Noto-hanto (Noto Peninsula)

Thought to be named after an Ainu (indigenous Japanese) word for "nose," the Noto-hanto, a national park, juts out into the Sea of Japan and shelters the bays of both Nanao and Toyama. Steep, densely forested hills line the eroded west coast, which is wind- and wave-blasted in winter and ruggedly beautiful in other seasons. The eastern shoreline is lapped by calmer waters and has stunning views of Tate-yama (Mt. Tate), the Hida Mountains, and even of some of Nagano's alpine peaks more than 105 km (70 miles) away.

A quick sightseeing circuit of the Noto-hanto, from Hakui to Nanao, can be done in six to eight hours, but to absorb the peninsula's remarkable scenery, stay two or three days, stopping in Wajima and at one of the minshuku along the coast; arrangements can be made through tourist information offices in Kanazawa, Nanao, or Wajima.

This region is well known for its festivals. Seihakusai festival, a 400-year-old tradition held May 3 to 5 in Nano, is essentially three days of nonstop partying. Huge (26-foot) 10-ton floats resembling ships called deka-yama (big mountains) are paraded through the streets. At midnight the floats become miniature Kabuki stages for dance performances by costumed children.

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