Explore Hida-Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and Kanazawa with a 2-Day Bus Tour from Tokyo!
If you want to thoroughly explore the large region of Hokuriku – home to famous spots like Hida-Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and Kanazawa – why not go on an easy and efficient bus tour instead? Together with your loved ones, eat regional foods and gaze at incredible sights that you can’t find in the big city! Come with us on a brand new 2-day bus tour that’ll take you from Tokyo to all three of these spots!
Dec 04 2018 (Sep 09 2020)
**This tour is currently closed.
*This article was written in collaboration with Hankyu Travel International Co. Ltd.
K: Do you remember me telling you about the 1-day bus trip to Mt. Fuji and Hakone? There was also the 1-day Kyoto bus tour, wasn't there? I still feel like bus trips are totally meant for me - someone who wants to travel to several places, but doesn't really want to spend time figuring out where to go!
A: I actually looked up the tour provider's website! They recently released a new 1-night, 2-day bus tour. Unlike all the other tours, you actually get to ride on a shinkansen (bullet train)!
K: Why don't we sign up for it? Since we're going all the way to Japan anyway, I want to explore more than just Tokyo!
A: We'll go straight onto a bus after getting off the shinkansen anyway, so it's fine even if we have a ton of luggage. Let's hurry and book it - we need to get packing!
Gather at Tokyo Station! Travel to Hokuriku by Shinkansen, Sightsee Around the Region by Bus
K: Doing this sort of thing is nice every now and again, isn't it? People who've never ridden on a shinkansen will get to make wonderful memories, and you can gaze at the scenery or sleep away your tiredness when you're on the bus!
A: The schedule shows that aside from eating delicious food, we'll get to stay at a place that has an open-air bath! Awesome, I'm really looking forward to this!
First Up: An Extravagant Lunch of Hida Beef!
The first stop on our itinerary was Festa Forest, a facility where we could look at o-mikoshi (portable shrines), have a group lunch, and go shopping. Aside from viewing the Heisei Festival Floats, which were built when Japan entered the Heisei era, we were also treated to a bunch of delicious food. It was a great place to take a breather!
A: I didn't think that the lunches we'd be getting on this tour would be this luxurious! It might be the first stop, but I already feel like we're getting our money's worth!
K: The course meals we have were specially prepared for foreign guests! They come with dishes like the Gifu specialty, a set meal of grilled Hida beef with Hoba miso, as well as seafood yose-nabe (a kind of Japanese hot pot dish) and tempura. Just hearing the sizzling sound is making me drool!
A: I can't wait, I'm eating first!
K: We'll have a lot of time left over after finishing our meal, so why don't we take a look at the museum next door?
You'll find six enormous and gorgeous festival floats up for display inside the gigantic, cave-like museum. You'll definitely feel the Takayama Festival (an annual celebration in Takayama City wherein beautifully decorated floats make an appearance) atmosphere once you enter it!
A: According to the pamphlet we got at the entrance, a string puppet show is held every 10 minutes... Do you want to go see one?
K: Sure! But just warning you - I might be so fascinated by it, I'll lose track of time!
Explore Hida-Takayama, Filled With History and Tradition (Approx. 60 Minutes)
When you're done enjoying the museum and food, get back on the bus. It'll take you on a leisurely tour around Hida-Takayama.
You'll surely agree that the area is a popular sightseeing spot when you see the throngs of tourists outside!
▪ Naka-bashi Bridge
K: Look at that bridge over there! All the greenery around it really does make its red color pop, doesn't it? People say that it offers different scenery every season: it's an amazing sakura (cherry blossom) viewing spot in the spring, and it has wonderful fall foliage views in the autumn.
A: Hurry, let's go take a picture and upload it to show everyone that we're actually here!
K: There's actually a lot of things to see in Hida-Takayama! Speed up, we need to check out the Historic District!
▪ Historic District
A: All these old buildings really make it look like we've slipped back in time to the Edo period (1603 - 1868)!
