Nanao (七尾) is the largest city in the Noto Peninsula, the northern part of Ishikawa, Japan. This quiet city has few tourist attractions, but offers several amazing views of nature as well as an honest glimpse into the simple country life of Japan. The hot spring town of Wakura Onsen is also within Nanao city limits, but covered in its own article.
Nanao was once the economic, cultural, and political capital of Noto province, in what is today known as Ishikawa prefecture. Though it has a history dating back to 718, little remains of the city's past.
The modern city of Nanao was established in 1939, and was expanded in 2004 to include several surrounding towns.
The climate of Nanao is much like the rest of Ishikawa prefecture - wet and unpredictable. Though the rainy season lasts from July until August, Ishikawa is notorious for it's cloudy weather and sudden rain showers all year round.
Summer tends to see more sunny days with temperatures between 25-30°C, while winter is somewhat mild, rarely dipping below 0°C. Snowfall tends to vary year by year, but one can expect at least a few blizzards in the winter months.
Spring has the mildest weather, where winter has melted and flowers (especially cherry blossoms) start to bloom, and it's not yet as hot and humid as summer will become.
Nanao is on the JR Noto Line and has local trains coming north roughly every hour from Kanazawa via Tsubata. Limited express trains from Kanazawa stop at Nanao on their way to the JR Noto Line terminus, Wakura Onsen. Nanao is also the terminus of the private Noto Railway to/from Anamizu to the north, and the station shares both lines.
Noto Airport: Noto Peninsula has its own small airport. Flights to/from Tokyo are offered twice daily. There is a taxi service from the airport to Nanao/Wakura. It takes about 1 hour and costs 1,300 yen, and must be booked in advance. TEL:0767-66-0114 Nakajima Taxi
Komatsu Airport: This is a larger airport than Noto's, and it offers flights to/from a variety of destinations including: Haneda, Narita, Sendai, Fukuoka, Naha, and Seoul. There is an airport bus that goes to Kanazawa station and takes about 1 hour and costs 800 yen. From Kanazawa station it's 1.5 hours and 1,280 yen by local train to Nanao.
Travelling by car is the easiest way to navigate Nanao and its surrounding areas. Coming by car from major cities via expressway, Tokyo is 5 hours away, Osaka is 4.5 hours, and Nagoya is 4 hours.
Entering via express toll roads:
- Get off the Hokuriku expressway at Kanazawa East IC (金沢東IC) and take the Noto toll road (能登有料 Noto yūryō).
- You can enter Nanao at any one of four toll road exits: Uwadana Yada (上棚矢駄), Nishiyama (西山), Tokuda Otsu (徳田大津), or Yokota (横田).
Entering via local roads:
- The #159 and #2 roads head into Nanao from the south.
- The #1 heads south-east from the upper Noto into Nanao.
- The #160 heads into Nanao from the north-east.
While the bus does go most everywhere around Nanao, it should be avoided if at all possible. It's slow and relatively expensive compared to the train. One out-of-the-way area the train cannot go is the scenic Notojima. You can take a bus (能登島交通 Notojima Kōtsū) there from either Nanao or Wakura stations.
As many of Nanao's best sites are spread across the city, by car is the most efficient way to travel. However, it's certainly possible and definitely rewarding to take a bicycle around to the many scenic spots found on and off the beaten path in Nanao. Those looking for a challenge can make a day out of cycling to the top of Joyama (Nanao's old castle ruins) to take in the view of Nanao city and its bay, followed by a trip to Wakura Onsen to soak in one of its many famous hot springs.
For trips outside of the city the train is a viable option, with trains leaving roughly hourly going both north and south from the centrally located Nanao station. Take care not to board anything but a local (普通 futsū) train, or else you might end up on a train that skips your desired stop and have to pay more for a ticket. Buses are also available at the station, leaving for various destinations at approximately the same intervals. Schedules can be made/found at hyperdia.
