Noto Hanto is one of those places you hear about by word-of-mouth. A friend of mine tipped me off about this beautiful peninsular that guts out into the Sea of Japan, just three hours north of Fukui prefecture in Ishikawa prefecture. It made for such a great weekend the first time, I went back the next month!
My friend and I took a trip in Golden Week, one of the busiest times for travelling, and even then the roads were clear and we didn’t see many tourists. There is fast scenic ex-toll (fees were suspended in April 2013) road which takes you from Uchinada halfway up the peninsular to Noto Airport. It’s a fast road, but if you want to take in the rural scenes and coastal inlets you should take the 249 which traverses the coastline. It would make for an excellent week-long cycle ride as it’s reasonable quiet and without too many inclines.
Here’s what we took in on the way:
The Peaceful World Kite Championships
On our journey north we stopped by Uchinada to see a kite festival, (we weren’t convinced it was the ‘world championships’, nor really sure why the word ‘peaceful’ was in the name.) We watched as toddlers flew paper-thin kites on pieces of thread, whilst teams of middle-aged men hauled large robust kites up into the air. Best of all were the huge kites which looked more like hot-air balloons which created a colourful sky-scape.
The teams of men looked like they’d been flying kites for a long time and were serious about the competition. They each had a matching jacket and divided-toe shoes to run along the beach in. The traditional kites were made of curved bamboo, with a painted sheet of fabric stretched across it. Brightly coloured scary faces, snakes and tattoo-like designed kites were hoisted in to the sky. It was a competition to see how long the kite could fly for, and in the light-winds, they didn’t stay up for very long.
The team of men would line up along the beach and on the sound of a whistle the men would start the relay race of sprinting 20 metres along the beach, then pass the rope to the next man whilst the heavy kite would be lifted up by the momentum. There was a limit to how far the men could run though as the beach was only 200m wide so when they came to the shoreline, they’d have to be careful not to let the kite fall into the sea. When the men had recovered their fallen kite, they’d walk it back up the beach and continue the eating and drinking in their open tents.
After watching the traditional kites fly, giant octopus kites try to get off the ground and little kids running around getting their kite lines entangled, we decided to continue north to our destination.
We stayed in an apartment owned a Japanese-Australian couple who run Flatts by the Sea. Their business started with a bakery, but expanded to a restaurant with guest rooms. We were lucky enough to try the delicious home made and locally sourced food in their restaurant. Fresh salmon, mountain vegetables and the most delicious pasta I’ve ever eaten. I can thoroughly recommend going there!
That evening, we took a drive around the peninsular to Suzu, where watched families walk out to Mitsukejima (Battleship Island). It’s a home for hundreds of herons which live on the few trees that are perched on the top of the white-cliffed island. You can watch them fight as they battle each other for a branch to spend the night on. I never knew these graceful birds could be so violent!
This place has a campsite right beside the beach where I stayed on my second-visit to Noto. Within throwing distance of the sea, this informal campsite (no marked pitches, no fees in low season) is a great place to come with friends, have a BBQ, enjoy the onsen of the nearby hotel and to chill out. The water is clear, the beach is clean and there is a great, if not a little dangerous, children’s play area behind the campsite.
On the way home, we were lucky enough to see the Seihakusai Dekayama Festival. This takes place once a year in Golden Week and is one of the most impressive festivals I’ve seen. It consists of teams of men pulling three massive floats through the narrow streets of Nanao. You literally have to stand in a shop door as these huge 12 metre floats are pulled passed, or you can grab one of the ropes and join in pulling it yourself! Changing the direction of the floats was the most exciting part of the festival, with the team’s men one by one standing on a level which, with enough weight on it, could lift the float to change its direction. There was a great atmosphere, many festival stands selling all the usual festival foods, and it was a great way to end a weekend.
Noto has a lot more to offer and is somewhere I’ll definitely be returning to.