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Ishikawa Awaits Tourists' Return Two Months After New Year's Noto Quake

As Ishikawa tackles the devastation on the Noto Peninsula, visitors are being invited back to favorite tourist spots in the southern part of the prefecture.



Kenroku-en during the spring cherry blossom season. (© Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism Association)

It has been two months since a 7.6-magnitude earthquake hit the Noto Peninsula and other parts of Ishikawa Prefecture on New Year's Day. Meanwhile, as cities in the south invite back visitors, the Japanese government is planning to boost tourism in Hokuriku with special travel discounts.

Arriving in Kanazawa, the prefecture's largest city, one wouldn't know that such a large earthquake had hit the region on January 1. Tourists snapped selfies in front of the station.

Since the quake, medical and construction workers have come from all over the country to aid devastated Wajima, Suzu, and other towns in the northern part of the region. Thanks to their efforts, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Meanwhile, in the south, places like Kanazawa are gearing up for tourists. Compared to Wakura, a historic hot spring area on the Noto Peninsula, cities further south like Kaga and Kanazawa largely escaped damage from the quake. In Kanazawa, also known as the Kyoto of the North, hotels, sake brewers, and the region's famous pottery artists were asking visitors to come and enjoy the area. 

To boost the local economy, the prefectures of Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama and Niigata will implement a discount supporting the local tourism industry, starting in spring 2024. The initiative aims to support tourism in the historically rich Hokuriku region, with discounts of up to 50% on travel packages and accommodations.

JAPAN Forward sent reporters to Wakura, Kaga, and Kanazawa to find out how preparations were going.

Yamanaka-za features lacquer decor in its theater. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)

Kaga is Ready for Tourists

Cities that weren't strongly struck by the earthquake are already welcoming visitors. This is a key to the region's economic recovery.

Surrounded by hot springs, Kaga City is one example. It has some of Japan's best ryokans, including Beniya Mukayu, Yunokuni Tensyo, and Hanamurasaki. Traveling from Kaga to Kanazawa, visitors often stop by Natadera, a temple with over 1,300 years of history.

Natadera is a perfect location in Komatsu to stop on your way from Kaga to Kanazawa. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)
Kaga is famous for its hospitality and local hotels in Kaga offer the freshest sashimi. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)

Kaga is also famous for Japanese crafts. On that note, Yamanaka-za represents some of its best features. The theater has a craft museum, a venue for traditional performances, and hot spring baths. Moreover, it is beautifully decorated with the region's lacquer, from its ceilings to arms rests and other woodwork.

The building didn't suffer damage in the quake. Yet, the number of tourists has dropped to about 20% compared to 2023, estimates Yamanaka-za staff member KAWABATA Sotoji. He is hopeful that more will return.

YAMANE Masanori, who manages FUZON Kaga cafe together with his wife TANAKA Eiko. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)
FUZON's TANAKA Eiko lacquer art pieces. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)

Some entrepreneurs are experimenting with new ways to promote Kaga's best crafts and bring vitality back to the area. One is a cafe called FUZON, tucked into a small local street.

Unexpectedly, it has a woodworker studio smack in the middle of the modern cafe. TANAKA Eiko is a wood turner and lacquer artist from Aichi, who first moved to Kaga to learn about lacquerware. She has since established herself as an internationally recognized artist. The cafe provides a stepping stone for people to explore local crafts.

Fukumitsuya's OKAMOTO Ayano, explains the various types of sake offered by the company. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)

Kanazawa: Crafting a Path to Recovery 

In Kanazawa, many locals stressed that economic recovery in their area trickles down and becomes a key to the region's overall recovery.

Fukumitsuya, a local sake company, is helping other producers affected by the earthquake. "We offered our premises so that Kazuma Brewery from Noto could make sake," explained OKAMOTO Ayano, from Fukumitsuya's PR section.

She also said that the company is planning new sake editions to celebrate the Hokuriku Shinkansen extension from Kanazawa to Tsuruga starting on March 16. From the revenue of each bottle, ¥100 JPY will go to the Noto recovery.

Fukumitsuya sake store in Kanazawa. (©Fukumitsuya)
Fukumitsuya's special edition sake on the occasion of the Shinkansen extension. The sticker (right) indicates that part of the revenue will be donated to Noto recovery. (©Fukumitsuya)

Local artists also have their own perspectives. OHI Chozaemon XI Toshio is an eleventh-generation pottery artist. Walking into the in-house museum, Ohi pointed out pieces that were destroyed in the January 1 earthquake. "As an artist, it was a real shock," he reflected.