- Notojima Glass Art Museum (石川県能登島ガラス美術館), 125-10 Koda machi-Notojima (Take the bus bound for Notojima Rinkai Koen from Wakura Onsen Station and get off at Bijutsukan-mae bus stop. Takes about 20 minutes.), ☎ . 9:00-16:30. This museum is the only public specialized glass art museum in Japan. It displays some unique glass sculptures based on original ideas from artists such as Picasso and Chagall. It also has some interesting sculptures and a section devoted to old liquor bottles once used in Japan. If that wasn't quirky enough, the building itself looks like a ship straight out of Star Wars. Entrance fee is 800 yen..
- Le Musee de H Confectionary Museum, WA-65-1 Wakura-machi (5 minute drive from Wakura Onsen station), ☎ . 8:00-17:00. The museum consists of a single room displaying a collection of sculptures made of sweets. The artist, Hironobu Tsujiguchi, was born in Nanao and is a world renowned confectionery chef. Adjacent is a patisserie with a variety of delicious if not somewhat expensive coffees and cakes. Entrance fee is 600 yen.
- Nanao Art Museum (石川県七尾美術館), 1-1 Komaruyamadai (15 minute walk from Nanao station. Signs are posted throughout the city), ☎ . 9:00-17:00. Nanao was the birthplace of Tohaku Hasegawa (長谷川等伯), who was a well known Japanese master painter. They have annual exhibitions related to his works. You can also see many local artists' works there. Worth checking out if you have some free time. Tickets range from free to 800 yen, depending on the event.
- Nanao Castle Ruins (七尾城山) (Coming from Nanao station, take the 159 south. Just past Nappy Mall, turn left at the fork in the road and follow the signs from there up the mountain.). Contrary to the name, this area contains very little in the way of castle ruins, offering just a small section of stone wall that was once used to fortify the small castle. The reason to go is not for the (non-existent) castle, but for the best view of Nanao and its bay. The small park at the top is peaceful, and the view is gorgeous. The best time to go is in spring on a clear day. Free to enter..
- Seihakusai Dekayama Festival (青柏祭でか山) (10 minute walk from Nanao station), ☎ . If there's one event you must see in Nanao, it's this one! Taking place during Golden Week on May 3, 4, and 5th, this festival is designated as Japan's Important Intangible Cultural Property and consists of pulling massive structures called Dekayama ("Huge Mountain") through the streets of Nanao. These Dekayama are as high as 12 meters and weigh almost 20 tons, and the diameter of their wheels is 2 meters. Apart from the size of Dekayama, changing the direction of huge creaking wheels with the help of ropes and a central fifth wheel located underneath the float is an event unto itself. Anyone is welcome to have a hand at pulling one of the three floats through the narrow city streets during the 3-day event, so have a try at it!
- [dead link]Notojima Aquarium (のとじま水族館), 15-40 Magarimachi-Notojima (Take the bus bound for Notojima Rinkai Koen from Wakura Onsen station and get off at the terminal. Takes about 30 minutes.), ☎ . 9:00-17:00. This aquarium has species from all over Japan including some that inhabit the Noto Peninsula's coast. Visitors can enjoy various attractions such as the Dolphin Show, the Sea Bream Light and Sound Show and the Sea Otter Feeding Show. It also has a tunnel tank that makes one feel as if they're underwater with the dolphins! Entrance fee is 1,320 yen.
- [dead link]Komaruyama Park Cherry Blossom Viewing (小丸山公園さくらまつり), 1-1 Umadashi-machi (8 minute walk from Nanao station. Signs are posted around the city), ☎ . By far the best view of cherry blossoms to be had in Nanao city, Komaruyama comes alive when sakura bloom in early April. Bring along some friends and enjoy a drink together while taking in the beauty of the park. Free of cost to enter.
- Monterey Jazz Festival in Noto (モントレージャズフェスティバル イン能登) (Located at the Marine Park beside Fisherman's Wharf), ☎ . Nanao has enjoyed this international jazz festival every year since its inception in 1989. So named for its sister city relationship with Monterey, California, musicians from all over the world come to play and enjoy this one-day-only event at Fisherman's Wharf - rain or shine. The event takes place on the last Saturday of July. Tickets are 5000 yen each pre-ordered or 6000 yen the day of the event.
