Sunday, June 8, 2014

Luxurious Japanese Hot Spring with Sunset View (Shiomiso Inn)

Which is the best hot spring with an ocean view in Niigata? Previous to my recent ablution in the thermal waters of Senami Onsen, I had thought that the answer was clear. But now, after a long debate with myself, I have to concede that first place does not belong to one specific hot spring hotel.

The Shiomiso Inn in Murakami City is located on a beach with a westerly view, and the baths are gorgeous. This Japanese ryokan in the onsen village named Senami Onsen is now tied for first place with Senaminoyu.   Shiomiso's website posts that it is "the inn with the most beautiful sunset according to Nihon Keizai Shinbun's Nikkei PLUS 1 Nandemo Ranking." 
This ryokan also has a history of being visited by one of Japan's premier female poets, Akiko Yosano. In front of the inn is a foot bath where she reportedly soaked her feet while composing poetry. If you go there, be sure to read the sign with information about her. Click to read about Yosano and other Murakami foot baths, or ashiyu (足湯).

While researching foot baths in Murakami, I had soaked my tired paws in the foot bath at the front of Shimiso, but I did not indulge in its wonderful whole-body baths and enjoy the view from the back of the inn until just recently. And I, a fairly experienced bather, with around five hundred experiences at different Japanese hot springs under my towel, was more than satisfied with the visual, tactile, and audio stimulation.
From both the indoor and outdoor baths and the sauna, watching the rise and fall of the waves is  hypnotically relaxing. The outdoor baths are close enough for bathers to hear the waves slapping and splashing on the coast.  A variety of baths made of wood or stone or ceramics allow different skin sensations. The temperature of the slightly brownish mineral water varied from bath to bath, with the hottest one, a small rectangular hinoki (Japanese cypress) tub, a somewhat shocking 45 degrees Celsius, which I find is the border between pleasure and pain. The temperature of the mineral water where it first comes from the earth is over 90 degrees Celsius.

Visitors with a yen for luxury and a lot of yen to spend, can opt to stay in rooms with private outdoor balcony baths.  As for thrifty me, a short visit does the trick. For 1,000 yen, I had a delicious taste of luxury and hedonistic, healthy pleasure. But, it made me want more. If I win the next lottery, I will celebrate by staying in the most luxurious rooms at Shiomiso.
Helpful Directions for Novices to the Ancient Bathing Arts
Getting to Senami Onsen takes just over an hour by car from Niigata City, depending on weather and traffic conditions. Driving  in winter can be dangerous and slow. But Murakami and other sections of Northern Niigata Prefecture have a lot to offer visitors. Just up the road from Senami Onsen is the Sasagawa-nagare Coast, which is famous for its craggy rock formations, fresh fish, and tasty salt. For specific directions on access to Shiomiso, click on this link and scroll to the bottom of the page. 

If you go, please comment on your experience.