Ohi is planning to exhibit pieces that were repaired and reborn following the earthquake at Takashimaya Department Store's Nihonbashi location from June 5 to 10. He sees it as his "challenge as an artist to create new art" amid adversity.

More widely, Ohi insists, "The people from Kanazawa are working hard to welcome guests again." Ultimately, he says "By coming to Kanazawa and enjoying the food, you are helping Noto recover faster."

Pieces for sale at the Ohi museum shop. (© Ohi museum)
OHI Chozaemon XI Toshio, recounted the importance of supporting Ishikawa's recovery. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)

'Open for Business'

Embodying both luxury and Ishikawa craft aesthetics, the Hyatt Centric is open for business while also taking steps to help the region recover.

Hyatt Centric's General Manager, TAKAHASHI Kei, welcomes guests in front of a panel made of kinpaku, Kanazawa's typical gold leaf decoration. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)

Teaming up with local schools, it's providing a free study space for students who evacuated to Kanazawa. Sister hotel Hyatt House Kanazawa is also hosting evacuees from the Noto Peninsula.

Going forward, Hyatt Centric's general manager TAKAHASHI Kei has a message for travelers: "Earthquakes are scary, but it's also because of coexisting with nature that beautiful things like arts and crafts were born in Japan. Except for the areas most devastated by the earthquake, [Ishikawa is] 500% ready to welcome back our guests."

Kagaya Inn in Wakura Onsen, on February 3. Damage suffered in the January 1 earthquake dominates the landscape. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)
HARIHARA Shigeru, head of Kagaya Inn's business unit, on February 3. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)

Community Through Hospitality

In the northern part of the region, tourist areas significantly affected by the earthquake, such as Wakura Onsen, are still focused on the initial stages of reconstruction.

Kagaya is one of Japan's most famous ryokan inns. On the night of the earthquake, guests evacuated unscathed as Kagaya staff escorted them to safety. In Wakura, the ryokan itself, however, suffered significant damage. Until engineers have confirmed that the buildings are safe, Kagaya has no prospect for reopening.

Nevertheless, with more than 100 letters of encouragement, HARIHARA Shigeru, head of Kagaya's business unit, said he felt "Our guests are helping us find vitality."

Ryokans have a unique way of contributing to their local communities. "Just by booking a room, you can try the local rice, enjoy local vegetables, and admire Wajima lacquerware. Our local contribution is vast," said Harihara.

He concluded, "We are working hard to welcome guests back as soon as possible."

Jenna (left) and Lucia (middle) from New Zealand, share impressions of the region as they walk around Kenroku-en Garden, Ishikawa City. (© JAPAN Forward by SUGIURA Mika)

Enjoying Ishikawa's Charms While Helping Out

Well-known destinations in the region are already witnessing the return of tourists.

For example, on a sunny day in early February, foreign visitors from Taiwan and New Zealand were enjoying Kenroku-en, one of the three most popular gardens in Japan. Similarly, Higashi Chaya (the tea district) and the Omicho market were bustling with happy shoppers.

The stream of tourists undoubtedly provides significant support for local businesses and will contribute greatly to the region's overall assistance.

Moreover, Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio raised the role of people-to-people assistance in his January 30 policy speech. Embracing the bonds between craftsmen and industries, he referred to an artisan-led initiative to help the heavily damaged areas in Ishikawa, saying they "have moved people as a symbol of beautiful reconstruction."

Looking back, in 2016 an earthquake destroyed workshops in Kumamoto, in southern Japan. Ishikawa artists helped raise funds by mending broken pottery from Kumamoto with kintsugi, the art of gold leaf repair. Now Kumamoto artists are stepping up to help those in Ishikawa, especially in Wajima, which is nationally famous for its lacquerware.


OTAGURO Akira leads the Kumamoto initiative. He explained, "Right now, the priority is still rebuilding their lives. But we hope this [initiative] can help [Ishikawa artisans] resume their work."

A tea container called "Battle Chaire" from the KUMAMOTO UTSUWA REBORN PROJECT (© KURP). The piece is a combination of ceramic and Wajima lacquer.

Find more information on tourism in Ishikawa

Author: Arielle Busetto

SUGIURA Mika, photographer and journalist, also contributed to this article.

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