61 Best Sights in The Japan Alps and the North Chubu Coast, Japan

Gassho-zukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum

Fodor's choice

Opposite Ogi-machi, on the banks of the Sho-gawa, this open-air museum has 26 traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. The houses were transplanted from four villages that fell prey to the Miboro Dam, built upriver in 1972. Over the years a colony of artisans has established itself in the village. From mid-April to mid-October, you can watch them creating folk crafts like weaving, pottery, woodwork, and hand-dyeing in a few of the preserved houses, and try some crafts for yourself. Many of the products are for sale. In winter, stop by the "rest station" gassho-zukuri to warm up with tea by an irori hearth. Keep in mind that individual houses do close irregularly.

Gyokusen Garden

Fodor's choice

This tiny garden was built by Kim Yeocheol, who later became Naokata Wakita when he married into the ruling Kanazawa family. Yeocheol was the son of a Korean captive brought to Japan in the late 16th century. He became a wealthy merchant, using his fortune to build this quiet getaway. The garden's intimate tranquility stems from the imaginative and subtle arrangement of moss, maple trees, and small stepping stones by the pond. Two waterfalls that gracefully form the Chinese character for mizu (water) feed the pond. The garden is markedly different from the bold strokes of Kenroku Garden. You can have tea and sweets here for ¥1,500 (admission included).

8--3 Kosho-machi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa-ken, 920-0932, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥700, Closed Tues.--Thurs.

Hida Folk Village

Fodor's choice

These traditional farmhouses, dating from the Edo period, were transplanted from all over the region. Many of the houses are A-frames with thatch roofs called gassho-zukuri (praying hands). A dozen of the buildings are "private houses" displaying folk artifacts like tableware and weaving tools. Another five houses are folk-craft workshops, with demonstrations of ichii ittobori (wood carving), Hida-nuri (Hida lacquering), and other traditional regional arts, as well as hands-on crafting experiences. It's possible to walk here from Takayama Station, or take a 10-minute bus ride.

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Kenroku Garden

Fodor's choice

Across the street from the Kanazawa Castle is the largest of the three most famous landscaped gardens in the country (the other two are Mito's Kairaku Garden and Okayama's Koraku Garden). The Maeda lord Tsunanori began construction of Kenrokuen in 1676, and by the early 1880s it had become 25 sprawling acres of skillfully wrought bridges and fountains, ponds, and waterfalls. The garden changes with the seasons: spring brings cherry blossoms; brilliant azaleas foretell the arrival of summer; autumn paints the maples deep yellow and red; and in winter the pine trees are strung with long ropes, tied from trunk to bough, for protection against heavy snowfalls. Kenrokuen means "Garden of Six Qualities." The garden was so named because it exhibited the six superior characteristics judged necessary by the Chinese Sung Dynasty for the perfect garden: spaciousness, artistic merit, majesty, abundant water, extensive views, and seclusion. Despite the promise of its last attribute, the gardens attract a mad stampede of visitors—herded by megaphone—during cherry-blossom season (mid-April) and Golden Week (late April and early May). Early morning is the most sensible time for a visit, when the grounds are a little more peaceful and relaxing.

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Myoryu-ji Temple

Fodor's choice

On the south side of the Sai-gawa is the intriguing and mysterious Myoryu-ji. Its popular name, Ninja-dera (Temple of the Ninja), suggests it was a clandestine training center for martial-arts masters who crept around in the dead of night armed with shuriken (star-shape blades). In fact, the temple was built to provide an escape route for the daimyo in case of invasion. Ninja-dera was built by Toshitsune in 1643, when the Tokugawa Shogunate was stealthily knocking off local warlords and eliminating competition. At first glance, it appears a modest yet handsome two-story structure. Inside, however, you find 29 staircases, seven levels, myriad secret passageways and trapdoors, a tunnel to the castle hidden beneath the well in the kitchen, and even a seppuku room, where the lord could perform an emergency ritual suicide. Unfortunately (or fortunately, considering all the booby traps), visitors are not permitted to explore the hidden lair alone. You must join a Japanese-language tour (hourly on weekdays and twice hourly on weekends) and follow along with your English pamphlet. Reservations by phone are necessary, but can usually be made on the day of your visit.

