Monday, February 15, 2016

Great Apres Ski or Snowshoe Hotel in Tainai, Niigata

Sports and hot springs are Japanese family members, but the coldness of winter strengthens the familial connection. If a healthier apr├Ęs-winter sport's activity than soaking in a hot mineral bath while breathing snow-cooled air exists, I don't know what that could be. There simply can't be anything better for the soul and body.
That's why I was soaking in the baths at the Royal Tainai Park Hotel in the quiet town of Tainai, Niigata. The Thainai Ski and Snowboard Area sits on the other side of a small valley from the baths. Bathers in the farthest bath outside the hotel are close enough to watch the action on the slopes, but the distance is too far for the skiers to see the faces and other body parts of bathers.

There is only one hotel and only one ski resort in this farming region below the higher mountains in this area. Except for the music emitted by speakers at the ski resort, it is a relaxing and quiet area.
Which makes it also a wonderful area for snowshoeing. The Tainai Ski Resort offers snowshoe tours, but we just wander by ourselves through the nearby healing woods.
 My wife and I had just spent a few hours walking through milky-white forests with our dog, and we encountered no one at all. In a park closed to everyone except snowshoers, the three of us strolled up to the top of a two-story snow-clad A-frame cabin and slid down.


As the sun started to set, we wrapped our dog/daughter in a warm blanket in the car and went for a dip. I would have invited her, but she doesn't like water that much and bringing a dog into a hot spring is not culturally acceptable behavior in Japan.

Non-staying guests can soak for just eight hundred yen, or six hundred yen if you have a ski ticket from the nearby ski resort. Considering the setting and quality of the baths, this is one of the best deals in Niigata.
Besides the indoor bath and sauna, there are two outdoor baths, My favorite is a wooden bath perched on the side of the hotel so that we can look down into a placid river that reflects the colors of the sky. Close to sunset, those colors change in a slow motion from blue or gray to orange and red and finally slip into blackness until stars spark up the evening.

The water is transparent, but it feels slick because of the mineral content. The Japanese use the onomatopoeic phrase "nuru nuru" to describe this sensation. After bathing, your skin feels smooth, or "sube sube." The more you bathe in Japan, the more onomatopoeic phrases you will learn. That is just one more great reason to enjoy a Japanese onsen. To learn more Japanese for your next intercultural bathing experience, visit the Visual Japanese Onsen/Hot Spring Glossary.