AWARA CITY あわら市
Located in the northernmost part of Fukui prefecture, Awara City is home to some wonderful cultural and recreational locations. Awara City is a great place to enjoy some peace and quiet, and the neighbors can be really friendly. In addition, Awara and Kanazu can be a great escape for a Sunday drive, enjoying a walk or picnic at the Kanazu Forest of Creation (Sousaku no Mori) or Trim Park, or soaking in one of Awara’s many onsen (hot springs).
Awara City (あわら市) is made up of two smaller towns: Awara Onsen Town (芦原温泉) and Kanazu Town (金津町). It has a population of about 32,000 people at a density of roughly 266 people per square kilometer. The flower symbols of the towns are the blue iris and plum blossom, respectively.
The surrounding area is all part of Sakai City (坂井市), including Mikuni (三国) to the west of Awara and Harue (春江) to the south. Awara City (あわら市) chose to maintain its separate identity for tourism reasons, but the entire northern area of Fukui is generally referred to as the Sakai block (坂井地区).
HISTORY OF AWARA ONSEN
The Awara Onsen, which was discovered in 1883, is the foremost hot spring town in Fukui. The appearance and atmosphere are loved by many cultural people and celebrities. It is often called Kansai no Okuzashiki, or “the back room of the Kansai area.” It is nice to take a walk around town while enjoying the fragrance of the steaming hot spring water, which runs out from ryokan inns (traditional Japanese inns) and the stone-paved streets. This elegant and refined town is mixed with modern buildings to have an attractive appearance.
*Town Map Useful and interesting places in Awara City
Getting Here and Away
The JR line from Awara Onsen Station extends south to Fukui City and north to Kanazawa (Ishikawa-ken). The station, located in Kanazu, is a main stop for local and express trains. To reach Awara Onsen Town, taxis (about 2000 yen) and a local Keifuku 京福 Bus (about ¥300, every hour) are available.
From Awara Onsen station, express trains are available north to Kanazawa, south to Fukui City, and as a transfer for the shinkansen (at Maibara or Kyoto) to go east toward Tokyo or west toward Osaka, Kyoto, and other cities. Local trains to Fukui City depart roughly once per hour, except at peak times, when they run two or three times per hour.
The Echizen train is the local Fukui train line. The main train station is called Awara Yunomachi. The closest stop to the Mikuni ALT is Mikuni Jinja (三国神社駅), and that stop is also near IZA, a small shopping center with a small but adequate department store, a supermarket, a Mister Donut, and a KaBoS/GEO (books and stationery on the KaBoS side and music, movies, and video games on the GEO side).
Mikuni Sunset Beach can be reached from the northernmost (final) stop, Mikuni Minato (三國港駅). Katsuyama and Eiheiji are also accessible via a transfer to the Echizen line at Fukuiguchi station (福井口駅), but buses are another alternative for a scenic viewing.
Echizen trains depart Awara Yunomachi station in both directions on the :19 and :49 of every hour, with extra trains during rush hours.
The Keifuku Bus system runs throughout most of the prefecture. It is most convenient for getting between Kanazu and Awara Onsen. From Awara, walk up to Route 9, the horizontal road about 5 minutes walking distance from the Garden House apartments, and turn right. There are vending machines on the north side of the road. Right across is the Kunikage bus stop.
From Kanazu, take Bus 2 towards Tojimbo from Awara Onsen Station. Note: the Kunikage stop is closer to the apartments than Futaomote.
Buses from JR Awara Onsen station go to popular sites such as Eiheiji and Tojimbo. The bus schedule is posted at Awara Onsen Station and at bus stops. Note: the Kunikage bus stop (closest to the Garden House apartments) has schedules posted on the opposite side of the road from which you can catch the bus to the Awara Onsen station.
While buses and trains are adequate, cars are much more convenient to reach nearby towns like Maruoka. Mikuni is about 15 minutes away from Awara by car. Taking Route 8 (the most used route in the area), you can reach Kaga City in about 20 minutes and Komatsu Airport in a little less than an hour. If you want to go into Fukui City, you can go either by Route 8, or Route 29/Route 5 (they merge just outside Fukui City; Route 5 is sometimes also known as Awara Kaido), or the expressway (which has tolls).
Because of the fairly distant locations of both expressway entrances, it’s generally best to go south to the Maruoka Interchange for southbound destinations, and to go northeast to the Kanazu interchange for northbound destinations.
Laundry and Dry Cleaning
Laundry and dry cleaning services can be found in, or attached to, almost any shopping center. Youth, Awara Big Mart, and Mikuni’s IZA all have laundromats.