1--2--12 No-machi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa-ken, 920-8031, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥1,000, Access by reservation only. Call (simple English is ok) before going

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

This circular building was created to entwine a museum's architecture with the art exhibits, and for exhibition designers to take cues from the architecture. Transparent walls and scattered galleries encourage visitors to choose their own route. Previous exhibitions have included a Gerhard Richter retrospective, a video installation by Mathew Barney, and the work of Japanese photographer Araki Nobuyoshi. The building itself is a sight worth seeing, and the free, public terraces and plazas are a perfect place to stroll and relax. It's south of Kanazawa Park, next to city hall.

1--2--1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa-ken, 920-0962, Japan
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Rate Includes: Varies by exhibition; sometimes free, Closed Mon.

Daio Wasabi Farm

At the country's largest wasabi farm, the green horseradish roots are cultivated in flat gravel beds irrigated by melted snow from the Alps. The chilly mineral water is ideal for the durable wasabi. The on-site shop sells the farm's products, which range from wasabi cheese to wasabi chocolate and wasabi ice cream (sounds bad, tastes pretty good), while the several cafes and restaurant's also serve wasabi-focused fare. The closest train station is Hotaka, 26 minutes (¥330) north along the JR Oito Line from Matsumoto Station. To reach the farm from Hotaka Station, take a 40-minute walk along a path (the station attendant will direct you), rent a bike, or hop in a taxi for about ¥1,300.

Eihei-ji Temple

One of the two headquarters of Soto Zen, the Eihei-ji Temple sits 19 km (12 miles) southeast of Fukui. Founded in 1244, the extensive complex of 70 temple buildings is spread out on a hillside surrounded by hinoki and sugi (cedar) trees more than 100 feet tall, some as old as the original wooden structures. This temple offers a rare glimpse into the daily practice of the two hundred or so monks (and a few nuns) in training. They are called unsui, or “cloud water,” the traditional name for monks wandering in search of a teacher. The rigorous training has remained unchanged since the 13th-century monk Eihei Dogen started this monastery. Each monk has one tatami mat to eat, sleep, and meditate on, and these are lined in rows on raised platforms in a communal room. All activities, including cleaning out the incense tray, are considered to be meditations, so visitors are expected to dress modestly and explore in silence. With at least one month's notice, visitors can lodge at the temple, on the Sanro program to experience the daily routine of the monks (¥8,000 a night, including two meals) or Sanzen program (¥10,000 a night, two meals) to practice Zazen meditation. For less pious visitors, a plush new temple-run hotel is set to open next door in late 2019. The easiest way to get to Eihei-ji from Fukui is by train to Eihei-ji Guchi Station and by bus from there to the temple.

5-15 Shihi Eiheiji-cho, Yoshida-gun, Fukui-ken, 910-1294, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥500, Daily 8–5

Happo-one Ski Resort

Hakuba itself is one of Japan's best ski destinations, famous for powder snow, clear weather, and miles of tracks. The Happo-one (one pronounced "oh-ney") resort is the best in town, and hosted several events for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Almost all the runs here are intermediate level, with the rest split between beginner and advanced, the latter including the two runs (Olympic I and Olympic II) that were used in 1998 for the men's and women's downhill events. Japan's first parallel jumping hills were also constructed here with critical points of 393 feet and 295 feet, and each has a scaffold structure for the in-run and landing slope. All runs deliver breathtaking views if the mist doesn't roll in.

Happo-one also has some great summer hiking, though the high elevation means that even in summer a sweater or light jacket may be needed. You can reach the hiking area via three connecting gondolas, collectively called the Happo Alpen Line (five minutes to Happo Gondola Station, then eight minutes to Usagidaira, then an additional 10 minutes by alpine lift). From here the jewel-like Happo Pond is a 6-km (4-mile) hike. For more-ambitious hikers, three more hours gets you to the top of Mt. Karamatsu-dake.

