Japan Self-Drive Itinerary (December 2015 Pt 4) – Kyoto to Kanazawa to Nagano


Driving to Kanazawa

With the new Hokuriku Shinkansen which opened in March 2015, travellers can reach Kanazawa from Tokyo in merely 2.5 hours, making travel to Kanazawa by rail the preferred option these days.  However, if you prefer to self-drive, here are some tips:

From Tokyo

There are many possible routes to drive from Tokyo to Kanazawa.  My preferred route would be via Kawaguchiko, Matsumoto, Takayama and Shirakawa-go (click here for Google Map route).  This route covers some excellent sightseeing spots including:





  • Shirakawa-Go

From Kyoto

The direct drive from Kyoto to Kanazawa is not particularly interesting.  It uses the Hokuriku Expressway which is largely made up of tunnels – so don’t expect much sightseeing.  If you take the route to the East of Lake Biwa, you can visit Hikone Castle.

For us, we were staying in the mountains North of Kyoto, so our host recommended us to  drive up to Wakasa-Obama.  At Wakasa Fisherman Wharf, you can find some cheap and fresh seafood or take the Sotomo Scenic Cruise (not operating in winter).


Another sightseeing stop near Wakasa-Obama is Rainbow Line where Mikata Five Lakes is.


From Nagano

The GPS default route from Nagano to Kanazawa was to take the expressway all the way, heading North to Joetsu before turning South-West to Kanazawa (see default route on Google Map). However, when we did this drive in the opposite direction (from Kanazawa to Nagano), we went through the route options on the GPS (see this post on how to do that) and opted for a route that took the expressway between Kanazawa and Itoigawa, subsequently going South to Hakuba before crossing over to Nagano (see alternative route on Google Map).  The crossing from Hakuba to Nagano had 200 yen toll fee, but overall the alternative route we took was still cheaper than the default route.

Driving in Kanazawa

Kanazawa’s key sights (Kenrokuen, Kanazawa Castle, Higashichaya District, Samurai District, Omicho Market) are compact within an area that can be covered on foot. Hence, driving is not necessary if you are visiting these places.


However, from Kanazawa, I recommend renting a car to take side trips to Noto Peninsular and Toyama Bay.  In particular, the Chirihama Beach Drive is a great experience – best done with your own rental car.


Our Itinerary

Day 10: Kyoto to Kanazawa

Our host in Kyoto knew that we had originally planned to visit Kayabuki No Sato at Miyama the previous day, but shelved it in place of Ine which he recommended.  So he told us we should go to Kayabuki No Sato that morning, which would be along the way to Wakasa-Obama and Kanazawa.


Kayabuki No Sato was a miniature version of the more famous Shirakawago, with a cluster of traditional thatched-roof farmhouses. Not sure about Shirakawago since I have never been there, but Kayabuki No Sato remained undisturbed by tourists. Once my raucous boys were gone that is.


The villagers were up and about their daily chores when we were there and we were able to get a glimpse of traditional village life in Japan.


After a quick walk around Kayabuki No Sato, we drove on to Wakasa-Obama for our much-anticipated seafood brunch.  The seafood at Wakasa Fisherman Wharf was super cheap and good.  I’m so glad our host recommended us to go there!


After everyone was fed and happy, we proceeded with our uneventful drive to Kanazawa. Upon arriving at Kanazawa, we went first to Higashichaya district.


Luckily we wasted no time and made a beeline for the famous ‘gold-plated soft serve’ ice-cream shop.  We were one of the last ones to get our hands on the ice-cream for the day, as it was sold out shortly after.


Eating around higashichaya district was prohibited.  Hence, we finished up our ice-cream at the shop before going around the rest of the district.  Most of the shops were closing by then.  The shops there all closed at about 5pm during our visit.


After dinner, we went back to the hotel, Hotel Resol Trinity Kanazawa, and called it a day.

Day 11: Kanazawa to Noto Peninsula

We had initially planned to spend the morning doing a walking tour of Kanazawa, visiting Omicho Market, Kanazawa Castle and Samurai District.  But lo and behold, it was raining that morning.  We went to Omicho Market as planned since it was sheltered.


After we had our breakfast of tuna & friends at Omicho Market, the rain showed no sign of letting up.  So we ditched the rest of our walking tour plan, went online to Tabelog to find a cafe in Kanazawa and ended up at Takakura Machi Coffee.  Their signature pancakes were awesome.


After coffee and pancakes, we drove to Chirihama Beach Drive – something I was really looking forward to since I first saw this place on Japan Hour.


