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Baby Traveler | Kanazawa and Shirakawago with a 10-month-old baby



✦ Recommended hotel: Tokyu Hotel 

✦Locations mentioned: Nishichaya Street, Higashichaya Street, Kenrokuen, Kanazawa Station, Shirakawago & Gokayama 




I chose Kanazawa to stay overnight because it’s not only a city rich with traditional Japanese culture, it also is a great access point to start from if you want to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Shirakawago. Before we dive into this blog post, a few quick facts to about the city: 

✦ The Name: Kana means “gold” and Zawa means “swamp”. 


✦ Kanazawa produces 99% of Japan’s gold leaf, one well known structure covered in gold leaf produced from Kanazawa is Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. 

✦ Kanazawa is often compared to Kyoto as one of Japan’s most historic and well-preserved cities with Geisha and Samurai districts. Higashichaya Street is a great example. 

✦ Kanazawa cuisine is well-known for its high quality and fresh seafood, where you can taste at their “Omicho Market” 

(Read more on what I packed for traveling in Japan in winter solo with a baby by clicking here)

Below he's wearing: footed long sleeve onesie + sweater with hat + sweat pants + shoes


Getting to Kanazawa 

Kanazawa sits 2.5hrs Northeast of Tokyo via the Shinkansen, in a region called “Hokuriku”. As you probably guessed, you’d use the Hokuriku Shinkansen to get to Kanazawa. It only commissioned its first journey 5 years ago in 2015, connecting Tokyo to Kanazawa, offering much easier access to the city. There are trains as early as 6am, and they run at least hourly. 

You can check out the Hokuriku Shinkansen schedule here (operated by Japan Rail – East, or JR East) 



(Click here to read guide on how to buy Shinkansen tickets and ride with a baby)

 

Recommended Hotel – Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel 

Though I did suggest to book hotels by the train station, this time we stayed at a hotel around 10min taxi ride from the station. My other consideration for booking hotel locations is also ease of access (mainly by walking) to the sites I want to see, and so I booked a hotel which is 10min – 20min walk to all of the places I want to see. 

Also, Tokyu Hotel is connected to a mall with Starbucks, a Supermarket, many restaurants and shops. Across from it is another mall with a floor for baby and children products, so you really can’t beat this location. 

On staying in a hotel with a baby in Japan: it’s not common for hotels to provide cribs, so far I’ve only stayed at 1 hotel in Tokyo that has them, which means most of the time we have to co-sleep. We don’t co-sleep at home, but to prevent my boy from falling off the bed, I usually push the hotel bed against the wall if it isn’t already, then I sleep on the outside. If it’s nap time and I don’t want to nap, I just wall off the open side with pillows. 


(Photos below: I use Milton Sterilising tablets to sterilize bottles. You just need a little bucket and some cold water, throw the tablet in the bucket and soak bottles for 15min and you're good! Also brought another small bucket and travel size baby detergent just in case)

  

(Photos below: I put pillows around the kid and lay with him till he falls asleep for his naps. We don't usually co-sleep at home, but with no cot you make due with what you can. The mall next door and across the road also has strollers for rent) 

    


The Traditional Streets of Kanazawa – Higashichaya and Nishichaya 

These are the iconic streets of Kanazawa, not only are they good for photos, they also have desserts covered in gold leaf! I went to Higashichaya at 8am on a weekday and had the whole place to myself. The advantage of traveling with a baby is that they will wake up early and not complain about heading out early. 

I used a tripod and Bluetooth shutter clicker to get my shots. First set up the camera and frame the photo you want to get, remember to eyeball where you want to stand. Get to the spot and just keep clicking the clicker for maybe a minute, and try different poses. My favorite is to spin around and then walk towards the camera, that way it gives you many options to choose from, and most likely you will get a great shot. 

✎ My Tripod: FotoPro FY800 (Link here)
✎ My Camera: Huawei P30 Pro phone with Leica Lens 
✎ Edit: Lightroom Mobile App 

Stroller friendly: Yes 

(Below: Nishichaya Street)



(Below: Higashichaya Street at 8am)


(Below: My tripod at our next destination, it folds up to water bottle size)


Kenrokuen – Traditional Japanese Garden 

This is also an icon of Kanazawa and is especially beautiful when snow covered. They also have plum and Cherry Blossoms planted throughout the garden, beautiful autumn maple as well, so really all seasons are great to visit, The park is fairly large and probably takes at least 30min to walk through, so I’d plan some more time with it. 

Also don’t forget to check out the temple near the Southeast corner of the garden, you can exit the garden and re-enter with your ticket. 

Stroller Friendly: Sort of, you can use a stroller, but there are steep slopes 

 

  


Kanazawa Station 
The station itself is also an icon of the city, with its red traditional tori gate structure. Inside the station, there is a lot of shopping, from traditional sweets, souvenir, to trendy clothes, small gadgets, and excellent restaurant options. I put aside an evening in my itinerary just to walk around Kanazawa station. Also, there is a tourism area which has tons of brochures about the region, it’s also available in English. Definitely check it out if you’d like more ideas on what to do while in Japan. 

Stroller Friendly: Yes, elevators available 


 

 

Shirakawago & Gokayama 

If you don’t know Shirakawago, you’d want to visit after seeing photos. It’s a traditional Japanese village listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famed for its Gassho Style (thatched roof) houses. It is especially beautiful when snow covered, but suitable to visit all seasons. 


Shirakawago is about a 1 hour drive from Kanazawa. There is an option to take a public bus, however since I’m alone and bringing a kid, I went ahead and booked an organize full-day tour. 

✦ Tour Dates: Mon, Tue, Fri 
✦ Tour Time: 8am – 4pm (lunch included) 

Our tour guide did a dual-language explanation of everything, and he was excellent. Even on the road, he pointed out smaller villages and ski slopes. He also gave a lot of interesting facts about Kanazawa, Shirakawago, and tips on where to get excellent photos in each spot. After we arrive in each village, it’s free time to look around on your own, so you don’t need to stick to others in the group. We had about 3hours in Shirakawago and 1 hour in Gokayama. 

The group of people on my tour were extremely nice (and understanding on occasions that my son was fussy). Half were Japanese, the rest were from the US, Australia, and other parts of Asia. Because I was alone with my son, when I ran into other tour-mates, they all offered to help me take photos, which was super nice! 


Click here to see full map of Shirakawago. 

Some tips about Shirakawago: 

✦ Bus to observation deck/price: there is a small bus (marked as “Shuttle Bus Depot” beside interest point #53) that takes you up to the observation deck, which is otherwise a 20-30min or so walk up. It costs 200yen each way, and runs every 20min. Since it is a mid-size van, if a big tour group just got dropped off, you might have to wait for the next one. At the observation deck, there is free photo services where they will use a DSLR camera and your phone or camera to take photos for you. The photos they print out sell for 1,500 yen. 


✦ Furthest point of the village (right side of map, interest point 1&2): there is a row of 3 houses that make a great photo shot, however it’s at the far end of the village, so not many people go there. I only know this because our tour guide told us. It’s about a 20min walk to the end, past the suspension bridge, past the temple. I just made a beeline for that spot right after I was done with the observation deck, and slowly made my way back towards the busy central part of the village. 

 

✦ Which house to visit: Go to “Nagase House”. There are several houses you can go into, the first one you will usually see is “Wada House”, however all houses are pretty similar and you don’t need to see every single one of them. Nagase house is the largest and has 3 floors for you to explore. 

✦ Food/restaurant recommendation (interest point #54, Irori): Lunch was actually included in the tour, but I misunderstood, so I ended up taking my son to a restaurant, which was very pleasant. It was floor seating, but they also had baby chairs, so my son could sit or crawl around on the tatami floor. The food was also pretty good, they had beef, chicken, soup stews etc. 

 

 

(Photos below: there are many vendors selling skewers on the streets, make sure you try the ¥500 beef skewers. Also, the Shirakawago charm is this cute little doll, it comes in all sizes, and different colors are for different types of luck)

 

Gokayama
You can rent boots at the entrance for a few hundred yet since in winter the slope up to the viewing point is covered in snow and/or mud. It takes about 10min or so to climb to the top and it’s not a steep climb. The rest of the village is pretty quiet with a few small restaurants and shops around, there’s also a small temple. 



(Photos below: As you can see there's a baby changing station in the toilets, and also snow boot rental)

 

Rice Cracker baking 
The last stop of the trip is rice cracker baking at a shop that sells, you guessed it, rice crackers. The baking part is included in the tour booking. It’s sort of like a rest stop and a way for the shop and tour groups to work together and bring business, but in no way do they force you to buy anything. 


 

Stroller Friendly: Shirakawago (sort of, you will need to fold up the stroller if going to the observation deck, on the main street and side streets it is stroller friendly) Gokayama: yes on main roads, definite no for the observation spot since it’s a small hike through a muddy hillside. 

Baby Changing Stations: Yes for both Shirakawago and Gokayama 


By the end of the day trip, my son was pretty fed up with being on a bus. But overall he did really well in between stops and at the sites. He ended up taking a short nap in the morning on the first drive towards Shirakawago for about 30min, and another nap inside the carrier at Gokayama for another 30min. They’re both much shorter than his 1.5hr naps usually, but I just moved his bedtime a little bit earlier to compensate. Babies are actually pretty adaptive, and it’s ok to shift their nap schedule round, make the naps shorter or longer according to the trip schedule. 

(Photo below: I brought headphones and downloaded white noise onto my phone to play to help my son fall asleep)




Next, we head to Nagano area via the Shinkansen again, and we will be visiting the famous Jigokudani Monkey Park and also snow covered Togakushi Shrine.



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