Kaga, Japan

Photo: Beniya Mukayu
Photo: Beniya Mukayu

You’re overworked, stressed, and exhausted. You need a vacation. Yesterday. But this time, your default beach trip just isn’t going to cut it. You need a place to unwind, stretch—both your body and your mind—and look at the world differently. Bonus points if you’re taken out of your comfort zone.

Gray skies and a constant drizzle welcomed you to the northwest coast of Honshu last night. You grabbed your umbrella and darted for the entrance of Beniya Mukayu, a small hotel in Kaga. No one inside seemed surprised by the weather—this area is known as the Seattle of Japan—but your chaotic arrival might have been slightly overdramatic. You retreated to your room and slipped into the open-air bath overlooking a grove of red pines. Your heart rate quickly returned to normal.

After a long soak, you dressed in a blue, green, and white kimono. You went to the cafe for a glass of apple juice—the sweet Fuji apples were freshly peeled and pressed with your order—and some rice-powder hard candy. You had a Yakushiyama treatment, with hot spring water and medicinal herbs, at the spa. You drank matcha, a strong green tea, in the tea ceremony room. You ate an eight-course kaiseki meal for dinner with pure rice Junmai Daiginjo sake next to the garden full of maples and camellias. And you returned to your room for another bath before bed.

Photo: Beniya Mukayu
Photo: Beniya Mukayu

This morning, you wake up feeling loose and refreshed. You join the yoga group in the open Horin space. You drink fresh strawberry juice with breakfast. You’re surprised to walk outside and see bright sunshine. You’re quickly distracted by the cherry blossoms, though. The pink-and-white flowers are everywhere. The air smells sweet. You’re enchanted.

You spend the morning riding a gondola along the Daishoji River. Besides the oar dipping into the water and the breeze rustling the cherry trees, everything is still. You stroll through town, stopping at temples, shrines, and pottery shops. Kutani ware, a painted porcelain, is famous throughout the country. Then you ride the express train to nearby Kanazawa.

Kanazawa, one of the few Japanese cities that wasn’t bombed during World War II, is well-preserved and easily walkable. Visit Kanazawa Castle, where the Maeda family, a local feudal clan, ruled for almost 300 years. The surrounding park is filled with flowering trees. Walk through Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens, to be engulfed by plum and cherry blossoms. Visit the Nagamachi District, where samurais used to live along the canals. And, across the Asanogawa River, see Higashi-Chayamachi, where geishas entertained in the historic row houses.

When you return to Beniya Mukayu, you slip quietly inside. But like garlic or curry, the floral scent of the cherry blossoms seems to linger and announces your return to the staff. You smile, nod your head, and head toward your room for a soak before dinner. Your mindset has changed already.

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