K: Every shop looks really unique; I want to take a look at all of them! Wait, do you smell that faint scent? It's coming from somewhere a bit ahead of us, isn't it?
A: I think it's this store! I know you like products with fragrance, so go ahead, pick something and I'll buy it for you!
You'll find over 150 different kinds of fragranced goods, such as incense sticks and sachets, inside this aromatic goods store. They also have a wide selection of incense stick holders for you to choose from! Every part of this store shows off the owner's tastes.
The sarubobo (mascot of Hida-Takayama) incense holder shown above can only be found at this store, and we highly recommend it as a souvenir of your trip!
The boxes pictured above may look like they contain snacks, but they are actually incense stick containers! Make sure you don't eat them by accident! The laughable gap between their exterior and interior is what makes them amazing souvenirs.
K: Why do you look like you're into the products even more than me? Is it because there's so many things that you can't decide what to get?
A: There's room incense sticks, but there's also incense sticks for cars! I don't know if we should get a lot of these or not.
K: You know, you might not be able to buy them again if you let this chance go by!
A: You're right. I also want to take a look at some of the other stores, so there's no time for pondering.
*It is forbidden to take photos within the store. These photos were taken with permission from the store owners.
K: There sure are a lot of stores around here selling Hida beef manju (steamed buns)! I want to try some...
A: Well, we've come all the way here, so why not buy and eat some local foods? How about we order two and have them be different flavors?
K: The outside is chewy and there's a ton of meat inside! And when you split it in half, the smell of Hida beef just wafts out. Getting to eat delicious foods while looking at this retro townscape is a real treat, huh?
A: Maybe so, but it's a bit cold... I did a little research and found out that there are a ton of nice cafes around the area. Let's head into one and get warm with a cup of coffee!
This cafe is housed inside an old wooden home that was built over 150 years ago. Within its modern interior, you can find a variety of seating, from counter seats to rooms with tatami mat flooring. Regardless of where you sit, you are sure to have a grand time indulging in their attentive services.
Their original goods match perfectly with the classy design of the cafe, making it seem even more stylish.
Apart from their standard coffee, you also need to try their Matcha and Warabi-mochi* Set (800 yen)! The cafe personally recommends their winter-only Hojicha* Milk.
*Warabi-mochi: Jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and covered in toasted soybean flour.
*Hojicha: Roasted green tea.
K: This isn't bitter at all! Instead, it has an incredibly rich taste and lovely aroma. The more I drink the Hojicha Milk, the more my body warms up!
A: The chewiness and light sweetness of the Warabi-mochi really goes well with the slightly bitter matcha. I guess you can call it a Japanese dessert for those with sophisticated tastes?
K: Us enjoying time together in this modern Japanese cafe really brings to mind the phrase, "Life is all about having fun."
A: True, but we can't forget the time! Otherwise we won't be able to look at all the other stores!
A: I didn't think there'd be so many amazing stores past Sanmachi Street!
K: The store to the right looks good! We still have some time, so let's take a look at it.
Within this plain store, you'll find a couple of gems tucked away in corners. They stock Japanese household goods that are one-of-a-kind and of extremely high quality.
The milk bottles are actually air fresheners (1,080 yen). They come in five different scents, including sakura and geranium, and give off a pleasant smell that will heal both your body and soul. Once you're done with them, feel free to use them as flower vases or for decorating your room!
The wooden badges were handmade by a Takayama artisan, so each of them contain unique designs, making them truly unique.
K: I'm glad that we stopped by here! I really love stores like this that don't stand out, but actually sell really neat products! It's only the first day, but I've already bought a lot of good stuff.
A: That reminds me... I'm glad we came by bus! Now we don't need to worry about buying too much.
*It is forbidden to take photos within the store. These photos were taken with permission from the store owners.
Head to Shirakawa-go, the World Heritage Site (Approx. 60 Mins)
K: We had so much fun at Hida-Takayama, we almost didn't make it back to the bus in time!
