Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Flowers of the Hot Springs (Yunohana) of Kusatsu

The Precious Steam of Kusatsu Onsen's Yubatake
Hot spring flowers are beautiful, fascinating, and beneficial for health. Yunohana (湯の花)are what the Japanese call them. They are not really flowers, but crystalline compounds created by nature in and around many hot springs. When conditions are amenable, various minerals dry into crystal shapes, sometimes similar to snowflakes. We can indulge in their beneficial qualities in many onsens as the minerals are mixed within the water, or we can purchase bags of dried yunohana powder to pour into our own bathtubs as bath salts. Over the centuries, Japanese yunohana farmers have learned how to manage the steam to cultivate these flowers. Kusatsu Onsen and Myoban Onsen in Beppu are especially reknowned for the high quality of their yunohana, and visitors should tour their attractive yunohana farms, called yubatake (湯畑).

To the left, you can see two yunohana salespeople standing with their sales cart in front of the famous Kusatsu Yubatake. Despite the  -10°C temperature (14
°F), they stoically served their customers. 

In the picture below, you can see icicles hanging from the bottoms of the boxlike structures. These compose the yubatake. The hot water, which is naturally close to boiling temperature, rises directly from the earth and is channeled into these wooden structures with glass tops. As the water passes through, steam rises to the top. Crystals adhere to the surfaces. The farmers scrape off the crystals and crush them into powered form. The removal of some of the thick minerals in the water is advantageous to the nearby hotels who use the hot water after it has passed through the yubatake. The benefit is that the thick mineral water does not collect and clog the hotel plumbing. Enough minerals do pass through, though, to ensure that various medical conditions of guests are alleviated by bathing. 
Scalding Water Inside Icicles Outside
A popular pastime for locals and visitors is strolling around the yubatake. Many stop to enjoy footbaths, ashiyu (足湯), traditional shops, or ice cream made with eggs that were boiled in the hot springs. Scores of people have their photographs taken at the pool where the mossy green water comes out of the yubatake.
The Yubatake in Winter
Water Runoff from the Flower Garden

The Lovely Pool at the End
Kusatsu Onsen Special Soft Cream Advertisement. It was tasty!

Kusatsu Yunohana in Crushed and Powdered Form
Yunohana has many reported benefits. One of my friends swears by the efficacy of Kusatsu hot spring. She, like many people, go to Kusatsu for healing. She goes for periods of a few days up to a month. Bathing at least three times a day and eating a prescribed diet has done wonders for her atopic dermatitis ailment. I know another person who uses the Kusatsu bath salts at home and claims that the yunohana cures a dry and itchy skin problem that she gets every summer. I can personally report that yunohana has once cured a bothersome case of athletes foot disease.

Japanese yunohana can be purchased at many hot springs and souvenir shops throughout Japan. If you are not in Japan, you can order Japanese bath salts from various companies. Goods from Japan is one.

To read about specific hot springs in Kusatsu and Kusatsu culture, please read this post and this one, too.

Do not confuse the usage of "bath salts" in this post with the new slang terminology for a class of illegal drugs that you might have read about in the news.