’s history.
Adjacent to the ladies’ bathhouse is Yamanaka-za, the town’s theater: an elegant building with lattice walls and lacquered pillars. Particularly noteworthy are he lacquer motives and designs on the ceiling executed following various techniques by some of the area’s finest crafts. Traditional dance performances are held on stage twice a day on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
A tourism information booth is also installed at the entrance of the building.
Leaving the Yamanaka-za theater and walking onwards to the mountains alongside the Kakusenkei gorges, Yuge Kaido is Yamanaka Onsen’s main street. Filled with cafes, restaurants and galleries dedicated to local crafts such as lacquerware and ceramics on both sides, this elegant and flowery street has managed to preserve the lively atmosphere of Japanese traditional hot spring towns.
Stretching with twists and turns and crossing the river half-way along the Kakusenkei Gorges, this bridge of a strikingly modern conception was designed by the late Hiroshi Teshigahara, a famous ikebana master and avant-garde movie director. The artist has explained his intend was to “arrange” the flowers below with this vivid colors bridge that offers a commanding view over the gorges. One of the best photography spots to enjoy in Yamanaka Onsen.
Close to the Ayatori Bridge, Kawadoko is a popular spot with terraces set aside the clear waters flowing down through the Kakusenkei gorges: the perfect place to stop by and enjoy for a few minutes this quiet and colorful scenery.
Open from April to October on clear days, the Kawadoko riverside café proposes you a cup of tea with Japanese sweets.
At the end of the Kakusenkei Gorges strolling path, this is the further upstream one of the three bridges that cross the Daishoji River in Yamanaka Onsen.The Kohrogi Bridge is often said to be one of the greatest spots of scenic beauty in the area. Built in the most traditional way using only cypress woods, the simplicity and elegance of its curves and lines are a perfect match with the surrounding natural scenery.
This splendid samurai house from the late Edo Period was moved from Kanazawa to Yamanaka during the Taisho period (1912-1926). Mugen-An is a good example of western influences making their way into traditional Japanese elite mansions at the end of the 19th century. Showcasing the high level of the Japanese building technology at the time, Mugen-An has managed to conserve the atmosphere of the late Edo period. The small garden promenade offers an exquisite view on the nearby Kohrogi Bridge and the Kakusenkei Gorges.
On your way back to the bus terminal, stop by this quiet facility dedicated to Matsuo Basho, the most famous poet of the Edo period and a master of Haiku. An untiring traveler, he roamed the roads of northern Japan nearing the end of his life, a journey which would give birth to his masterpiece: “The narrow road to the deep north”. This building recalls through many documents Basho’s passage here while displaying fine works from local Yamanaka lacquerware artists.
JR Kaga Onsen sta.