A: I'm sure you'll love the next spot! It's somewhere I've always wanted to go.
K: Wow~ so this bus tour basically granted one of your dreams!
A: Yup! Look out the window; the view's something you'll definitely remember.
▪ Castle Keep Observatory
Shirakawa-go (Shirakawa Village) contains 114 Gassho-style* homes that look like they've been magically frozen in time.
The whole village is registered as a World Heritage Site and draws in millions of visitors each year. Finding lodging in the winter at Shirakawa-go is an incredibly difficult feat.
If you climb up to the Castle Keep Observatory, you can get a panoramic view of the village, as well as a good view of the mountain range of Mt. Haku, whose appearance changes with the seasons.
*Gassho: A Japanese architectural style where the roofs are thatched and steeply sloped, resembling hands meeting in prayer.
K: I actually came here as a child. I'm not sure if it's because I grew up or the season's different, but it feels totally new!
A: It's my first time, but I bet I won't get sick of looking at this scenery, no matter how many times I come back. Let's visit this place again early next year! I bet it will look even better when covered with snow.
K: In that case, let's buy a sarubobo to seal the deal. It wards off evil and prevents illness! We'll come back on another snowy day!
▪ Shirakawa Highway
K: Look at that! That thatched roof really does looks like a face-down open book!
A: It doesn't look very sturdy, but it can actually stand strong against the heavy snow. Also, it doesn't use any nails; instead, it is held together by tough rope and Japanese witch hazel. The rope helps it deal with the heavy snow and strong gusts of wind, and is said to be used in a way that increases the durability of the structure. In other words, it's an incredibly important building.
K: That's exactly why smoking is strictly banned here! We all need to do our part is preserving our world's heritage.
K: This shop's a little different from the place back in Hida-Takayama. All the goods sold here really have a rustic, farmland feel to them!
A: I agree! These handcrafted Hida hats are super unique - we should definitely purchase one as a souvenir!
K: Everywhere is so picturesque... I really want to relax and just enjoy the quiet of this area.
A: I want to, too, but we should get going. Next up is dinner!
Savor Fresh Sushi Made with Seafood from Toyama Bay
This delicious sushi uses fresh, seasonal seafood caught in Toyama Bay. If you join Hankyu Travel's bus tour, you'll easily be able to eat 10 different varieties of sushi!
K: They only use seafood caught on the day you make your order, so we might not be able to eat the same thing next time!
A: Even the miso soup containing crab stock tastes completely different than anything I've had before! I can really taste the sweetness and umami.
K: It's perfect for cold nights!
Soak Away Your Exhaustion in an Open-air Bath
On this tour, you'll get to stay at Royal Hotel Toyama Tonami, which has rooms that go up to a comfy 35㎡ in size. It's located on top of a hill, so you'll get to look down at Tonami Plain and get a good view of the far-off Tateyama Mountain Range.
K: There's nothing quite like onsen (hot springs) during Japan's cold winter season! This is even better because it's outside!
A: I also really like how they have vending machines right outside of the public baths, so you can have a glass of milk when you're done soaking.
*Photography is forbidden in their public baths.
Get Ready for a New Day with Breakfast at the Hotel
K: The room was large and it had a really comfy bed, so I got a good night's sleep.
A: When you're done prepping, let's hurry and eat breakfast! Eating properly's the key to enjoying a full day.
K: I didn't think there'd be so many things to eat at the breakfast buffet! There's also a ton of drinks, like coffee.
A: Be careful not to drink too much! We're going from Toyama to Kanazawa today, so there'll be a lot of trouble if you need to use the toilet on the way.
K: Kanazawa's that place with popular tourist spots like Kenroku-en Garden, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Ohmi-cho Market, and Higashi Chaya District!
A: We're actually going to all those places you mentioned! Are you excited yet?