Convenience stores stock the essentials: some prepared food (rice balls, sandwiches, etc), snacks and chips, alcohol, ice cream, instant noodles, magazines, cigarettes, and a range of other things, such as basic toiletries and undergarments. Convenience stores may vary in their merchandise but generally offer the same things. Stores include 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, Circle-K, and Sunkus (essentially a Circle-K with a different name).
There are two convenience stores within a five minute walk of the Garden House Apartments. The closest is down the road (away from Awara JHS), past the post office and inside the bookshop adjacent to the store with a huge rooster logo, (Komeri, it sells hardware, DIY, and gardening stuff). This convenience store is not part of a national chain, so you can’t pay your bills there.
The second is up near Nannan-tei, in the direction of Awara JHS, and is a Circle K. You can pay virtually any bill there, and it has a much wider selection of goods. There is also a very small convenience store opposite Awara Yunomachi Station, a Family Mart opposite Awara Onsen Station, a Lawson a couple of blocks west from the Yunomachi station (near Awara Big Mart), and various others all along route 29 (the road that goes into Harue and Fukui, and which those coming from the South will refer to as route 5).
Awara Big Mark
There are at least three Big Marts in the Awara/Kanazu area. The closest Big Mart to the Garden House apartment block is about a 15 min walk. Turn left out of the apartments, left at the kindergarten, right onto the road, left at the T-junction, and then straight past the convenience store, pachinko parlor, gas/petrol station. It should be about 200 meters past the gas station. This Big Mart is part of a small mall which includes a liquor store, pharmacy, dry cleaner, a 100 yen shop, and a couple of small restaurants.
Kanazu Big Mart
The other Big Mart is a 25+ minute walk away, and is referred to as the Kanazu Big Mart. This Big Mart is a good landmark for turning right to get onto Route 29 for Harue and Fukui.
Youth (Yuusu or ユース)
It’s only a 5 minute walk from Kanazu SHS (about 10 minutes from Kanazu JHS). If you’re coming from Awara Onsen Station then it’s a good 30 minutes, which is a bit far for carrying groceries. Youth is reached by heading for Sakai/Harue along Route 29 (which becomes Route 5), and turning left at the Kanazu SHS sign (or when you see the large Yusu ユース sign), then turning right into the parking lot about 25 meters later.
Youth has a good selection: reasonably priced boxed lunches (bento), some foreign cheeses, a good pasta variety, very good prices on in-season vegetables (avoid the display case to the right because those are ‘present’ fruit and vegetables and are very expensive). There is also a separate bakery inside the shop which has a nice variety of pastries and freshly baked bread.
There is also a flower shop, a photo print shop, and a dry cleaner in the parking lot. Milk cartons, PET bottles and styrofoam can be recycled there. The building just in front of Youth (if you’re looking towards Route 29/5) is a small sporting goods store. It’s good for tracksuits, baseball gear, and they’ll order stuff for you like karate or kendo gear.
Iza Mall [Mikuni]
Head towards Awara Yunomachi Station, and then keep parallel to the railway tracks until you reach an intersection with a sign to the sports park and a Big Mart on your left. Turn left past the Sushi and Yakiniku places. On your right you’ll see Iza Mall. You can also take a local train from Awara Yunomachi, getting off at Mikuni Jinja station. IZA Mall has a supermarket, which stocks a huge range of fresh seafood. It also sometimes stocks some harder-to-find items, like fresh mint. The mall also has a Mister Donut shop, a decent little bakery, a liquor store, several clothing and accessories stores, and other shops.
Home goods mega-store. It has everything from vacuum cleaners, suitcases and futons to groceries. The grocery section includes a very good delicatessen section, with a whole range of foods prepared fresh daily and a mediocre bakery that will sell you a large (mediocre) pizza surprisingly cheaply.
PLANT-2 carries essentials for furnishing your apartment and filling your fridge. There is also a liquor store across the parking lot. Unfortunately, Plant 2 is only accessible by car on Route 29/5 between Awara and Harue, unless you’re willing to walk about twenty minutes from Shimohyogo Station on the Echizen line.
Video Rentals and Books
Shobundo Staitionary Store / Book Store
Just next door to Komeri Hardware (nicknamed the “Rooster Store”); it’s a small book and stationary store. It has a good range of stationary and fundamental art supplies. There aren’t any English books, but they have many kids study books and can order stuff for you if needed. Although they speak very little English, they’re generally very nice. You’ll also find an adequate convenience store section inside to the left of the entrance.
In the parking lot of IZA in Mikuni. You can get a fairly wide selection of books and stationery on the KaBoS side, and on the GEO side you can buy or rent CDs and DVDs, and buy or sell video games. While you can rent CDs, you can’t rent video games, which comes as a shock to many foreigners.
