Unusual but fun hot springs

For a sparkling skin and stomach with tingling stimulation… Shin-tamagawa Onsen

Tamagawa Onsen (located in Senboku City) is popular for its “hot spring cures” and is one of the most famous onsen in Akita Prefecture. Hot spring cures are basically medical treatments received when staying in hot spring resorts for a few nights or longer. Tamagawa Onsen is a unique hot spring whose main charm is its acidic spring water, but its hot spring cure resort atmosphere may put it off limits for some tourists. However, just a ten-minute walk away from Tamagawa Onsen is the very different Shin-tamagawa Onsen, which was opened in 1998 and is popular with those in the know for its tourist-friendly nature.

Like the neighboring Tamagawa Onsen, the main feature of Shin-tamagawa Onsen is its strongly acidic hot spring water. The water here has a PH value of 1.2, which is unusual even by Japanese onsen standards, and it exhibits powerful sterilizing properties that are good for activation of liver functions and treatment of rheumatism, anemia, skin diseases, and other ailments. Entering this hot spring, you will be able to experience the stimulating sensation of soaking in what feels like carbonated water. The effects can be felt right away, as your whole body begins to tingle and go numb just like one’s mouth feels after eating extremely spicy food. You can also drink the waters, which are good for the stomach.

Shin-tamagawa Onsen can be reached via shuttle buses that run frequently from Akita Prefecture’s famous Lake Tazawa. This journey is another reason to visit Shin-tamagawa Onsen, as beautiful scenery can be seen from the bus windows en route – particularly noteworthy is the snowy landscape during wintertime, which looks just like an ink painting.

Access: Take the shuttle bus from Tazawako Station. During the winter season (December 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013), ride the bus bound for Shin-tamagawa Onsen and get off at Shin-tamagawa Onsen (ride takes 64 minutes). From November 5 to 30, 2012, ride the bus bound for Tamagawa Onsen and get off at Shin-tamagawa Onsen (ride takes 70 minutes). During other seasons, ride the bus bound for Tamagawa Onsen or Hachimantai Chojo and get off at Shin-tamagawa Onsen (ride takes 70 minutes).
Address: Tamagawa, Tazawako, Senboku-shi, Akita Prefecture
Tel. 0187-58-3011

If you want to enjoy onsen just like a resident of Tokyo… Musashikoyama Onsen

If you don’t want to go out as far as the suburbs but do want to visit a hot spring while sightseeing in Tokyo, there is an ideal onsen just for you: Musashikoyama Onsen in Tokyo’s vast downtown area of Shinagawa. This hot spring can be found in an extremely convenient location just a five-minute walk from Musashikoyama Station on the Tokyu Meguro Line, which is one of Tokyo’s main railroad routes. While this public bath has long been used on an everyday basis by ordinary Tokyo citizens, this is a respectable onsen with two sources.

At Musashikoyama Onsen, you can enjoy two types of natural hot springs – one with kuroyu water and the other with gold water. Kuroyu looks like amber-colored whiskey, is rich in minerals and ions, and is famous as a beauty-enhancing water with excellent moisturizing and heat-keeping effects for the skin. This is also referred to as an all-purpose hot spring water, as it is also effective in remedying physical problems such as fatigue and insomnia. On the other hand, gold hot spring water is a shiny gold color as suggested by its name, and it is extremely rich with iodine. This water is effective in treating injuries and aches, including cuts and scratches, and it even can cure sore throats and other complaints.

Musashikoyama Onsen is a public bath that can be used by adults for an admission price of just 450 yen, yet it has substantial facilities and boasts excellent hygiene. There are three types of bath available – indoor, outdoor, and open air – and there is also a stone sauna exclusively for use by women. Food and drink options including draft beer are also available, so visitors can enjoy spending a relaxing hour here. Alternatively, as the onsen is situated behind the Musashikoyama shopping district, you may like to stop at a nearby bar for a drink after bathing.

