Peaceful fishing villages and unique cultures are hidden in the rustic land of Wajima of the Noto Peninsula.
Where is Wajima City?
Located on the northwest side of the Noto Peninsula, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture, is a rustic land with fishing villages and cobblestone streets along the coast.
Not only that, there is also a market in Wajima with over 1,000 years of history, where residents sell products of their country, such as fresh fish, dried seafood, handicrafts, et cetera.
Although it has only about 30,000 residents, it is considered one of the larger towns in the region. The limited population and geographical seclusion make many people think that Wajima is a remote countryside.
In fact, for generations, this lovely fishing village has been the seat of one of the country’s largest religious groups, a key center of maritime trade, and a “cradle” of manufacturing. Lacquerware is famous not just in the country but also all around the world.
The center of lacquer craft on the Noto peninsula
Wajima’s lacquer craft is one of its unique attractions. It is unknown when lacquerware production began here, however there are indications dating back to the 1400s.
The abundance of elm and cypress trees for wood and gardenia (also known as urushi) for lacquer resin are suitable conditions for Wajima’s lacquer craft. Wajima continued to produce lacquerware in the traditional manner throughout the twentieth century, when many lacquer producers in Japan converted to utilizing synthetic resins due to a scarcity of materials during the war.
Lacquerware making in Wajima is a time-consuming and labor-intensive procedure as it requires numerous stages of production. Finished items are products of high sophistication and are mainly recognized by their endurance.
The popularity of Wajima lacquerware is related to the history of the sacred Soji Temple, located about 20 minutes southwest of the city. Founded in 1321, for centuries, Soji Temple has been renowned as the head temple of the Soto sect, a significant sect of Zen Buddhism with over 15,000 temples nationwide.
Soji was also a key center of training and missionary activities. As a result, monks from all across the country rushed to Noto, and many of them became charmed with the temple’s gorgeous lacquered altar decorations, spreading legends of fine crafts and this vocation to their homes.
After the reputation for beauty and durability of Wajima lacquerware was confirmed throughout Japan, demand for the product was met through “北前船 – kitamaebune”, a network of small merchant ships that independently traveled from Hokkaido to Kyushu on the South China Sea, the coast of Japan, and around the archipelago to Osaka and Kyoto.
From the 17th through the late 19th centuries, they acquired and sold local items while going from port to port, including Wajima. In this way, Wajima lacquerware has found its way to Kyoto, Tokyo, and beyond, giving a beauty of simplicity that perfectly compliments the subtle seasonal fluctuations of Japanese cuisine.
Kiriko Lantern Matsuri in Wajima
Wajima lacquerware is also part of another distinctive local craft, the Kiriko lantern, used throughout the summer festival from July to October. Every town on the Noto Peninsula hosts a festival. Kiriko on his own. Although each has its own traditions, they compete with each other in terms of size and buzz.
The summer celebration is celebrated to express gratitude to the gods for bountiful crops and catching fish, and it plays a significant role in community building.
On festival days, villagers invite family and friends over to their homes to enjoy homemade food and drink sake, preserving a tradition of hospitality and togetherness that has been passed down for generations. Tourists are also welcome for the festival, although if visiting at other times of the year, they can still visit the Wajima Kiriko Museum of Fine Arts to get a feel for the ambience of the Kiriko lantern festival.
Address: Wajima Kiriko Fine Arts Museum, 6-1 Marine Town, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture.
The beauty of terraced fields
North of Wajima City is Shiroyone Senmaida, where terraced fields with distinctive farming methods have been recognized by UNESCO as an important global agricultural heritage.
More than a thousand little rice fields are farmed on a coastal slope, each step short and no more than a few meters long. Its small size and rugged terrain make it difficult to use agricultural machinery, and each ear of rice has to be both sowed and harvested by hand.
This hard effort is currently done by local farmers and volunteers to preserve Wajima’s distinctive culture. Especially in late spring, when the flooded fields reflect the sunset like thousands of mirrors, Shiroyone Senmaida is stunningly magnificent.