- [dead link]Noto Marathon and Oyster Festival (能登和倉万葉の里マラソン), Sodegae-machi I-bu 25, ☎ . This event is as much a race as it is a sight-seeing tour of the beautiful areas surrounding Nanao Bay and Notojima. Taking place in March, the weather is perfect for a run. Courses range from 5km to the full marathon, and non-participants are welcome to enjoy the DIY grilled oysters and other food booths. Note: be sure to sign up early (in October) for this event. Price to join is between 2000 and 5000 yen, depending on event entered. Price includes refreshments, sports towel, time sheet, etc.
- Kouda Fire Festival (向田の火祭), Kouda Sakiyama Hiroba (Located on the east coast of Notojima, about 30 minutes by car from central Nanao). This event takes place on the last Saturday of July every year, and is one of three special summer fire festivals in Japan. Many people gather to pull floats from local shrines to a central location, where small torches are thrown into an open space, creating one huge (30m high) column of fire. People tell fortunes of the year's catch of fish and harvest by the direction of the torch when it falls. Free to enter.
- Issaki Houtou Festival (石崎奉燈祭) (Located between central Nanao and Wakura Onsen). This is a fun event that really gives you a taste of what local festivals are all about. Taking place on the first Friday and Saturday in August, six big floats 15m high, 9m long, and weighing in at 2 tons are carried by 100 men and marched in procession around the alleyways of the small fishing village to the tune of tradtitional flutes and drums. Everyone is there to have a good time and cheer on the people carrying the beautifully decorated - and massive, floats. There are food stalls scattered around the main square and plenty of drinking. Free to enter.
There are several good public onsen in Nanao, outside of Wakura Onsen.
- Nakajima Sarutahiko Onsen (なかじま猿田彦温泉), Nakajima-machi Yo-bu 116 (Located near the twin bridge in Nakajima, about 30 minutes from central Nanao), ☎ . 10:00-22:00. Entrance fee is 450 yen.
- Hyokkori Onsen (ひょっこり温泉島の湯) (Located on the south coast of Notojima and takes 15-20 minutes by car from central Nanao), ☎ . 9:00-22:00. This public onsen is at a nice, quiet location with a beach out front and a view of central Nanao. Entrance fee is 450 yen.
- Fisherman's Wharf (能登食際市場 Noto Shokusai Ichiba), Fuchuu-machi, Ingai 13-1 (10 minute walk north of Nanao station), ☎ . 8:30-18:00. The first floor of Fisherman's Wharf is full of small shops specializing in souvenirs from the Noto. While a lot of it is the kind of over-priced junk one would find in any souvenir shop, there are some legitimately unique and interesting items including: books on the Noto Peninsula, pictures and postcards of the Noto, food/snacks unique to the Noto, and Noto wine. This is the best place to shop if you're looking for items unique to this area of Japan.
- Ipponsugi street (一本杉通り Ipponsugi-dōri) is one of Nanao's main traditional shopping streets, located about halfway between Nanao station and Fisherman's Wharf. While home to a few heritage buildings and craft shops, most of it is distinctly ordinary. It does make for a nice stroll, especially at night when traditional lanterns are lit.
- Takazawa Candle Shop (高澤), Ipponsugi-dori.  [dead link]. Nanao began making candles around 1650 due to the influence of the Kitamaebune. Wax is made from a special type of Japanese tree, and the wick is made from a rush, or Japanese-style paper (washi). These traditional candles are completely made of natural ingredients. It is said that these types of candles are brighter and last longer than Western-style candles.