Access: Take the Yamanote Line (bound for Shinagawa/Shibuya) from Tokyo Station, and get off at Meguro Station (ride takes 17 minutes). Take the Tokyu Meguro Line (Rapid) and get off at Musashikoyama Station (ride takes 2 minutes). The onsen is a 5-minute walk from Muashikoyama Station.
Address: 3-9-1 Koyama, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 03-3781-0505

For a steam locomotive journey to a hot spring village bursting with greenery… Kawane Onsen

In Japan, the thrill of travel is not just the destination itself, but also includes the means of transport used to reach one’s destination. Train journeys are particularly popular in this regard, and none more so than trips via nostalgia-evoking steam locomotives. No doubt many people dream of the sheer luxury of traveling by steam locomotive to a hot spring destination. One such place that ties together the splendor of steam locomotives and hot springs is Kawane Onsen in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Kawane Onsen is one of the few hot springs in Japan where you can see a steam locomotive from the bath. Kawane Onsen is located on the shores of the Oigawa River, and close by is the Oigawa Railway, which crosses the river with an active service of steam locomotives that are not commonly seen in modern-day Japan. The Oigawa Railway station is near to Kawane Onsen, and steam locomotive is the recommended way of getting to the hot spring. After swaying for a while to the gentle bumpy rhythm of these old-fashioned trains, you will arrive at a hot spring village bursting with greenery. As you soak in the open air bath, take in the nostalgic sounds of steam whistles and look out at the steam locomotive as it gently sets off. How lucky to be here!

Kawane Onsen has various bath designs, including charcoal baths, hinoki cypress baths, and open air baths. All bathtubs are free-flowing, and the spring water is always kept in a clean and fresh state. There are zones for people who want to wear bathing suits, as well as saunas and all kinds of spas, including bubble spas, foot spas and sleep spas. Visitors tend to stay here just for one day, but there are holiday cottages available to rent (reservation required) if you would prefer to relax and spend a longer time here. These are based on a minimum of four people staying, while rooms for five or more guests are also equipped with their own open air baths.

Access: Take the Tokaido Shinkansen “Hikari” from Tokyo Station and get off at Shizuoka Station (ride takes 63 minutes). Take the Tokaido Main Line (bound for Maibara) and get off at Kanaya Station (ride takes 31 minutes). Take the Oigawa Railway Main Line and get off at Kawaneonsen-Sasamado Station (ride takes 36 minutes). The onsen is a 5-minute walk from Kawaneonsen-Sasamado Station.
Alternatively, take the Tokaido Shinkansen “Kodama” (bound for Tokyo) from Nagoya Station, and get off at Kakegawa Station (ride takes 61 minutes). Take the Tokaido Main Line (bound for Atami) and get off at Kanaya Station (ride takes 14 minutes). Take the Oigawa Railway Main Line and get off at Kawaneonsen-Sasamado Station (ride takes 36 minutes). The onsen is a 5-minute walk from Kawaneonsen-Sasamado Station.
Address: 220 Sasamado, Kawane-cho, Shimada-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture
Tel. 0547-53-4330

For simple refreshment while strolling around the former capital… Arashiyama, Kyoto

The historical Japanese capital of Kyoto is renowned throughout the world. Within Kyoto, one of the most famous sightseeing areas is Arashiyama, which first prospered in ancient times as an area for the holiday homes of aristocrats. This site is popular for viewing cherry blossom trees in the springtime and autumn leaves in the fall. Arashiyama also has many historical shrines and temples, as well as locations where visitors can enjoy hot springs without any fuss. While touring sightseeing areas in the former capital, why not refresh yourself with a trip to an onsen?

At Arashiyama Station there is a facility called the “Hannari-Hokkori Square”. Between the eateries and souvenir shops is a “station foot-bath” (150 yen per use) that flows with water from Arashiyama Onsen. In this traditional refined Japanese space, which was produced by noted interior designer Yasumichi Morita, you can soothe your tired feet in the gentle foot-bath after walking around Kyoto, and spend some laid-back time just watching the travelers and trains go by.

Hannari-Hokkori Square has a concourse made up of 3,000 bamboo trees and 500 lights, producing a truly magical space. Onsen can easily be experienced in this relaxing atmosphere, which with Arashiyama’s bamboo thickets is strongly reminiscent of the past. Souvenir shops and food stores are filled with bustling crowds as they sell goods exclusive to Arashiyama Station as well as traditional sweets and sundries that will make you think, “Ah, this is Japan!” With many benches for sitting, this area is ideal when you want to take some time out from your sightseeing schedule. You can also refresh yourself with a foot-bath here after sightseeing in Kyoto!