Unearth the Attractions of Kanazawa
▪ Kenroku-en Garden
The first sightseeing spot we visited in Kanazawa was Kenroku-en Garden, one of Japan's top three gardens.
It portrays an array of seasonal scenery - sakura in the spring, verdant trees in the spring, fall foliage in the autumn, and yukitsuri* in the winter - and is beloved by both domestic and foreign tourists.
*Yukitsuri: A Japanese technique for preserving trees and shrubs from heavy snow. The vegetation are supported with ropes tying them to the ground.
K: Did you know that Japan and Taiwan show the number "6" with their hands in different ways? Let's use the Taiwanese way while taking a commemorative photo in front of the Kenroku-en Garden sign, because "Kenroku-en" means "Six Attributes Garden"!
A: The most famous sight within this garden is the Kotoji Stone Lantern, right? I've always wanted to take a look at it, so do you mind if we head there?
K: Sure! It's near Kasumiga-ike Pond, correct? I read a bit about it in our travel guide book. It seems like people love to take photos of the lantern reflected on the surface of the water!
A: Exactly! Take a look at my phone. It's a bit unfortunate that it isn't snowing today, but this is what the garden looks like covered in snow!
A: It really does look different from what we're seeing now! But still, this garden really does show off Japan's wabi-sabi*, doesn't it?
K: Yeah, it does! Looking at this picture just reaffirmed why taking a bus here was such a good idea. Treading through all that snow while carrying heavy luggage would be a real pain!
*Wabi-sabi: A world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.
▪ 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
This museum is within walking distance of the park, and it is a must-see for modern art lovers visiting Kanazawa.
It shows off its uniqueness through the world-famous Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich, its eccentric exterior, and various outdoor exhibits.
Klangfeld Nr.3 für Alina was created by the German artist, Florian Claar. It consists of 12 pipes with tuba heads scattered throughout the museum's grounds. These strange-looking pipes are connected in pairs underground, acting as speaking tubes. Since the pipes are not necessarily paired with the one closest to them, you can send your voice to somewhere unexpected and hear voices come from somewhere completely different than where you were imagining, making it an extremely interesting piece of art!
K: I heard someone's voice!
A: I guess I'll give it a try, too~
K: Since we've come all this way, why don't we purchase a pair of tickets and take a look at the Swimming Pool?
Some people call the Swimming Pool, a work by the modern Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich, the representative artwork of this museum.
If you look down at the surface of the water, you'll see people wandering about inside the water. If you look up from the bottom of the pool, you'll see the glittering and gently moving surface of the water, brought about by the reflected sunlight. It'll feel as if you're actually inside a body of water!
K: Do you want me to take a picture of you looking like you're floating in water?
A: It really does look like I'm floating in the water!
K: I want to see all the other exhibits, but we might miss the bus...
A: That's fine! We can see everything else the next time we come to Kanazawa. Apart from permanent exhibits like the Swimming Pool, it seems like they often redisplay other art pieces. Aren't you excited at the thought of what we'll find the next time we visit?
K: Oh, fine! You've convinced me. In that case, let's head back to where the bus is. It's lunch time!
▪ Ohmi-cho Market
This 300-year-old market is known as Kanazawa's "kitchen", and has been supporting the livelihoods of Kanazawa residents since the Edo period. You will find stores carrying all kinds of goods, from seafood to vegetables, fruits, and snacks. The lively calls of the vendors calling out to visitors is sure to become a lasting memory of your trip!
Ohmi-cho Market is famous for its fresh seafood, and it is loved by the local residents. In fact, it's a must-visit spot for gourmands traveling to Kanazawa! You can expect deliciousness in any setting, whether it be inside a store eating seafood dishes like kaisen-don (seafood bowls) or standing right outside the shop front!
A: Even though this market sells seafood, it's not stinky at all and it looks super clean! As expected of the Japanese!
K: That's why you don't have to worry about food safety here! All the restaurants sell such delicious-looking food, I can't decide what to get...
