Saturday, March 30, 2013

My Favorite Seaside Hot Spring in Murakami, Niigata

Early Evening in Murakami
Fairly comparing hot springs is a complex task. An outside hot spring on a mountain top and an inside hot spring in a fancy resort are as different as white wine and red wine, or a cat and a dog. I live in Niigata, Japan, so it is quite natural for my neighbors to ask me about my favorite hot spring or onsen in Niigata. My usual response is that deciding which is best is impossible. There are too many wonderful baths in Niigata. However, when I am asked which is my favorite seaside hot spring that does not require a long drive, my answer is Taikanso Senanminoyu (大観荘せなみの湯) in Murakami, Niigata. Senami Onsen is a tiny onsen village in Murakami City.

The photograph above shows the Japanese hot spring in which I have soaked while orange sun rays diffused the sky and the orb of the sun disappeared slowly into the ink-blue sea. In freezing winter, I have felt toasty warm while round hard hail pellets bounced off the surrounding rocks or soft while flakes have fallen like drifting leaves onto my skin. In summer, I have watched fishermen and swimmers enjoying the sea. The outdoor bath is broken into two wide segments, each about ten meters long and each parallel to the beach. Artfully placed shrubs and small pine trees provide privacy while allowing bathers a panoramic view. Occupants of the outdoor sauna can also enjoy sea views through windows facing the ocean.

The hot spring belongs to a fancy hotel that allows day visitors to use the baths for 1,000 yen (close to U.S. $10.00). There is no time limit, so you could spend hours moving among the indoor bath, outdoor baths, saunas, showers, massage chairs and other comfortable chairs in the rest area. The sunsets as view from this area of Niigata are renowned.
The entrance to the hotel introduces visitors to an important aspect of Murakami culture -- salmon. Salmon has been caught in local rivers for thousands of years, and Murakamians have developed their own recipes for preparing and cooking salmon that are unique. In Murakami, many shops and even homes display salted salmon that are hung outside from eaves to dry in the wind. The popular mascot of Murakami, is a character, called Sakerin, who features a salmon on top of the head. Manhole covers in the Murakami streets feature salmon, too. Salmon products, of course, can be purchased all around town.

Murakami Salmon Hanging Out
The hotel  is both luxurious and quirky, as you can see in the photographs. Murakami also is a wonderful place to stroll and enjoy ashiyu (足湯) which means foot baths.
Maybe Noah's Ark Landed in Murakami, Japan

Sit and Chat with a Penguin Sailor
Murakami's Character "Sakerin"
Murakami City Manhole Cover Depicting Salmon