Up high on Japan’s Noto Peninsula, Wajima is known for morning markets, summer festivals and local salt farms.
No longer served by trains, the small city feels a little more secluded than most places you might visit, often left out by those who let their JR Pass determine their route. This all adds to the charm. The old train station with its signs suggests a city left behind, but it’s happened in the best possible way. Now housing a friendly tourist desk with dedicated multilingual staff, a great local souvenir section and a curry shop, the new bus station is a good introduction to the quietly thriving city.
Planning: One day or two?
For a small-ish city in rural Japan, Wajima has a surprising amount of things to see—enough to fill a day for those with a car or two days for bus-goers coming from Kanazawa. If you’re lucky enough to be driving, you can plan your day however suits. Either staying in Wajima or arriving early and heading to the next destination in the evening if you’re on a tight schedule.
For those using public transport, a leisurely overnight stay allows for an unrushed trip to the morning markets and a sunset view of the rice terraces with plenty of sightseeing time too. There are frequent buses to and from Kanazawa (2.5-hour ride), which make a day trip technically possible. However the first and last departures don’t leave you much chance to head out to the rice terraces and salt farms.
Itinerary suggestions: Overnight from Kanazawa
For a two-day stay from Kanazawa, you can catch the 9:30 am bus arriving at 11:30 am and visit the Ishikawa Wajima-nuri Museum. After lunch, catch the 2 pm bus to the salt fields, (1 km walk) and the 4 pm bus to the Senmaida rice terrace. Have an onigiri and relax—watch the sunset, catch the bus back at 6:45 pm.
The next day, you can explore the city, starting with the morning markets. Continue on to the other museums, the footbaths, the craft houses and the Kiriko Lantern Hall. Catch the bus back to Kanazawa mid-afternoon.
The Wajima Pass!
Ishikawa is a fan of tourist passes, and the Wajima Onsenkyo Furatto Pass is a good example. Covering entry into a handful of museums in the city, it’s a good pass if you’re planning on visiting more than a couple, and also includes a tea experience as a nice bonus. It includes entry to the Kiriko Lantern Hall, the Ishikawa Wajima Urushi Art Museum, the Wajima Lacquerware Museum and the Inachu Art Museum as well as a tea service and the Noranke Bus.
The pass costs ¥1,000 and can save you money even if you visit a couple of places, since both the Kiriko Lantern Museum and the Urushi Art Museum each cost ¥620. You can purchase a pass at the station tourist desk and local hotels.
Things to do in Wajima City
Small and quiet, the city of Wajima is lovely to stroll through, with traditional buildings lining the streets. With most things within walking distance, you can easily spend a relaxed day seeing the sights or make use of the Noranke bus.
Shop at the famous morning market
The most famous highlight of Wajima is its morning market—a daily tradition for decades. Started when fishermen went to sea and their families traded goods each morning, the market stalls are still largely run by the women of the village. Ranging from a blanket on the ground to full professional stands, they mostly sell fresh vegetables, fish (fresh and dried) as well as lacquerware and other souvenirs. The mixture makes it an interesting morning stroll, with plenty to snack on along the way. There are also grills to cook your purchases on, about halfway along the market street. Note that the market is closed on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.
Learn about lacquer at the Lacquerware Museum
Located above a large and popular lacquerware shop, this museum has a good display of the techniques used in Wajima-nuri. Known for its long-lasting quality thanks to the many layers of lacquer, the video and helpful displays will go some way to explain the seemingly high prices of the pieces you find in the shop below.
Admire the art at the Ishikawa Wajima Urushi Art Museum
Set slightly farther away from the other attractions in Wajima, this museum provides a comprehensive introduction to lacquer art. The displays include local produce alongside examples from around Japan and across the world. While entry is a tad steep at ¥620 it’s included in the Wajima Furatto pass, so if you have that it’s definitely worthwhile.
Soak at the footbath
A modern and large covered footbath, here you can relax on Wajima-nuri seats and soak your tired feet. Using naturally hot water, the pool and its relaxing surroundings are a peaceful spot to take a break during the day.
See artisans at work in the craft display houses
Recently opened to help visitors understand the process of creating wajima-nuri, this collection of craft houses allow you to watch craftsmen at work. Depending on the time of day, you can see the workers polishing bowls, applying lacquer and carefully decorating them using traditional techniques. You can purchase finished pieces and there are some extra small shops and cafes in the buildings too. Look out for the street-side maps to find the right order.
Get festive at the Kiriko Lantern Hall
Simple yet stunning, the Kiriko displays in the specially built hall are a sight to behold. Retired from their years in the annual festivities, the examples are up to 30 ft tall, carefully decorated and painstakingly cared for. You can take your time admiring the creations from varying heights, with festival sounds adding to the atmosphere.
Out of town: Rice terraces and salt farms
If you have a car or enough time to use the bus, there are two main spots to visit outside of Wajima City. Depending on the time of year, you can see the famous rice terraces, ideally at sunset. A little farther up the coast, the salt farms are an unusual stop-off with great souvenir potential.
Experience the salt farms
For anyone who doesn’t know how salt is made (and that’s probably most people), the salt farms of the Noto Peninsula are here to enlighten you. Using saltwater, sun and time, the hard workers create high-grade salt using relatively small patches of land. The Okunoto Salt Farm Village in Suzu offers a few different farms to visit which is great if you have a car.
If you’re visiting from Wajima by bus, we recommend you visit Wajima Salt Station. While it’s a bit of a walk from the nearest bus stop, it’s home to a super-friendly salt maker who’ll give you a tour (Japanese required) and a small shop with more salt than you could ever need. Plus you can try making your own flavored salt or try your hand at making it in the field!
Catch the sunset at the Shiroyone rice terraces
Known as senmaida in Japan, there are a few examples (most notably in Mie) of beautiful tiered rice terraces, with the ones in Wajima being some of the best. Facing the sea, the view changes throughout the year, depending on the stages of the rice harvest. From water-filled reflection pools in spring to lush green fields in summer, the rice is collected in autumn before the snow covers the ground in winter. Using illuminations to highlight the shapes in winter, the community have created a year-round sight, although spring is arguably the best time. With the sun setting on the horizon, turning the pools a golden orange, it’s a pretty unforgettable sight.
Getting to Wajima
Kanazawa to Wajima
Wajima is easily accessed from the nearest big city, Kanazawa. If you have a car, you can drive straght up along the coast, passing through Hakui on the way.
As there is no trainline anymore, those relying on public transport can catch one of the regular highway buses running between the towns. The bus costs ¥2,260 one way and takes 2.5 hours. They leave from Kanazawa bus station just outside the train station. Tickets can be bought only on the day, as there are no reservations. Buy them on the bus or at the ticket desk (or machine) in the waiting area near the bus station.
Tokyo to Wajima
From Tokyo, you can fly to Noto Airport which is only a half-hour drive from Wajima City. Flights are run by ANA and fly twice to Haneda and twice to Noto each day. The flight times do change each month though, so be sure to check in advance. Be aware that if you try and enter Noto Airport into some sites (like Google Flights) it will direct you to Komatsu Airport, which is next to Kanazawa.
Alternatively, you can catch a highway bus or bullet train to Kanazawa and continue on from there.
For more day trips from Kanazawa ideas, see our guide to Yuwaku.