Two-thirds of the beach driveway was closed due to high waves, but thankfully one-third of it remained open and we got to experience the beach drive in spite of the rain.


We had initially planned to drive all the way up to Wajima to see the sunset and light-up at Senmaida Rice Field.  But there was unlikely to be any nice sunset with such bad weather and frankly, I don’t think anyone was in the mood for a light-up in the rain. So we went right to our next accommodation: Kinpaso Hotel at Wakura Onsen.


We spent the day soaking in the onsen, playing table tennis and snooker and enjoying a buffet dinner at Kinpaso Hotel.  Now THAT is a way to spend a rainy day in Japan.


Day 12: Noto Peninsular – Toyama Bay – Nagano

We started the day with a buffet breakfast at our hotel before driving on to Toyama Bay. We first came to Himi Banya, but were too full to try their famous Himi beef and just made do with a grape soft serve (because we couldn’t leave without eating anything).  The grape soft serve was nice btw.


The rain had stopped but the weather wasn’t exactly peachy.  We went to the bay area which was supposed to be surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, but it was too cloudy to see the mountains. If weather is good, there is an observation deck behind Himi Banya where you can go up to take a photo from.


We skipped the climb up the observation deck since there wasn’t much of  view and just hung around to check out the enormous waves crashing ashore.


As we continued our drive along Toyama Bay, the weather seemed to be getting better and we caught a glimpse of the mountains at last, peeking faintly through the clouds.  Stare hard at the photo below, can you see the mountains in the background?


We drove on to our next destinations, Toyama Kitto Kitto Market, where we had lunch along with what seemed like the whole town.


Toyama Bay area was famous for their white shrimps.   And firefly squid – but we were there in the wrong season. So we ordered all sorts of white shrimp cuisine.


Next, we went to Kaiwomaru Park which was very near Kitto Kitto Market.


I was pretty curious what was on the ship.  You can pay to go up the ship, but the kids were not interested.


You may be feeling puzzled why the kids were not interested in the ship.  That’s because they spotted a playground in the park.  Complete with a view of the mountains.


We let the kids play to their hearts content since we had a long and boring drive to Nagano after that.


After the kids were tired out, we drove on to Nagano, where the kids slept most of the way.   When the kids woke up at Hakuba, we made a quick stop at 7-11 convenience store for everyone to take a toilet break, before completing the drive to Nagano.


When we finally arrived at Nagano, we dropped off our luggage at our hotel and went to Nagano Station for dinner.


We spent the night at Chisun Grand Nagano, which was not my first choice hotel frankly. I wanted to book Hotel Metropolitan Nagano which was right smack next to the station and cheaper, but was too slow to do so and the hotel was fully booked.  Chisun Grand Nagano was nice though, just a bit further from the station.


Links / Telephone Numbers / Map Codes

Below are links of official websites and telephone number / map codes (for GPS) of destinations in this post:

Posts from the same trip

 Loading InLinkz ...

Pin this up for later!


Our Japan Travel Blog

Get more tips & tricks on Japan travel on our Japan Travel Page!


Travel Tuesday Linky

Welcome to ‘Travel Tuesday‘! Every TUESDAY, I share a travel post, and at the end of the post, you will find this linky with posts from other bloggers. Do visit some of the other blogs to leave a comment and say Hi. 🙂

 Loading InLinkz ...

This post is also part of the following link-ups:


  • Lydia C. Lee says:

    Wow – what an adventure. We did our first drive on the beach not long ago, but you had to let the tyre down so you didn’t slip everywhere (on the soft sand). Great fun!

  • Mummy Ed says:

    I love how you really go off the beaten track! So interesting!

  • Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad says:

    Gold leaf soft serve?! No way! It looks amazing. In fact all the food you had looks so tasty. Shame about the weather, but I’m glad you made up for it in other respects.

  • this was a very interesting post, and very helpful for anyone planning to do this themselves! I hope one day I can!

  • That gold plated soft serve looks AMAZING!! Though I shudder to think how much it must have cost!! The japanese bbq I spot at the end looks really good too… I could go for some of that right now!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The gold plated soft serve was not THAT expensive. About 10 bucks? Okay, maybe 10 bucks for a soft serve is expensive but for the experience of eating gold, it wasn’t too bad. :p

  • I would love to visit Japan (and Asia in general!) someday. I loved looking at your beautiful photos – especially the ice cream! Gold leaf ice cream looks amazing! And was that a piece of white shrimp sticking out of the other cone??

  • Zanyx says:

    Can the kids go into onsen?