To get from the center of town to Happo-one, it's a five-minute, 3-km (2-mile) bus ride from Hakuba to Happo Information Center, and then a 15-minute walk through the resort of Swiss-like chalets and hotels to the gondola station. Facilities: 13 trails, 494 acres; 3,513-foot vertical drop; 22 lifts

5734--1 Hokujou, Hakuba, Nagano-ken, 399-9301, Japan
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Rate Includes: One-day ski pass ¥5,500, summer Happo Alpen Line ticket (one-way) ¥3,000

Hida Minzoku Kokokan

This mansion once belonged to a physician who served the local daimyo (feudal lord). It has mysterious eccentricities—hanging ceilings, secret windows, and hidden passages—all of which suggest ninja associations. Displays include wall hangings, weaving machines, and other Hida regional items.

82 Kamisanno-machi, Takayama, Gifu-ken, 506-0846, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥500, Mar.–Oct., daily 9–5; Nov.–Feb., daily 10–4

Higashi Chaya District

This high-class entertainment district of Edo-period Kanazawa was near the Asano-gawa. Now the pleasures are limited to viewing quaint old geisha houses recognizable by their wood-slat facades and latticed windows. Many have become tearooms, restaurants, local craft (and souvenir) stores, or minshuku. Take the JR bus from Kanazawa Station (¥200) to Hachira-cho, just before the Asano-gawa Ohashi. Cross the bridge and walk northeast into the quarter.

Imayo Tsukasa Sake Brewery


Originally established as an inn and sake shop in 1767, but brewing since the Meiji period, Imayo Tsukusa is one of the ninety or so sake brewers that have made Niigata famous for nihonshu (sake). They run 30-minute tours of the brewery every day (hourly from 9 to 4 on weekends, and 1 to 4 on weekdays), where staff explain the sake brewing process. That's followed by a tasting session, where you can sample multiple brews. Better yet, it's free, and there is an English speaker available for each 2 pm tour. You need to book in advance, online or by phone, but that can be done same day. It's a 15-minute walk east of Niigata Station.

Ishikawa Local Products Center

Near Gyokusen Garden, the center serves as a place where you can both buy traditional crafts from the region and see demonstrations of Yuzen dyeing, pottery, and lacquerware production. You can also try your hand at etching a personal glass seal, decorating items with delicate gold leaf, making Japanese sweets, and other crafts at regularly scheduled workshops.

2--20 Kenroku-cho, Kanazawa, Ishikawa-ken, 920-0936, Japan
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Rate Includes: Free; hands-on experiences from ¥700, Closed Tues. Dec.–Feb.

Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art

Come here to see the country's best permanent collection of Kutani-yaki (colorful overglaze-painted porcelain), dyed fabrics, and old Japanese paintings.

Japan Wood-Block Print Museum

The museum is devoted to the lively, colorful, and widely popular ukiyo-e woodblock prints of Edo-period artists. Highlights include Hiroshige's scenes of the Tokaido (the main trading route through Honshu in feudal Japan), Hokusai's views of Mt. Fuji, and Sharaku's Kabuki actors. Based on the enormous holdings of the wealthy Sakai family, the museum's 100,000 pieces (displays rotate every three months) include some of Japan's finest prints and represent the largest collection of its kind in the world.

Jigoku-dani Monkey Park


When snow is on the ground, the Japanese white macaques (Asian monkeys) that make their home here are a big draw, as are their bathing habits. To be on the safe side, don't feed or touch them—or look them in the eye. The train goes as far as Yudanaka; from there, take a taxi or bus to Kanbayashi Onsen, from which it is a 30- to 40-minute walk. There is also a direct bus to Kanbayashi Onsen from Nagano Station. Although winter is the best time to see the bathing apes, there are usually some in the onsen in other seasons. Wear good shoes as the path can get muddy, and leave heavy luggage at your hotel or in your car.