Access: Take the JR Sanin Main Line (Sagano Line) from Kyoto Station, and get off at Saga-Arashiyama Station (ride takes 16 minutes). Walk for 10 minutes from Saga-Arashiyama Station to Arashiyama Station.
Address: 20-1 Sagatenryuji Tsukurimichicho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Tel. 075-873-2121

For a mud bath with mixed bathing for family members and partners to enjoy together… Beppu Onsen Hoyoland

Beppu in Oita Prefecture is the leading hot spring area in the whole of Kyushu. Beppu is referred to as the “hells of Beppu” because various colors of spring water gush from a large volume of sources. One “hell” in particular delivers the most remarkable colors – Beppu Onsen Hoyoland, formerly called “dyer’s hell” and famed for its mud bath onsen.

Dyer’s hell has long been famous as a swamp of deep blue hot spring water intermingled with mud. In recent times this site has become a hot spring health preservation facility, and its mud baths are particularly renowned. Mud baths do not use ordinary mud, but rather use hot spring water containing fine quality ore mud. Beppu Onsen Hoyoland boasts hot spring water that is full of mud ore produced under the best possible conditions, with moderate gas, clay-humus, and underground water. This fine mud rose up from the depths of the earth after untold time, and when it dries it turns into a mist-like powder. With heavier relative weight and greater buoyancy than ordinary onsen, you can enjoy a wonderful floating sensation when soaking in the mud baths at Beppu Onsen Hoyoland.

The outdoor open air ore mud large public bath for mixed bathing is particularly famous, and the combination of mixed bathing in a mud bath is unusual even throughout Japan. This onsen can be enjoyed by groups of both genders, such as family members or partners, without segregation. Indoors, there are gender-specific mud baths, cloudy colloid baths, and steam baths. The two types of mud bath offer different styles of enjoyment, as the open air ore mud large public bath has softer spring water than the indoor variant. Visitors can come just for the day or stay longer if they prefer. You can also buy ore mud and mineral spring water with effects against hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, heart infarction, and brain infarct.

The “Mixed Bathing World” modern art festival is running in Beppu until December 2, so why not take this opportunity to enjoy art and onsen together?

Access: From the “Fukuoka Airport International Terminal” bus stop, take the highway bus bound for Beppu-Kitahama and get off at the “Beppu-Kitahama” terminus (ride takes 1 hour, 58 minutes). Walk for 5 minutes until you reach Beppu Station. From the west entrance of Beppu Station, take the Kamenoi Bus bound for Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) and get off at “Konya Jigoku-mae” (ride takes 25 minutes). The onsen is a short walk away.
Alternatively, take the Fukuoka City Subway Line 1 (Kuko Line) from Fukuoka Airport Station, and get off at Hakata Station (ride takes 6 minutes). Take the Limited Express Sonic and get off at Beppu Station (ride takes approximately 2 hours). From the west entrance of Beppu Station, take the Kamenoi Bus bound for Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) and get off at “Konya Jigoku-mae” (ride takes 25 minutes). The onsen is a short walk away.
Address: 5 Myoban, Beppu, Oita Prefecture
Tel. 0977-66-2221

A monologue from Uncle Onsen

Colorless and clear hot springs are fine, but I sense mysterious power in colorful hot spring waters. Just the presence of a deep reddish-brown or a milky white color makes me think that the water are tens if not hundreds of times more precious than normal colorless waters. Stiff shoulders and lower back pain are instantly alleviated, chronic diseases are completely cured, and it feels as though I could live to 100, 120 even, possibly for ever and full of youthful energy! Maybe these things are an illusion, but they feel real when I am bathing in those waters. Regardless of time and expense, I willingly pursue hot springs with colors, going as far as Kyushu, Chubu, Kanto, and Hokkaido. Broadly speaking, hot springs in Japan are white, gray, black, brown, red, blue, and green. It is highly unusual for a country to be so blessed with such an array of colors. It seems that more and more people are focusing on onsen spring quality, effects and source temperature, but it is also interesting to take color as a theme for the enjoyment of hot springs.

By Uncle Onsen

In this article we have introduced just a few of the countless excellent hot springs to be found in Japan. There is no way we can fit in all of the onsen that are worth visiting, so please check these web pages (see links below) and, of course, try to find your own favorite onsen when you visit Japan.