- Shirai, ☎ . (しら井), Ipponsugi-dori, 100. 9:00-19:00. In the Edo period, the Kitamaebune (see previous link) brought various imports from far-off Hokkaido to Nanao port. Such items included herring, salmon, furs, and kombu (edible kelp). The route these incoming ships took, called 'Kombu Road,' served as an important hub to the Noto region, and many ships stayed for long periods of time at Nanao port. With a 70 year history of producing kombu and other products originating from the sea, this is the perfect place to find all things seaweedy. You'll be amazed at the variety (and prices!), presented in a stylish shop that wouldn't feel out of place on the Champs-Elysees, and you can even pick up some kelp candy for the folks back home.
Nanao has a variety of restaurants offering both Japanese and Western-style foods. While chain restaurants such as Coco's and Mos Burger are available (both at Bay Mall), there are a plethora of small, out-of-the-way restaurants located in alleys or side-streets that are just as good if not better. Taking a walk around the winding streets between Ribbon street and the main road leading to the Wharf at dinner-time will prove that point!
It's worth mentioning that Nanao is famous for its fresh fish and as such offers some of the best sushi in all of Japan. Three local fish are buri (Yellowtail), tai (sea bream), and maguro (tuna). If you get a chance, you should try these at one of the several sushi shops around Nanao.
- Sennari (千成屋 Sennariya), Ote-machi 135-8 (Located on Ribbon street. 2 Minute walk from Nanao station), ☎ . The atmosphere of this izakaya is a strange but interesting mixture of European decor, Japanese food, and Irish jig music. The menu includes a wide variety of dishes including salads, pastas, grilled and skewered meat, rice, and more. Dishes are somewhat small and are best shared among friends. Although you should expect to pay at least 3,000 yen for a meal with drinks, keep in mind that the food is well worth it and there are three microbrewed beers on tap. The garlic pizza and butabara (grilled pork) are recommended. Note: at least three dishes per person must be ordered while drinking.
- Advance (アドバンス), I 10-2 Shinmei-chō (Located behind the Minacle building near Ribbon street), ☎ . This izakaya has some of the best food in Nanao, albeit served as several small dishes, which is typical of pubs in Japan. While it loses out in style to Sennari, it easily rivals it in taste. Prices are average.
- Fish & Chips (フイッシュ＆チップス), Fuchuu-machi, Ingai 13-1 (Located on the second floor of Fisherman's Wharf), ☎ . 11:00-22:00. Perhaps the only fish & chips restaurant in Ishikawa prefecture, those needing a taste of home can get it here. This seafood restaurant offers a variety of Japanese and Western-stle dishes including pasta, pizza, appetizers, and of course their famous 2 or 3-piece fish & chips platter. Good for large parties, as eight or more people can be accommodated easily. Prices are average.
- Ristorante Rio (リストランテ・リオ), 1-145-8 Minato-machi (Two minute walk east of Fisherman's Wharf, across from the harbour), ☎ . 11:00-15:00, 17:30-22:30. The best Italian food in Nanao. It has a wide range of pastas, pizzas, appetizers and drinks. The atmosphere is a little dark, and the music can be a little loud, but it's interesting. It can also accommodate a large group of people for a party. Prices are a bit expensive.
- Noa (ノア), I-19 Shinmei-chō (One minute walk east from Nanao station, just down the street from it), ☎ . Open from morning until 14:00. This small, quiet, mom-and-pop-run lunch restaurant is a hidden gem. It has delicious Japanese-style lunch sets which include tempura, grilled pork, and others. The owners are a kind elderly couple, and the decor is straight out of the '70s. Prices are very reasonable, with a full set lunch costing about 500 yen.
- Minoji (みのじ), Fujibashi-machi 42-3 (A bit difficult to find, located at the T-intersection of the road leading up the hill to Noto Hospital), ☎ . 17:00-24:00, closed Sundays. This izakaya offers many delicious Japanese dishes, including sushi roulette, a plate of rolled sushi with one or more pieces being loaded with wasabi. Decent beers on tap. buri (yellowtail) steak is recommended! Prices are average.
- Nihonkai Shoya (日本海庄や), 1 Minacle, Shinmei-chō (Located at the north-west corner of the Minacle building by Nanao station), ☎ . 11:30-14:00, 17:00-23:00. Offers many Japanese dishes and drinks, and considering the quality of the food, the prices are fairly reasonable. Complimentary dishes or discounts aren't uncommon on large bills as well. A good place to take your parents if they visit.