Kanazawa Castle Park

Though most of the castle is a reproduction, the original Ishikawa-mon (Ishikawa Gate) remains intact—its thick mossy stone base is topped with curving black eaves and white-lead roof tiles. The tiles could be melted down and molded into ammunition in case of a prolonged siege. To reach the castle, take any bus (¥200) from Gate 11 at the bus terminal outside the JR Station, or walk 30 minutes.

Karuizawa Wild Bird Forest

This sanctuary is home to some 80 bird species, including the Japanese white-eye. You can watch from two observation huts along a 2½-km (1½-mile) forest course. To get here from Karuizawa Station, take a free shuttle bus bound for the "Hoshino area," or take the local Seibu Koden bus. Get off at the Tombo no Yu stop and walk about one minute to the park. You can wander around on your own (free), or book a two-hour guided ecotour in English for a charge. Try to book at least a week in advance for English tours.

Nagakura Hoshino, Karuizawa-cho, Nagano-ken, 389-0194, Japan
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Rate Includes: Free; ecotour ¥2,500

Kokubun-ji Temple

The city's oldest temple, dating from 1588, houses many objects of art in its treasure house, including a precious sword used by the Heike clan. In the Main Hall (built in 1615) sits a figure of Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddha who eases those struggling with illness. In front of the three-story pagoda is a wooden statue of another esoteric Buddhist figure, Kannon Bosatsu, who vowed to hear the voices of all people and immediately grant salvation to those who suffer. The ginkgo tree standing beside the pagoda is believed to be more than 1,250 years old.

1--83 Sowa-machi, Takayama, Gifu-ken, 506-0007, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥300 for the treasure house

Kurobe Gorge Railway

Running from spring to fall along the deepest valley in Japan, the open-air Kurobe Gorge Railway takes you on an 80-minute ride past gushing springs and waterfalls. You might even see wild monkeys or a serow, a type of mountain goat. One of the best views is from the 128-foot-high bridge called Atobiki-kyo, while the best time of year is mid-October to early November for the tremendous fall foliage. Bring a windbreaker, even in summer, as it can be a cold and damp ride, or spend an extra ¥530 to upgrade to a more sheltered first-class seat. Kuronagi Onsen, Kanetsuri Onsen, and Meiken Onsen are three of the hot springs along the trolley route. You can get off at any of them and enjoy a soak.

11 Kurobe Keikoku-guchi, Kurobeshin, Toyama-ken, 938-0282, Japan
0765-62–1011-for reservations only
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Rate Includes: ¥1,980 one-way, Closed Dec.--mid-Apr.

Kusakabe Folk Craft Museum

This museum is in a house from the 1880s that belonged to the Kusakabe family—wealthy traders of the Edo period. This national treasure served as a residence and warehouse, where the handsome interior, with heavy, polished beams and an earthy barren floor, provides an appropriate setting for Hida folk crafts such as lacquered bowls and wood carvings, as well as trappings of family wealth that include a bridal palanquin.

Kutani Pottery Kiln

You can watch artisans making the local Kutani pottery, which is noted for its vibrant color schemes, at this spot dating from 1870. If you fancy doing something hands-on, there are also pottery workshops here (apply at least two days in advance) and ceramic painting experiences; unfortunately, the workshop fees don't include the shipping costs of anything you make.

5--3--3 No-machi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa-ken, 921-8031, Japan
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Rate Includes: Free; pottery workshops ¥5,500

Matsumoto Castle

Nicknamed "Crow Castle" for its black walls, this local landmark began as a small fortress with moats in 1504. It was remodeled into its current three-turreted form between 1592 and 1614, just as Japan became a consolidated nation under a central government. The civil wars ended and the peaceful Edo period (1603–1868) began, rendering medieval castles obsolete. Its late construction explains why the 95-foot-tall tenshukaku (inner tower) is the oldest surviving tower in Japan—no battles were ever fought here. Exhibits on each floor break up the challenging climb up very steep stairs. If you hunker down to look through rectangular openings (broad enough to scan for potential enemies) on the sixth floor, you'll have a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains. In the southeast corner of the castle grounds, the Matsumoto City Museum (closed until autumn 2023 for renovations) exhibits samurai clothing and centuries-old agricultural implements.

