After the Morning Market: What to Do in Wajima
January 27, 2017
The village of Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture is best known for its asa-ichi, the morning market with a history dating back a thousand years to the Heian Period. With the majority of the stalls along asa-ichi dori run by elderly women peddling a variety of seafood, fruits, vegetables, local sake and a smattering of lacquerware crafts, the market’s allure is easy to grasp.
But once the market winds down, how do you to fill out the day? Here are three ideas.
Discover Wajima’s Finest Art Form
Along and all around asa-ichi dori you’ll find shops specializing in Wajima Lacquerware, known throughout Japan as among the finest available. Shops offer everything from spoons to high-end wall paintings, making it easy to find something to take home with you. For a detailed understanding of the art of lacquerware, visit the Lacquer Assembly Hall on the old town side of Shinbashi Bridge. Here you’ll find examples of Wajima’s finest products brought to life in large-screen videos elaborating on the detailed process of turning pieces of wood into lacquered wares fit for emperors and shoguns. Entry to the Hall is free.
For a more personal experience, look around town for a lacquerware shop sporting a red noren curtain outside the front door. The craftsmen working inside will be happy to show you their trade.
Seek Out the Source of Wajima’s Seafood
Cross the Wajima River via the red iron Iroha Bridge and find yourself in the old Fishermen’s Quarter. Look for the lacquered tile roofs on some of these fine traditional homes. Then head down the Kamogaura Walkway toward the shoreline. Along the way notice the covered pool of water next to the small Shinto shrine. This pool once served as a source of fresh water for fishermen and tradesmen plying the Sea of Japan.
The Kamogaura Walkway continues to rocky Wajima Beach where, during the coldest months, you might see namihana, “wave flowers” of foam created by the waves in cold weather. Further out at sea you may notice seven rocky islets, collectively known as Nanatsujima (Seven Islands). Beyond these sits small, inhabited Hegurajima, accessible via a ninety-minute ferry (one per day). Here, traditional women divers called ama still dive for abalone and turban shells in the summer.
See Wajima’s Bright Lights
For four days every August the streets of Wajima are illuminated with the lights of the Kiriko Lantern Festival, a boisterous procession of townsmen carrying huge wooden lanterns – some as tall as six meters – up and down the streets. If you are not lucky enough to find yourself in Wajima between August 22nd and 25th, head for the recently-opened Kiriko Lantern Museum where you’ll find lanterns several hundred years old and up to fifteen meters tall. Continuous videos show footage of past festivals, and the top floor offers a great view of Wajima Bay and the Nanatsujima Islands.
The Kiriko Lantern Museum is open daily from 8am to 5pm. Admission for adults is 620 yen.
Getting to Wajima
The two-hour highway bus trip from Kanazawa is by far your best option – as is getting off at Wajima Station. While the train no longer runs to Wajima, the train station is still in use – as the city’s visitor center, open daily from 8am to 7pm and stocked with all the maps and info you need to seek out the best of Wajima.
Kevin Kato has hiked, biked, boated and locomoted through forty countries across six continents. He has a Master's Degree in Forensic Science in a box in a closet somewhere. He presently lives, writes and tries to keep up with his three kids in the mountains of Nagano, Japan.