▪ Iki Iki-tei Omi-cho Branch
A: We still have time, so what about this store? It seems like they have a lot of positive reviews.
K: It seems that crab is in season right now, and we definitely can't leave Kanazawa without eating some Kano crab! There's also delicious-looking kaisen-don, which will let us try a variety of seafood... Let's order different things so that we can share later!
A: For 1,500 yen, this is quite a cheap kaisen-don! It's topped with so many kinds of in-season seafood.
K: It's worth ordering this Kani-don (3,500 yen); not only is it available for a limited period of time, but they don't serve it on days with strong wind!
A: One of the shop staff just explained that there's a reason why the toppings are served in a separate plate from the rice! It keeps the toppings from getting warm. Best of all, you can even plop the toppings onto the rice to get a donburi (bowl of rice with toppings) - a genius idea!
K: Yum~ the toppings just glisten and they have a great texture! You can really tell that they're fresh.
Wander Through the Atmospheric Higashi Chaya District (Approx. 40 Mins)
Once we were done with lunch, we headed to Higashi Chaya District, which had a completely different atmosphere from the market.
This district comprises of vestiges of the Edo era like historical two-story wooden structures and retro-looking lanterns, and is a district where geigi* entertain others. In order to preserve its townscape and culture, it is forbidden to set up shop there or walk around the area while eating. This is one of the reasons why it is relatively peaceful compared to other tourist spots.
*Geigi: Another term for geisha. Female entertainers in Japan that usually perform at tea houses.
K: Even without wearing a kimono, I feel like I've slipped back into the past!
A: Its simple yet welcoming townscape is the reason why over 10,000 people visit it every day.
K: There's tons of stores that book lovers would like... We might be able to find a good souvenir here!
A: Hmm... oh right! The Japanese character for gold, kin (金), is in the name Kanazawa (金沢)... but how are those two words connected?
K: It's said that Kanazawa produces over 98% of Japan's gold leaf! The next spot we're heading to is a gold leaf store, so maybe we can get a good answer there!
▪ Hazuka Main Branch
Situated close to Higashi Chaya District, Hazuka Main Branch is home to the Golden Tea Room, a masterpiece created by skilled craftsmen using around 40,000 pieces of Entsuki gold leaf (a kind of top-class gold leaf used to repair national treasures). Sometimes you'll be able to see craftsmen hard at work making gold leaf through glass walls!
K: I didn't think we'd get to drink tea with gold leaf flakes after listening to the explanation on the Golden Tea Room!
A: Can we really drink gold leaf? It seems rather luxurious.
K: They're specially made to be edible, so go ahead and drink them!
K: Look at this! They're all goods made from gold leaf!
A: That signboard says that they're even selling gold leaf takoyaki at Hazuka's new branch store! I want to try it!
K: It's apparently called "Gold Takoyaki" and is a Kanazawa food item believed to bring about good luck! The next time we come to Kanazawa, I'll buy us several pieces of them.
A: Yeah, let's come again! I really like Kanazawa so far.
*The Gold Takoyaki is being sold at Hazuka Kin no Engi-ya in the Higashi Chaya District.
Make Lasting Memories!
Unlike the 1-day bus tours we've been introducing up until now, you'll get to ride a shinkansen on this new Hankyu Travel bus tour! You'll get to explore the atmospheric Hokuriku area and even stay in a hotel with an open-air bath! Since you'll be riding on a bus, you won't have to worry about any confusing transport changes or heavy luggage; that's why we recommend this tour to those who're looking to travel with their special someone or family!
Book Here: <<From Tokyo>> 2-Day Bus Tour to Hida-Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and Kanazawa
Departure Date: November 25, 2018 - March 28, 2019
Fee: 55,000 yen - 59,000 yen
Meeting Place: Tokyo Station
Meeting Time: Depends on the group size (only departs with a minimum of 4 people)
*This tour is currently closed.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.