At the end of July there is a taiko (Japanese drum) festival, and on November 3 the Matsumoto Castle Festival features a samurai parade, martial arts displays, and outdoor tea ceremonies. In late January an ice-sculpture exhibition is held in the museum's park. The castle is a 15-minute walk from the station.

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Matsumoto City Museum of Art

The red polka dots on the facade of this museum, east of the Nakamachi district, are a very firm nod to arguably the most famous person to come from Matsumoto: artist Yayoi Kusama. Part of the permanent collection focuses of Kusama's avant-garde art and art installations, and includes a version of the iconic yellow and black pumpkin sculpture installed on Naoshima Island. There are also exhibits of calligraphy, painting and sculpture from other Matsumoto-born artists.

Matsumoto History Village

Next to the Ukiyo-e Museum is Japan's oldest wooden courthouse. Displays pertain to the history of law enforcement from the feudal period to the modern era.

2196--01 Shimadachi, Matsumoto, Nagano-ken, 390-0852, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥410, Closed Mon.

Mitsuke Island

Just south of the village of Suzu is a dramatic offshore rock formation called Mitsuke-jima, a huge wedge of rock topped with lush vegetation, connected to the shore with a pebbly path popular with lovers, who can ring a bell here to wish for everlasting love. Locals, however, also have a very unromantic name for it; “Gunkan-jima” (Battleship Island), because it resembles a warship sailing to attack.

Mitsuke-Jima, Suzu, Ishikawa-ken, Japan

Mt. Asama Overlook

This active volcano of more than 8,000 feet threatens to put an end to the whole "Highlands Ginza" below. For a view of the glorious Asama-san in its entirety, head to the observation platform at Usui-toge (Usui Pass). You can also see neighboring Myogi-san, as well as the whole Yatsugatake, a range of eight volcanic peaks. Walk northeast along shop-filled Karuizawa Ginza street to the end, past Nite-bashi, and follow the trail through an evergreen forest to the pass. A lovely view justifies the 1½-hour walk. From late April to late November, buses (¥500) leave almost hourly if you want a ride back.

Mt. Asama, Nagano-ken, 389-0101, Japan

Mt. Shirouma

Hiking at the bottom of Daisekkei (Big Snow) Gorge, which extends for 3½ km (2 miles), requires warm clothes even in midsummer, when temperatures can dip below freezing. More than 100 types of alpine flowers grace the nearby fields in summer. From the trailhead at Sarukura Village (reached by a 30-minute, ¥1,000 bus ride from Hakuba Station), the hike through the forest takes 1 hour 45 minutes. If you're lucky, you may spot a snow grouse, a protected species in Japan. For climbers who want to scale Mt. Shirouma, which takes six hours to the top (two huts are on the way for overnight stays), proper equipment is necessary.

Myojo-ji Temple

This seldom-visited but well-tended temple complex sits a few miles north of the town of Hakui on the bus route from Kanazawa. The temple, founded in 1294 and belonging to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, has a five-story pagoda dating from the 1600s. A large, colorful Buddha statue sits inside a squat wooden building. The influence of mainland Asia is visible in the gargantuan, wooden guardian deities. It's a 10-minute walk to the temple from the nearest bus stop.

1 Yo Taki-dani-machi, Hakui, Ishikawa-ken, 925-0002, Japan
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Rate Includes: ¥500

Naga-machi Samurai District

Behind the modern Korinbo Tokyu Square shopping center, Seseragi-dori leads to the samurai district where the Maeda clan lived. Narrow, snaking streets are lined with golden adobe walls footed with large stones and topped with black tiles. Stop by the Nomura-ke Samurai Residence to get a look inside one of the area's historic mansions.