As in the "Eat" section, there are many decent hole-in-the-wall bars to be found all over Nanao, and prices tend not to fluctuate too much from bar to bar.
- Margarita's (2 minute walk east from Nanao station, near Nanao city hall.). Open 18:00-2:00. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The best (and possibly only) proper bar in Nanao. The atmosphere is simple and the owners are very kind and love chatting with new people. The bartender is always willing to make any drink request, and does so with flair. Try a Flaming Dr. Pepper - a unique specialty favoured by the local English teachers. Prices are average.
- Bee Spot (蜂の巣 hachi no su), I-1-16 Misogi-machi (A bit difficult to find but very close to Nanao station. Located in the side streets between Ribbon street and the main road to the harbour), ☎ . This small but friendly bar is run by a small but friendly mama-san. It's specialty is Japanese sake, and karaoke is available. Great for a few drinks and karaoke with friends. Prices are average for a karaoke bar.
- Samba (サンバ), Ho 6-9 Misogi-machi (Located behind the Sunkus on the main intersection just north of Nanao station), ☎ . 11:00-2:00. The energetic mama-san will greet you warmly with a hug and a microphone as you enter this karaoke bar. Everyone who comes here has a great time singing and drinking and making new friends. It's easy to forget how much you sing and drink having so much fun though, so don't be surprised to see large bill at the end of the night. Prices are average for a karaoke bar.
- Justice (Located on Ribbon street, across from Hokkoku Bank). This is a recent addition to Nanao's lacking night scene. It blasts pop, rock, and hip hop music in a club-like atmosphere, though there is no dance-floor. It has karaoke, snacks, and cheap (500 yen) drinks. But, be advised there is a "seating fee", which makes this bar only slightly cheaper than the average karaoke bar... depending on how much you drink.
In addition, there are at least a dozen snack bars in Nanao which are easy to find (or avoid, depending on you're fancy). Look for strange, flowery names like "Misty", "Venus", or "Mona Lisa".
Nanao has two business hotels and a scattered handful of small inns. If you desire more than just an average stop-over in the Nanao area, Wakura Onsen specializes in ryokan (Japanese-style inns), and has several that would impress any visitor - including Japanese.
- Hotel Route Inn (ホテルルートイン七尾), HA 31-1 Motofuchuu-machi, Nanao-shi, Ishikawa-ken, Japan 926-0021 (10 minute walk directly east of Nanao station. Easily visible as it is one of the tallest buildings in Nanao), ☎ . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. Located fairly close to downtown Nanao, this is a typical chain hotel with all the familiar amenities one would expect to find. Prices range between 6,000 and 10,500 yen.
- Hotel Alivio (ホテルアリビオ) (Located directly across from Nanao station in the Minacle building), ☎ . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. Upper-scale business hotel in a great location, right downtown. Prices range between 5,800 and 12,800 yen per night.
- A relaxing stay in Wakura Onsen is only one stop away north via the Noto Railway Nanao Line in Nanao station. Tickets are 180 yen and the ride takes just 5 minutes.
- The last stop on the Noto Railway Nanao Line is Anamizu. Though buses are available, if you wish to go further into the Upper Noto Peninsula, to places like Wajima or Suzu, a car is the best way to travel.
- Trains leave bound for Kanazawa or Komatsu roughly hourly via the JR Nanao Line. Local train tickets are 1,380 yen and take approximately 90 minutes to Kanazawa. Buses with similar times and prices are also available from Nanao station.
- Noto Kararibi Limited Express trains bound for Kanazawa make round-trips from Wakura Onsen 5 times daily. If you are in a rush to get to Kanazawa, this train only takes an hour from Nanao (but more than doubles the cost of a ticket). This train pass IR Ishikawa Railway line but all charges are valid with JR pass if you don't stopover at IR line stations.
- Tokyo may be accessed via transfer at Kanazawa.