  • Yvonne C says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    We had a wonderful first trip to Japan last December thanks to your useful blog and advice. We covered Tokyo, Hakone and Fuji Five Lakes. This Dec, Japan is calling us back again, and we are torn between covering main land Japan (Kyoto/Osaka/Hiroshima/Kanazawa) or Hokkaido.

    For Hokkaido, I am worried about the driving in snowing roads. And besides the ski resorts, are there much sightseeing to do in winter? It’ll be better to drive than to take public transport right?

    For Kyoto/Osaka/Hiroshima/Kanazawa, will there be snowy scenery if we go in December? We can go early Dec or mid Dec, but it seems airfares are cheaper early Dec. If we fly into Osaka, what would you suggest our itinerary be for these areas if we have about 16 days? Or is it too many places to cover over 16 days? Our kids are teenagers so we’ll have no problem taking the train but we should probably rent a car to go to Kanazawa area?

    Thanks in advance for your input! 🙂

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hokkaido is not very exciting in December I must say. Unless you want to see snow or go skiing.

      On mainland, the chances of seeing snow is very slim. Unless you take ropeways up to the mountains. I don’t know of any ropeways going up to the mountains where there will be snow in Kyoto / Osaka / Hiroshima / Kanazawa. But there is one near Takayama called the Shin-Hokata ropeway. We saw snow there when we visited back in December 2007:

      If you are using the Hokuriku shinkansen to get to Kanazawa, you should be able to visit Takayama easily.

      I suggest you use shinkansen to get between cities rather than car. It is much faster. You can rent a car from Kanazawa to drive up to Chirihama beach / Noto Peninsular. In Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima, there is no need for a car unless you want to hit the rural regions like we did. In any case, what I generally recommend is to use shinkansen to move between cities. If you find you want to go somewhere that is hard to access by train, then rent a car for a day to go there. That is how we used to travel in Japan before we had kids.

      You can consider getting the Japan Rail Pass:

      But you will need to do a bit of homework by searching for your train routes on hyperdia and adding all the fares up to see if it is worth it to get the rail pass. If you use the shinkansen a lot, it is usually worth it.

      With 16 days, you should be able to visit Kyoto/Osaka/Hiroshima/Kanazawa. Along the way, I also recommend visiting Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Shirakawago and Takayama / Hida. You can do something like that:

      Day 1: Osaka
      Day 2: Osaka
      Day 3: Osaka – Himeji – Hiroshima
      Day 4: Hiroshima (with half day at Miyajima)
      Day 5: Hiroshima – Kyoto
      Day 6: Kyoto
      Day 7: Kyoto
      Day 8: Kyoto – Kanazawa
      Day 9: Kanazawa
      Day 10: Kanazawa (visit Shirakawago)
      Day 11: Kanzawa – Takayama
      Day 12: Takayama
      Day 13: Takayama – Nagoya
      Day 14: Nagoya
      Day 15: Nagoya – Osaka
      Day 16: Flight home

      • Yvonne C says:

        Hi Bumblebeemum,

        Thanks for your input and itinerary. Now I’m wondering if we are trying to cover too many places in one go. Last Dec, we spent 16 days in Japan, covering only 3 places: Tokyo, Hakone and Fuji Five Lakes! I’ll research a bit to see if we want to forego any of these places. If you were to cut down, to save on travelling time and cost and to spend more time in one place, which ones would you cut down?

        Thanks heaps!


        • bumblebeemum says:

          I would cut out Kanazawa / Takayama etc. Basically all those to the East of Kyoto. Focus on the region between Kyoto and Hiroshima. There are other places in this region such as Nara and Kobe which are worth visiting.

          • Yvonne C says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum,

            It’s me again and after reading through your blog and some research on my own, this is what I’ve come up with for our year-end central japan trip. Would you mind taking a look and see if you have any feedback?

            (we’ve decided to fly into/out of Nagoya cos it’s much cheaper than Osaka)

            28-Nov Nagoya, onto Kyoto
            29-Nov Kyoto
            30-Nov Kyoto
            1-Dec Kyoto
            2-Dec Hiroshima (using JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass)
            3-Dec Osaka (using JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass)
            4-Dec Osaka (Kobe)
            5-Dec Osaka
            6-Dec Osaka
            7-Dec Kanazawa (using Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass)
            8-Dec Kanazawa
            9-Dec Takayama
            10-Dec Takayama
            11-Dec Nagoya
            12-Dec Nagoya
            13-Dec Nagoya

            You think this itinerary is ok?

