When one talks about experiencing the cultural history of Japan, it usually involves visiting ancient temples or a museum to view an exhibit on Japanese artifacts. But for more interactive learners, it can be hard to appreciate the depth and significance of this history without actually taking part in it. Thankfully, those visiting Japan’s west coast can do just that in Ishikawa Prefecture. At Yunokuni No Mori in Komatsu city, visitors can not only see a slice of Japanese historical culture, but experience it taking shape with all the senses.
History Comes To Life
Located just 20 minutes by car from the famous Kaga Onsen, Yunokuni No Mori is a sprawling traditional craft village nestled among a 100 acre forest. From the moment you enter the village and pass under the canopy of red lanterns, it feels as though you are transported back through time.
One of the first stops visitors will come across is the traditional tea house. Beginning your day in this 300 year old house, sipping matcha while seated around its large central hearth, truly sets the mood for the activities to come. Close your eyes for a moment and breathe in the scent of the tatami mats in the adjoining room, or admire the craftsmanship of the lacquered wooden beams supporting the structure and you will find that these tangible experiences connect you to the past more deeply than any museum ever could.
Further inside, colorful transparent umbrellas have been suspended over a walkway, creating rainbows in shadow during midday. Even the most camera-shy visitors will have a hard time resisting posing for photos under its magical, other-worldly light.
What’s There to Do?
As anyone with young children knows, it can be difficult if not impossible to hold their attention with history lessons. Thankfully, Yunokuni No Mori has found the perfect solution to keep the entire family happy and entertained. Throughout the village, visitors can take part in activities such as traditional paper making, gold leaf decoration, and preparing handmade soba noodles. These fun and educational crafts are perfect for families and visitors of all ages. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular activities they have to offer.
When asked why they chose to visit Japan, many travelers list “the food” as one of their top reasons. While people all over the world have come to know and love sushi, there are many other traditional foods that are staples of the Japanese diet. For instance, soba; thin buckwheat noodles that are dipped into a salty, savory broth before eating. Served either hot or cold, it’s an incredibly satisfying dish any time of year.
Rather than simply ordering soba in a restaurant, why not try making your own? Located in Yunokuni No Mori’s Hakusan House, it’s the perfect early afternoon activity to set the tone for the rest of the day. Even the most culinary challenged among us will enjoy preparing this easy, two ingredient recipe.
Starting with nothing more than a small amount of buckwheat flour and a large bowl, you will slowly add water and knead the dough until it takes on a thick paste-like consistency and no powdery bits remain. When properly mixed, it should feel somewhat crumbly, but not dry.
With your soba dough ball prepared, you’ll next begin flattening it with your hands to shape it into a small disk. From here, you’ll use a rolling pin to expand the dough, rolling outwards so that its edges begin to form straight lines.
Once your dough has been stretched and flattened into a large rectangle, fold it over onto itself before moving onto the final step. Using a wooden block as a guide, cut the dough into long, thin strips. Ideally, you want each noodle to be as wide as it is thick.
Don’t overthink it too much though. As you’ll note in the picture below, mistakes happen. Thankfully, this doesn’t make your noodles any less delicious.
In less than 15 minutes from start to finish, you’ll have a fresh batch of soba ready for cooking, and can brag to your friends back home about your new traditional Japanese cooking skills.
The soba making experience costs 2,100 yen for a single portion, or 3,200 yen for two. For a small additional fee, the kitchen staff at Yunokuni No Mori will cook your soba for you to be enjoyed in their dining room.
The nutty taste and perfectly chewy texture of freshly-made soba is made even better by the knowledge that you prepared it yourself from scratch. If you’re not feeling hungry, your uncooked soba can also be packaged to take home and enjoy later.
Traditional Japanese Paper Making
Unlike the plain white paper we all know and largely take for granted today, creating the traditional Japanese paper known as washi is equal parts art form and labor of love. Dating back over 1,300 years in Japan, it has played a pivotal role in the development of countless Japanese artworks and is still beloved by many today for its beauty and strength. Though it has since been replaced by Western-style paper for most day to day usage, it has by no means lost its classical charm and appeal.
Today, it is used in everything from origami, to book binding, to wedding invitations. You may never have given more than a passing thought to paper quality before, but hold a piece of washi in your hands and you’ll quickly find that its tactilely pleasing fibrous texture that elevates whatever is written upon it to a status of greater importance.
