The History of Yamanaka Onsen
The History of Yamanaka Onsen
According to a scroll (a Yamanaka Designated Cultural Artificat which is stored in Ioji Temple) depicting the origin of Yamanaka Onsen, about 1,300 years ago, there was a monk named Gyoki who was traveling through the Kaga area when he encountered the Medicine Buddha who told him, "Here there is a hot spring of just the right temperature that will cure people's illnesses. You should dig it up." Gyoki dug and discovered a hot spring which became Yamanaka Onsen. However, due to multiple wars and conflicts, people forgot about Yamanaka Onsen until several hundred years later, when Nobutsuru Hasebe visited the mountain and helped revitalize the onsen town. Since then, countless visitors, including the famous Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, have come to this number one onsen in the Hokuriku Region, seeking to cure their ailments in its healing waters.
Historical Figures with Deep Relations to Yamanaka Onsen
Haiku Poet Matsuo Basho
Matsuo Basho was not only a renowned master of poetry, he was also the writer of "Oku no Hosomichi" (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), a travel diary considered to be one of the major texts of Japanese literature. He stopped by Yamanaka Onsen during his journey to the north, staying for eight nights and nine days, and in the process, composed a number of famous haikus evincing his deep love for the onsen town. His most famous haiku about Yamanaka claims that a bath in its waters is more rejuvenating than a drink from the mythical dew of eternal youth that Chinese chrysanthemum fairies gather from chrysanthemums. "Yamanaka ya / Kiku wa taoraji / Yu no nioi". Upon composing this poem, Basho then went on to proclaim Yamanaka Onsen as one of Japan's Three Best Onsens.
The Four Saints of Yamanaka Onsen
Four figures stand out in Yamanaka Onsen's 1,300-year history: Gyoki, Nobutsura Hasebe, Matsuo Basho, and Rennyo Shonin.Gyoki, a monk from the Nara Period, is credited for having discovered Yamanaka Onsen.
Nobutsura Hasebe, who was the lord of the Noto Domain during the turbulent Kamakura Period, was responsible for revitalizing the forgotten onsen town. Basho was a famous Japanese poet who wrote many haikus about Yamanaka Onsen and propelled it to fame. Rennyo Shonin was a monk who accomplished many legendary feats in this area. These four characters built the foundation for Yamanaka Onsen and are accordingly revered as "saints". They are still treasured and worshiped today.
Traditional Performing Arts
Yamanaka-bushi Folk Song "Shiki-no-may"
Yamanaka-za Performance
At the Yamanaka-za Hall, you can enjoy various Yamanaka traditional performing arts such as dance performances to Yamanaka-bushi by Yamanaka geishas, seasonal dances, and lion dances. Come and have a look!
Show times: Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Admission: Adults 700 yen, Children 250 yen
Origin of Yamanaka-bushi
Yamanaka-bushi is said to have been influenced by the the influx of visitors from the Kitamaebune shipping routes of the Edo and Meiji Periods. Ships would travel up and down the Sea of Japan coast on these trading routes making stops in various port areas. In the winter season, when the seas would get too rough to set sail on, many of the traders would stay in Yamanaka Onsen and rest.
At that time, there were no indoor bathhouses and there was only one large outdoor communal bath. For that reason, the various inns around the area would send serving girls referred to as "Yukabeh" to accompany the guests to the baths and watch over their clothes while they bathed.
The travelers would sing while they bathed, and the Yukabeh girls would join in with their own local phrases and melodies; this is said to be the origin of the Yamanaka-bushi folk song.
However, the words and melody to Yamanaka-bushi were not standardized until the Showa Era, when a geisha named Yonehachi popularized her version of the lyrics and melody. The version of the song that is sung today is called "Seicho Yamanaka-bushi".
Traditional Crafts
Yamanaka Lacquerware is considered one of Japan's finest traditional crafts.
Yamanaka Onsen is highly regarded nationwide as one of the frontrunners of lacquerware. The art originated some 400 years ago in the Manago-machi area of Yamanaka Onsen, close to the border of Fukui Prefecture. The area was abundant in high-quality chestnut and keyaki trees that produced durable and beautiful plates and bowls. These wares became popular as souvenirs for visitors to the area and soon became famous throughout the country.Yamanaka Lacquerware's main feature is an artful and skillful technique of carving on a woodturning lathe. In order to highlight the natural beauty of the wood grain, craftsmen use blocks of wood cut horizontally from timber, which is much more difficult to carve than vertically-cut blocks. However, using a woodturning lathe and hand-made metal tools, craftsmen are able to carve very intricate and delicate patterns into the wood in a matter of seconds. The absolute accuracy of these patterns evince the high-caliber and unmatched skill of these craftsmen. Their craft is recognized by lacquerware makers throughout the country, and has also received designation as a Nationally Designated Traditional Craft.
Home of Kutaniyaki Pottery
Featuring a brilliant mix of greens, blues, and other colors, Kutaniyaki Pottery's fame has reached even overseas. It originated about 300 years ago in a small village located in the Oku-Yamanaka region, about 9 km upstream from Yamanaka Onsen. At the time, high-quality potter's clay was discovered in the area, and the villagers were ordered to set up a kiln by Saijiro Goto, a vassal of the ruling clan. This gave birth to Kokutani (literally "old kutani") Pottery, which later evolved into Kutaniyaki Pottery. Today, in Kutani Village you can see ruins of old kilns as well as a monument dedicated to Saijiro Goto.