            Any suggestion what is the cheapest way from Nagoya airport to Kyoto? The cheapest I could find is this bus that takes 3.5h: http://www.centrair.jp/en/whatsnew/kyoto_bus.html Any other suggestion?


            • bumblebeemum says:

              It looks like you have a lot of time. Shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a good idea to start at Kyoto – you should be able to catch some nice autumn foliage. 🙂

              The bus looks very reasonably priced to me. I would go with that if it matches your flight timing.

              • Yvonne C says:

                Yes, that’s what I thought too! Looking forward to the autumn foliage!

                Do you think we’ll be in time for some snow in Kanazawa/Shirakawago/Takayama area by the time we are there?

                Thanks for your input!

  • Yvonne C says:

    Hmm but that would mean we won’t see snow right? We are hankering for some snowy scenery….

    Will the scenery in the east be beautiful? or just cities and shrines? any nice rural mountain scenery?


  • Jenny says:


    Any idea how’s the weather like in end December? I thought of bringing my 2 year old there. We should be going to Nagoya, Kanazawa, Shirokawago etc

  • Joksin says:

    Hi… Wow… Nice adventure and glad to know someone has done that!
    Question.. How do you book the car? We are planning to go next year April!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I usually book my car through the car rental company’s website, or through booking sites like Rakuten (Japan). Some of my readers also recommended using Tabirai.

      • Joksin says:

        I see… so you usually pick it up in the city? My plan was flying to osaka, then grab car for a week to kanazawa… then stay for 3 nites.. then travel around and then stay in between….
        I see your direction…. Nagano seems kool… then stay in the house farm…. looks interesting…..
        Basically my plan is…
        1. drive from Osaka to Kanazawa
        2. drive around countrysides for 3-4 days (japanese alp route)
        3. drive back to Nagoya

        any suggestion?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Usually I train in between the big cities and pick up the car from the train station where I plan to drive around. For e.g. in your case, I would train till Kanazawa and rent a car to drive around from there. But I would return the car back to Kanazawa and train back to Nagoya. Drop off fees can be quite expensive for returning a car to a different location.

  • Dylan Cheng says:

    When we went to Myoko Kogen (Ski area) Last year, the temperatures were so cold that even the heated flooring in the hotel was cold! My son had to wear thermals and socks when he was sleeping, he also had to wear socks when he was walking around in the room, I dont blame him the weather for that day was -20c! You should check out Myoko Kogen if you haven’t!

  • Rina Ng says:

    hi Bumblebeemum

    it’s interesting and useful to read your postings. thanks 🙂

    My family will be travelling to japan this dec and I’m thinkg of staying a couple of nites in Nagano.

    Problem is many of the hotels seem to be unavailable even now. Do you have any idea are they really fully booked or will they only be opened for booking 3 mths before?

    Also, I have 2 boys like you 🙂 Except mine are bigger 17 and 12. Did you take only one room or did you take 2? Coz I don’t quite like the idea of splitting into 2 rooms; will rather pay extra for all to squeeze into 1 🙂

    Thank you once again Bumblebeemum.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I think they are not open for booking yet. For December travel, you can try searching again after June?

      My kids were kind of small so we squeezed into one room. But I think by your boys’ age, they would be considered adults so they would probably need a room of their own.

  • ANNA says:

    Dear Bumblebeemum,
    Do you think it is possible not to drive within Kanazawa city itself? I am thinking of getting the car only i do my side trip to Noto Peninsula..

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yup, you don’t really need to drive within Kanazawa city. The only reason we were driving was because we were in Kanazawa for a while as part of a larger self-drive trip. But if you are arriving in Kanazawa by train, then yes, just rent a car only when you are going out to the Noto Peninsular.

  • Lynda says:

    saw your article, interested of Wakura onsen.
    we are planning go to Japan this Dec, after our work in Kyoto on 19 dec, I planned few places to go (Shirahone onsen, Wakura onsen or Kusatsu onsen) before we arrive to nozawa onsen town on 24 Dec. if possible i will choose 1 or 2 to visit.
    we always take train never drove in japan before. since quite troublesome to transfer to these places by trains and buses, i considered to rent a car, but my husband concerned about the budget. do you have any suggestion or better route for me. or the costs for rent a car, 3 persons with 2-3 luggages. Please reply me by emails. thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I think with 3 person, driving should work out in terms of budget. Trains are not that cheap in Japan. And buses are not the most frequent. So personally I always opt for self drive when travelling outside the big cities in Japan.

  • Lynda says:

    and tolls, petrol costs in japan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge