Travel agent Roxana Lewis, who is a third-generation Japanese American, visits Japan once a year. // © 2015 Roxana Laguna
Feature Image (above): Lewis recommends U.S. travelers to visit Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture. // © 2015 IStock
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A third-generation Japanese American, Roxana Lewis has been selling travel since the mid-1980s. While she specialized in Italy for many years, Lewis began to focus more on Japan after leading her first trip up Mount Fuji about 10 years ago.
Today, the Los Angeles-based Protravel International and Virtuoso agent visits Japan once a year, and she’ll head back this November to run the Kanazawa Marathon in the country’s Ishikawa prefecture, a destination Lewis says is perfect for American travelers looking to get off the beaten path.
Why is Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture, a destination that U.S. travelers would enjoy?
It’s attractive because it’s the road less-traveled. Americans are looking for exotic twists, and Kanazawa in Ishikawa addresses that.
For American travelers, Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto in Japan are much like Rome, Florence and Venice in Italy. Kanazawa is outside of that box. It was untouched and totally un-bombed during World War II, and therefore, the Edo period architecture is wonderful. It’s untouched and authentic, not recreated, so that’s a prime draw for an American.
There’s also Kenroku-en, which is probably considered one of Japan’s top 10 landscaped gardens. Kanazawa holds that 17th-century treasure in its city center as well — and it’s spectacular. And Kanazawa actually has a few major modern art galleries along with at least 15 or 16 little galleries. So, along with traditional history and charm, there’s a whole modern art influence in the city for people to explore.
Are there some other highlights in the Ishikawa region people should make time for?
There are two towns that are very close to Kanazawa — Shirakawa-go and Takayama — that are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and they are very easily done as day trips from Kanazawa. They are village hamlets with a particular type of steep, thatched-roof architecture that only exists in these two towns. That’s the major draw.
There’s also the Noto Peninsula, which is coastal, rural Japan. It’s untouched and offers really stunning natural beauty and is very close to Kanazawa
Are the some accommodations in the region you recommend for U.S. travelers?
My top choice is Beniya Mukayu, a Relais & Chateaux property one hour north of Kanazawa in Yamashiro Onsen — many Japanese go there to bathe in the hot springs and enjoy the therapeutic benefits along with the natural landscape. For a total Zen experience, Beniya Mukayu offers exceptional cuisine, an “onsen” (hot springs) location and access to the Noto Peninsula.
Within the Kanazawa city center, however, there are a number of modern hotels, all of which offering complete services for the Western traveler, such as Nikko Hotel Kanazawa, Crowne Plaza Ana Kanazawa or Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel.
What’s the food like in Ishikawa? Anything travelers should be sure to sample?
Every prefecture, town and village has its own personal, signature food or craft — it is the Japanese way of showing pride of place. Ishikawa is famous for its winter crab and its winter fish. From late October and the beginning of November especially, the Japanese head for that area because all of the restaurants will offer crab menus.
What’s the best way for travelers to get to Kanazawa?
There’s a new bullet train route from Tokyo to Kanazawa that started at the end of March of this year, and it has cut the travel time in half from what was five hours to now just 2.5 hours. It makes Ishikawa very accessible, and it is an ideal road-less-traveled experience for those who want something outside the cookie-cutter Tokyo-Hakone-Kyoto box, which the Japanese tourism industry refers to as the Golden Route.
Ishikawa and Kanazawa are also working hard to boost tourism as they work up to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.