If you’ve ever read anything by Banana Yoshimoto* you’ll have a clear image of life along the coasts of Japan. Tiny towns, mysterious neighbors, stunning nature and the ever-present churning of ocean waves. It’s a beautiful image, and thanks to Japan’s nearly 30,000 kilometers of coastline an experience to be had all over this charming countries. While I’ve had the chance to spend time in many tiny seaside towns throughout Japan, my absolute favorite coastal area is the Noto Peninsula. Jutting 50 kilometers towards South Korea from the west coast of Honshu, the Noto looks just like the profile of a dinosaur’s head. It’s full of tiny towns, each with their own specialty (wine! salt!), unique history and incredible festivals (oyster! fire and violence!). It’s littered with campsites for the thrifty traveler and luxury onsen resorts for those higher up the tourism food chain. These are my absolute can’t miss stops for a roadtrip around the peninsula, conveniently located a short drive from Kanazawa. I recommend staying for one night, but it’s possible to see a good chunk of the sights on a day trip and there’s plenty to do for a multi-day trip as well. Camp pn the beach here in Suzu or stay at this incredible onsen at the very tip of the peninsula.
*highly recommend Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto (affiliate link)
Chirihama Beach Driveway
As a small town girl from Minnesota, speeding along the Sea of Japan on a sand beach was a pretty crazy novelty a few weeks after arriving in Japan. A worthwhile stop for anyone that hasn’t driven on a beach before. Look out for flooded sections at high tide!
After driving the length of Chirihama, return to the Noto expressway which will cut across the peninsula through the tops of some stunning tree covered hills. Look down below to see tiny mountain villages and rice fields.
An incredible lookout tower at a roadside rest just before entering Anamizu. On your trek up the stairs, pause and look down to wave at some baby goats who live in a pen at the base of the lookout tower. While the structure itself is captivating, you’ll find views over Nanao’s many bays centerpieced by the towering trees and twisty shorelines of Noto Island. Even more incredible during fall’s stunning colors.
Tip: turn your music/podcasts off after you exit the Besshodake roadside rest and drive into Anamizu. If you go at the speed limit, you can hear Anamizu’s town song playing from your own tires’ rotations at one of Japan’s singing highways!
Just past Noto City, you’ll find yourself cruising along Iida Bay where you can find Mitsukejima, a massive rock in the sea shaped like a battleship. Hopping from rock to rock, you can make your way far out into the bay for an impressive view of Mitsukejima which towers over a tiny torii gate constructed next to it.
Mitsukejima is also home to a seaside campground, a perfect place to pitch a tent for the night and wake up with ocean views. Set up camp before heading out for some finally sightseeing and dinner at the incredible Nihonkai Club for one of your best meals in Japan accompanied by local craft beer from the onsite brewery.
Next head into Suzu, the last sizeable town at the end of the peninsula and is home to this incredible culture center. Park nearby and head towards the piers. Heavily used by local fisherman, the pier is the perfect site for a picnic with 360 degree views of the deep blue sea.
End of the Noto
Even if you can’t afford to stay at Lampnoyado Onsen, you must stop at the nearby scenic lookout. While the view looking down over the luxury onsen hotel set into the cliffs is impressive in and of itself, don’t miss my favorite hidden sight in Ishikawa. Follow a small hiking path off the south end of the parking lot. You’ll spend a few minutes walking through some jungle-y growth (look out for snakes!) before you’ll be met with an expansive view of a hidden cove full of tiny pools, turquoise water, and elaborate rock formations.
The next morning, drive back down the peninsula towards Kanazawa along the northern coast which is chock full of sites. Hidden beaches, waterfalls, Window Rock, there’s something to stop and see every few minutes so plan plenty of time, drive slow and stop whenever you see something that sparks your interest. Roadtripping at its finest.
One of Ishikawa’s most beloved sights, Senmaid is a carefully maintained hillside covered in hundreds of tiny rice fields. Check if there will be a light up during your trip to the Noto and see Senmaida at night covered in lights.
Wajima is a perfect place to experience small town Japan. The main drag through town hosts a morning market where you can buy fresh fish, sample sake and browse through shops selling Wajima’s famous lacquer ware. Pick up some chopsticks as souvenirs. I recommend the cozy Okina for a coffee and cheese toast, a true rarity in Japan. Or stop into any of the traditional seafood restaurants for fresh Japanese cuisine.
From Wajima head back south to Anamizu to meet up with the Noto expressway. Just outside of Wajima you can see some traditional Japanese houses with thatched roofs. Anamizu is also home to a winery, stunning seafront area, and an oyster festival every winter. Once you’ve explored the town, you can take the expressway straight back to Kanazawa.
Have you gotten the chance to explore Japan’s seaside towns for yourself? Ever been captured by one of Banana Yoshimoto’s novels? Let me know in the comments below.