Adam Wax­man gives way to the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings and soaks it all in

DINE and Destinations - - SARA SAYS: WHERE TO DINE NOW -

THE SIGN READS: “Ja­pan veg­etable som­me­lier’s veg­etable juices bring vi­tal­ity to your life.” There’s even one to make me more handsome. Okay, I’ll bite. Inside Naka­masa, I browse a ver­i­ta­ble gar­den of im­pos­si­bly vibrant vegeta­bles like fiery red pump­kin, neon pur­ple egg­plant and emer­ald green wheat­grass. Sun-kissed, rain-nour­ished in­gre­di­ents be­tween the moun­tains and the Sea of Ja­pan are abun­dant in this en­dear­ing tem­ple and hot-spring retreat of Kaga, Ishikawa, Ja­pan, and with each sip of re­ju­ve­nat­ing juice I am be­com­ing like Ben­jamin But­ton-san.

Kaga is off the beaten path from Kanazawa. It’s main street, Yuge Kaido, is im­pec­ca­bly main­tained. Each ar­ti­sanal shop beck­ons. Weav­ing in and out of lo­cal pot­tery and lac­quer­ware shops, I in­dulge in on­sen tam­ago. Th­ese hot-spring eggs, which we can boil our­selves in the min­eral-rich hot spring wa­ter, are un­usu­ally de­li­cious and creamy in tex­ture through­out. It’s as though they’ve been sous vide in their shells. A lo­cal map of par­fait cafés leads me to Ben­garaya café, above, for a par­fait suited to a break­fast of cham­pi­ons. Is it health food or dessert? I have no idea. My glass is brim­ming with four scoops of ice cream flavours in­clud­ing broc­coli and green tea, whipped cream, a soft-boiled egg, green tea cake, car­rot jelly, and lo­tus root, as well as fruits and leafy greens.

Ishikawa is renowned for its Kaga cui­sine. At the cen­tre of Kaga is the Hoshino Re­sort, Kai

Kaga, where at­ten­tion to de­tail in cui­sine and hos­pi­tal­ity is rev­er­en­tial. Ev­ery dish is served on colour­ful, lo­cally crafted ku­tani yaki ce­ram­ics, and del­i­cately presents a nu­tri­tious bounty of fresh lo­cal spe­cial­ties from wild moun­tain yams to lo­cal river clams cul­ti­vated in the fresh wa­ter from Mt. Haku­san. With­out a care for time, I crack an egg over a bowl of lo­cally har­vested rice, la­dle soul-re­plen­ish­ing dashi and en­joy grilled lo­cal snap­per, steamed bam­boo and tem­pura vegeta­bles. There are no modern day dis­trac­tions at this ryokan, just serene quiet and, in the com­fort of my room, a lux­u­ri­ous aus­ter­ity. Un­der the night sky I slide open the bal­cony doors, sink into my own pri­vate ope­nair bath, sip fresh green tea and stare up at the stars. The hot spring within Kai Kaga is unique for its pri­vacy and pris­tine qual­i­ties. The wa­ter and the fresh air are still and silent. Leg­end has it that a Medicine Bud­dha had in­structed a monk to dig up this ther­mal spring in this area, be­cause its op­ti­mal tem­per­a­ture would cure ills. Soak­ing in the sooth­ing wa­ter, I breathe in the fresh moun­tain air and melt away.

Cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties abound across the town, from soba noo­dle work­shops to pot­tery, lac­quer­ware and wood carv­ing work­shops as well as sake tast­ings; but most come here to re­lax and re­vi­tal­ize in the hot springs, un­wind in the ease­ful hos­pi­tal­ity of Kai Kaga and stroll along the wooded trails by the river.

Cross­ing the Ay­a­tori Bridge, which looks like a cat’s cra­dle for which it is named, re­veals an idyl­lic open-air tea­house in the gorge below (shown above). De­scend­ing a na­ture trail to­ward the riverbed, I re­move my shoes by a small wa­ter­fall and am seated on an ad­ja­cent tatami mat over a slow mov­ing river. No stu­dents with lap­tops here. For­get ev­ery­thing. This café, Kakusenkei Kawadoko, is the most tran­quil place to sit and have tea in Ja­pan. I am served an aro­matic green tea with warm, spongy roll-cake, and leisurely take in this calm oa­sis.

Re­turn­ing to Kai Kaga I’m drawn to the nearby Ha­tori Shrine and climb its steep cob­bled stair­case into the an­cient com­plex of shrines above. Mas­sive trees, with roots twist­ing along the moss-cov­ered ground, and paving stones wind­ing through this for­est sanc­tum lead to a step on which I sit in meditative peace. The en­ergy and spirit is pal­pa­ble. In Ja­pan, prayer is not per­formed inside a tem­ple; we man­i­fest it sim­ply by open­ing our­selves up to the na­ture around us.

Kai Kaga break­fast

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