While washi production from start to finish can be a long, laborious process, visitors to Yunokuni No Mori can skip right to the good part and make their own washi in just under an hour for 1,100 yen. Because the pulp used to make washi starts in a liquid form, once it is poured into a wooden frame for drying, flattened flowers, leaves, and gold foil can be carefully placed inside. After it has dried, it can be framed and permanently displayed inside the decorative washi sheet.
Gold Leaf Decoration
Since its advent in the early 16th century, Ishikawa has become known as the gold leaf capital of Japan. This incredibly thin gold is pounded flat to 0.1 millionths of a meter and made into a decorative foil or powder. Through the careful use of stencils, paint brushes, and a special adhesive, artists can create intricate, luminous designs on anything from jewelry boxes to chopsticks.
While this may seem incredibly complicated at first glance, Yunokuni No Mori’s friendly and talented craftsmen are more than happy to guide you through every step of the process. After designing your custom artwork and applying the adhesive, brushing the glittering gold dust onto its surface feels as though you are painting with magic. With a little creativity and a steady hand, you can head home with your own custom golden souvenir for 1,200 yen.
Kaga Yuzen Fabric Dyeing
Kaga Yuzen style dyeing; notable for its highly-detailed hand-drawn designs, nature motifs, and five signature colors, is a rich cultural tradition in the Kaga region dating back over 500 years. While Kaga Yuzen designs are most well-known for adorning luxury silk kimono, they can also be found on everything from scarves to wall tapestries.
Also on display just outside the house is a piece of silk which has been placed in a stream, being washed in the traditional Yuzen method. The gently flowing water acts as a natural and simple means to remove any excess dye from the fabric.
If these beautiful works have left you feeling inspired, head inside the Yuzen House to shop for fabrics dyed by local artisans, or to create your own unique design with their fabric dyeing experience for 1,300 yen.
Not artistically talented? No need to worry. Using the many nature-themed stencils provided, anyone can create precise, detailed patterns with ease and watch their work of art come to life before their eyes. During the experience, instructors will guide you in the Yuzen method of using seaweed paste to prevent unintentional color mixing and create realistic-looking shading.
Share the Experiences With Friends Back Home
With so much to see and do at Yunokuni No Mori, it may be difficult to fit it all into a single afternoon. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to miss out on anything. At the souvenir shop, visitors can find a wide selection of products representative of all of the village’s activities, including music boxes, glassware, baked goods and more.
It’s the perfect way to experience everything Yunokuni No Mori has to offer and to share some of Ishikawa’s traditional heritage with friends and family back home.
Click the link below to see experience fees
Yunokuni No Mori
Address: 3-3 Awazu Onsen, Komatsu, Ishikawa 923-0393
Hours: Daily from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM
Directions: From Kaga Onsen Station, take the Hokuriku Line to Awazu Station. From here, take the bus bound for Natadera to the Kamiaraya bus stop. Yunokuni No Mori is 3 minutes away on foot from here.
In The Mood For a Bit More History?
If your afternoon of exploring the Yunokuni No Mori craft village has you hungry for more Japanese history, you’re in luck. Just 5 minutes away by car, Natadera is an over 1,300 year old Buddhist temple famed for its intricate rock carvings, three-story pagoda, and colorful autumn foliage.
First established in 717 by a travelling monk in search of a goddess who supposedly resided in the area, it features several meditation caves which have been hand-carved into the rock faces. Because of the Buddhist beliefs of reincarnation, these caves are often referred to as “wombs”, in that they are places of spiritual rebirth. Entering the cave is symbolic of the death of your former self. While inside, visitors pray for the cleansing of their spirits from past sins. Upon leaving, they are “born” into the world again; freed from their spiritual burdens.
Exploring the beautiful landscape of Natadera is the ultimate way to end your day in Ishikawa. Spiritually refreshed and with newly-made traditional crafts in hand, you can watch the sunset over the lake with a newfound respect and appreciation for the rich culture that has made Ishikawa what it is today.
Address: 122 Natamachi, Komatsu, Ishikawa 923-0336
Hours: Daily from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM
Directions: From Yunokuni No Mori, walk to the nearby Baba bus stop. From here, take the bus roughly 6 minutes to the Natamachi bus stop. Natadera is about 7 minutes away on foot from here.