A visit to Japan’s less-visited Ishikawa Prefecture will reward you with beautiful landscapes, cozy hot springs, local produce, and exquisite craftsmanship.
In a small village on the western coast of Japan, I found the perfect persimmon.
I stopped my bike to pick the ripe, orange-hued orb off of a roadside tree. And as I took a bite, it succumbed to my teeth with its honey-sweet juice.
My travel companions and I had spent the day biking through a coastal area in the heart of Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture—less than an hour’s flight from Tokyo—led by Takuya, our energetic guide. We started by following the shoreline, passing rusty fishing boats and cliff-side lighthouses before cutting inland, where we came across a bamboo forest and a roadside cemetery flanked by stone jizo statues honoring lost children. We passed through countless villages, with their traditional tile-roof houses, all of them immersed in their quiet routines. Perhaps it was this beautiful journey leading up to my perfect persimmon that made it taste so damn good.
A longtime Japanophile, I had never felt so fully immersed in the country’s natural beauty and warm hospitality as I did in Ishikawa Prefecture—and with nary a fellow traveler in sight. Biking mavens Butterfield & Robinson led us to this hidden gem of a region: They have been taking visitors here for close to 20 years. And they created a custom itinerary for us that would offer a glimpse of rural life amid Japan’s kaleidoscopic, maple leaf–flecked fall landscapes. B&R also got us to try electric bikes for the first time—silent, battery operated machines that are the ultimate equalizers for travelers with varying fitness levels. (They propel you up tough hills and significantly increase your daily mileage potential.)
With all the stops we wanted to make, it was the e-bikes that allowed us to reach the hot springs town of Yamanaka before dusk. There we checked into the 10-room Kayotei Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn with private onsen, or baths of natural hot springs water.
Over tea that evening, general manager Jiro Takeuchi gave us an overview of the multi-course kaiseki meal that awaited us at the inn, made up almost entirely of the area’s organically grown produce, from the fish to the tofu. (Famous chefs such as New York fish maestro Eric Ripert have stayed here to explore the area’s natural bounty.) Everything had a story: The rice maker uses ducks for his pest and weed control in lieu of chemicals, and the midwinter nori, or seaweed, is harvested by brave souls who face intimidating waves and slippery rocks along the coast.
Takeuchi also shared a few hidden gems with us on the young artisans in the area who are reviving traditional crafts ranging from woodworking to soba noodles. One night we walked to Engawa, the five-seat bar of Yusuke Shimoki, a young sake expert and one of Japan’s handful of sake sommeliers who recently moved back home to Yamanaka to study, serve, and imbibe some of the region’s best sake.
No matter what the agenda was each day—biking, walking, or imbibing sake with locals—each night I looked forward to my soak in my own private hot springs. And after I was warm from my bath, I disappeared into the fluffiest, most welcoming futon—laid out for me while I was away from my room—and fell blissfully into pure unadulterated REM cycles.
A few days later, we finished our trip in the regional capital of Kanazawa, where we’d take a new bullet train line back to Tokyo. We were happy to back in a city exploring such old neighborhoods as the samurai and geisha quarters, but we were still craving natural landscapes. Perhaps that’s why we went not once, but twice to Kenrokuen Garden–one of the country’s most prized public gardens—so we could daydream again about rural Japan.