Drugstores in Japan only stock non-prescription medication, so for anything serious you will need to visit a doctor or hospital for proper medication. On the other hand, drugstores in Japan do stock a wide range of health products, cosmetics, and even household goods.
There are two Aoki stores, one across the road from the Awara Big Mart, and the other just up the road from Kanazu Junior and Senior High School (or down the road from Youth, depending on your preferred landmarks). There is a pharmacist in the Kanazu Aoki who speaks very good English, but he’s only there on certain days.
There is a very large Genky store near the Kanazu Big Mart (on route 29 near the border of Kanazu and Awara). The Genki store is much larger than either of the Aoki stores and stocks a much larger range of goods, but is difficult to reach without a car. There is also a smaller Genky in Mikuni, just north of Mikuni Jinja station on the Echizen line.
Hospitals and Clinics
In Kanazu. It’s a full hospital, though pretty small scale. It is located almost directly across from Kanazu Senior High School. If you’re in an ambulance, it will come here. On your first visit, you’ll fill a form detailing your personal information so it is best to be accompanied by your supervisor. The staff speaks very little English but is very patient and willing to write out things, draw pictures or demonstrate if necessary. Many doctors speak limited English but bring a dictionary for support.
This is a small private clinic tucked away behind the community centre. Dr. Doniwa is an ob/gyn and a pediatrician. He speaks adequate English but the general staff does not. One JET had her baby at this clinic and said it was an amazing experience.
Araie Dental Clinic
This dental clinic is run by the dentist who lives just behind the clinic and owns the Garden House apartments. He speaks English very well. He and his staff are very competent.
In Awara Town, near the Awara Big Mart is the Swimming School. Apart from a large pool, they also have a studio for aerobics, Pilates and yoga, in addition to a small machine gym. You can take swimming lessons, or buy a gym membership for use of all the facilities. The gym also has a hot spring for relaxing after your workout!
About a 10 min drive under the bridge and toward Route 8 on Route 123 you will find a brand new building on top of a mountain called Yonetsu-kan. It has public baths and a nice sized pool. You can bring your lunch or dinner and eat in a large tatami room.
Trim Park is east of the tracks, and has space for walking, jogging, inline skating and other activities. There is also a gymnasium and aerobic classes open to the public. A number of sports clubs from Kanazu JHS and SHS train here.
About 15 min north of the ALT apartment building up by Lake Kitagata. Great for jogging, walking, biking, and BBQs. About a 5 minute bike ride to the bridge.
Restaurants and takeout
Tengu is an izakaya about two minutes’ walk from the ALT apartments. A mural of a red face with long nose is painted on the side of the building. It has good food and beer and an authentic Japanese feel.
Recently moved and renovated into what was once a pachinko parlor’s building, and now located more or less directly behind the Circle-K (about a 7 minute walk towards the Awara Big Mart). The food is reasonably priced (most meals under 1000 yen) and the portions are generous. The Sauce Katsudon (breaded pork fillet with a sweet and savory sauce, served on rice), or Tamago Katsudon (as above, but with added egg) are recommended, and the Moyashi (bean sprout) ramen is their famous specialty.
Located just around the corner from the apartments. The meat is a little expensive. However, an Awara points card (which can also be used at the Youth bakery and several other places) earns you double points on the first of every month. These points add up to a cash discount pretty quickly. Scarce English is spoken but the staff is very helpful.
They will order whole chickens for roasting, duck wings and even lamb on consignment (you order a 10kg consignment, which they keep in their freezers and then you pay when you come to pick up each roughly 2kg block, must be used up in a year).
Some take-out meals, including curry and rice, sauce katsudon and gyudon, are available for about 500 yen. It closes at about 6:30pm, and is closed on Sundays.
Admittedly a bit of a distance from Awara. Located on Route 8 in Kaga, Ishikawa (about a half hour’s drive north), Ryukichi (めん屋 龍吉) makes arguably the best ramen in the Hokuriku region, at least if you prefer richer soups over simpler clear soups. The people running it are constantly devising new menu items, such as carbonara ramen, almond ramen (with almond paste in the soup), and curry made with the same base as the soups. Portions are outrageously large and the prices are comparable to Nannan-tei. Look for the sign with the giant bowl of ramen, and the big orange dragon sign. There’s also a large recycle shop across the street called Mandai Shoten (万代書店) that sells old toys, video games, trendy clothing, DVDs, fishing gear… virtually anything that’s not furniture, really.
