Located a mere 7-minute walk from its sister establishment Kagaya Ryokan, Aenokaze is a part of the Kagaya Group; providing the high quality of service and hospitality of its older sister, while offering rooms at slightly more affordable rates. That being said, Aenokaze is not a complete reproduction of its sibling, instead exhibiting its own personality and unique charisma.
Guests staying at Aenokaze also have access to shopping facilities and public baths over at Kagaya Ryokan, and are free to go over there when they please. While Kagaya is just a short walk away, the staff are more than happy to organise a free shuttle bus to take guests over to the other facility if they would prefer not to walk.
When entering the building, the first thing that guests will notice is the circular atrium with its wonderful spacious design and open feel. Windows face towards the ocean, providing guests with a panoramic view of the Nanao Bay. Guests are able to partake in free drinks including tea, green tea and juice from 14:00-22:00; the perfect way to enjoy the view while relaxing over a cuppa.
Descend the stairs that lead under the circular platform of the atrium and one can find a gift shop stocked full of local delicacies, souvenirs and other goodies. There is also a shop where guests can choose a yukata bathrobe to rent during their stay for 1,000 yen. Great news for those who aren't happy with the style or colour of the yukata provided - take your pick from the range of different styles and colours in the rental shop, then snap some photos to remember your stay!
The ryokan consists of two buildings: Nishi no Kaze, the main building, and Higashi no Kaze, a newer annex. Higashi no Kaze has 89 Japanese-style rooms and 13 Western-style rooms (7 twins, 6 singles). Nishi no Kaze has 40 Japanese-style rooms. Rooms throughout the inn vary in size, style and design, and there is sure to be something to suit most groups' needs. Despite the more reasonable price of rooms at Aenokaze, they still exhibit the glorious attention to detail, sense and design that can be found over at Kagaya Ryokan, and offer a pleasant reminder of the shared connection between both splendid establishments.
One of the most attractive aspects of the property are its spacious public baths. There are separate male and female baths, providing both indoor and open-air facilities. The baths offer an extremely peaceful ocean view, and unlike the baths at Kagaya Ryokan that look down on the sea from a height, the baths at Aenokaze are situated lower down - almost at sea level - thus giving the bather more of a sense of connection with the ocean view that spreads out before them.
The make-up of the water in Wakura Onsen is high in chloride, so it is advisable for those with sensitive skin to take their time becoming accustomed to the baths.
Le Musee de H
After taking a tour of the inn's rooms and baths, I took a stroll over to the part sweet shop, part cafe and part museum nearby, known as Le Musee de H. The building houses some of the confectionary art works made by Hironobu Tsujiguchi - a famous confectioner in Japan, who is originally from the area. The building houses a cafe where visitors can take a seat and look out at the sea while sampling some of Tsujiguchi's finest cakes and sweets, washed down with a nice cup of coffee. The interior of the cafe and exhibition area is extremely stylish and well-designed - testament to the high levels of appreciations in the arts that have always been present in the Noto and Kaga areas.
As well as confectionary art by Tsujiguchi, there is also a display of traditional Wajima lacquer bowls by the famous craftsman, Isaburo Kado that visitors can view free-of-charge.
Dinner & Show
Having taken a stroll around Wakura Onsen and sampled a footbath, I had worked up quite an appetite. I made my way back to the inn and headed straight for the dining area: a large open room with a stage in the centre. I wondered to myself what the stage was for... I was shown up to my private room in the dining area Hanamaicharyo, which faced out towards the stage, looking out over the tables situated around it. One of the nakai-san came in to lay the table and I watched in shocked surprise as more and more dishes came out and piled up in front of me.
As one would expect from the Noto Peninsula's close proximity to the Japan Sea, fresh seafood is a staple of the region, and the staff at Aenokaze pride themselves on the high quality of their seasonal menu. Fresh prawns, crab and a variety of fish were all on the menu that evening, as well as some particularly delicious uni (sea urchin). There was also some succulent Noto beef - a local specialty - for all the meat lovers out there.
While I tucked into the delectable banquet in front of me, I noticed that guests had been slowly fileing into the dining hall, and the lights had been dimmed... Something was about to happen!
There were three different performances on the stage while I ate my meal. One was a sedate performance of a traditional dance called the Nanao Madara, this dance is unique to the area and is performed in slow movements with a fan. The dance is recognised today as a unique intangible cultural property by Ishikawa Prefecture. It has customarily been performed as a celebratory dance in the Nanao area - usually at events such as weddings or newly-constructed buildings. There was also a more upbeat original performance by the Setsugekka dance troupe.
For me, the most impressive performance of the night was a display of the Gojinjodaiko. This is a drum performance that is unique to the Noto Peninsula area and dates back to 1576. The locals of Nafune village, under attack by the warlord Kenshin Uesugi, were threatened by an imminent defeat. The villagers however had a cunning plan, and disguised themselves as demons, wearing masks made from bark and wigs made from seaweed. They beat their battle drums as loudly as they could near the enemy camp under cover of darkness. Kenshin Uesugi's army fled in fear and ever since, the gojindaiko drums have been an important tradition of the Noto area. I have to admit, it was pretty scary!
I awoke early the next morning, took a dip in the bath to watch the sunrise, after which I made my way to the dining hall Naminohana to enjoy one of my favourite things - an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet! Kitchen staff were on hand to cook eggs for guests to demand, while the buffet itself had more than 60 different dishes on the menu - from salad to fish; Western to Japanese cuisine. Needless to say, by the end I was stuffed to bursting. I had just enough time to sip on a coffee and look out across the sweeping ocean vista and reflect on the incredible stay I'd had.