There are some small bars and interesting nightlife (snack bars, questionable shows in ryokans, etc.) near the grand hotel and the public onsen. On Saturday nights, many hotel goers stroll the streets in onsen robes in search of excitement.
Sites of Interest
Kanazu Forest of Creation (Sousaku no Mori)
The main facility, Art Core, is designed for exhibitions and presentations of various artistic productions. Visitors can make crafts at the glass atelier, the pottery studio, or the batik studio by the forest. Pottery and glass blowing lessons are also available. The art gallery has new exhibits monthly. Stroll around the grounds in good weather and enjoy random art pieces decorating the grounds. It’s about a 10 min drive from JR Awara Onsen Station. / About a 30 min walk from JR Hosorogi Station. / About a 5 min drive from Kanazu IC off the Hokuriku Expressway.
The 8th generation chief priest of the Hongan-ji temple, Rennyo Shonin, who is said to be the father of the Shinshu sect revival, escaped from Kyoto after being persecuted by the Hieizan sect. He arrived at Yoshizaki Mountain and opened a monk house in this scenic stronghold land surrounded on three sides by Kitakata Lake.
Shonin left important achievements and tenets of Buddhism during his stay in Yoshizaki. His way of explaining the scripts was easy to understand for many people and brought many believers here not only from the Hokuriku area but also from the Tohoku area. This became the basis for the establishment of Shinshu Kingdom.
Today, the ruins of Gobou are designated as a national historical site. It was rebuilt as a park and includes a bronze statue of Shonin that was created by Koun Takamura. This area is surrounded by Kitaga Lake on three sides, and has gorgeous scenery. It’s about 15 minutes by car from JR Awara Onsen station/ 20 min by car from Kanazu IC on Hokuriku. The temple complex that remains is also the home of the ‘Flesh-adhering Mask’. An English version of the story can be found here: http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1430992
A contemporary 3-story building which has Chi-no-Yu (hot spring of the earth) on the 1st floor and Ten-no-Yu (hot spring of heaven) on the 3rd floor. Men and women alternate between these weekly. The walls of Ten-no-Yu consist of glass, which makes everything very bright. There is also a spring water drinking area outside. It’s open from 9:00-22:00, and closed on Tuesdays (or the following day if Tuesday is a national holiday) and January 1st. It is about three blocks north of the Awara Yunomachi Station.
Sentopia and Yunomachi Sunset Market
This market is organized by the Hana-no-Mai Ladies, the women’s group consisting of full-time farmer ladies in Awara City. They sell their home-grown vegetables and fruits to promote their special local products and interact with citizens and visitors. It is a friendly market organized by local farmers and held along with the Yunomachi Sunset Market.
The Yunomachi Sunset Market aims to promote the Awara Spa Town. Many fresh local vegetables, fruits, miscellaneous daily goods, and articles of clothing are sold. Visitors can enjoy shopping and having conversations with the local farmers at their booths. It starts every Saturday at 16:00 for about two hours, and is held from July 23 to October 29 at the open area in front of Awara Yunomachi Station of the Echizen Railway.
Tsukiusagi No Sato (月うさぎの里)
Translating essentially to “Home of the Moon-Rabbits,” this is a smallish rest stop on one of the back roads of Kaga, Ishikawa that has a number of small restaurants and gift shops, but the main attraction is the central plaza, which is filled with charming statues and a dozen or two real live rabbits just sort of wandering around, doing their rabbit thing. Rabbits get put away for the day around 4:00 p.m. so it’s best to go there earlier in the day. Ryukichi makes an excellent next destination, as you’re already halfway there by that point.
There are two local festivals in Kanazu and Awara. The Kanazu Festival is usually in late July and the Awara Festival in early August. Keep an eye out for the exact dates of both of these festivals.
The iris garden is situated on the shores of Lake Kitagata and is known as one of the major iris gardens of Japan. About 500,000 irises of 300 kinds come into blossom from late May and usually stay in bloom for about one month. Also, Kitagata Lakeside Iris Festival is held. The Iris Festival occurs in June from about the 14th to the 22nd at Lake Kitagata. The festival features cultural performances by the local geisha in both dancing and musical instruments. It is about a 15 minute drive from Awara Onsen..
This event depicts the travels of Rennyo Shonin. People carry a ‘Mikoshi’ or portable shrine, which contains a picture of Rennyo Shonin inside, from Kyoto to Yoshizaki where it’s welcomed by people holding Japanese lanterns. This is the biggest traditional event in Yoshizaki and makes the town very busy with lots of visitors. It’s a reminder of the olden prosperous days of the town. Yoshizaki is about 20 minutes north of Awara, just above Lake Kitagata. Period: April 23 to May 2.