Thursday, May 31, 2018

Most Incredible Hot Spring of 2017-2018 Winter

Bone-white is the color of the hot thermal water, and White Bone Hot Spring is the translation of Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉), one of Japan's best small hot spring villages. Located deep in a ravine that cuts through the Japanese Alps, Shirahone requires high-level driving skills to reach in mid-winter, when the one snakelike route from Matsumoto, Nagano, is slick with ice and snow. But, God, is it ever worth it.

Be Prepared to Bath with Men and Women in the Outdoor Bath
For twenty-five years, I have been bathing my way around Japan in search of the ultimate hot spring experience. The renowned hotel, remote location, unique mineral water, and abundant snow pushed my winter trip to the village of Shirahone Onsen into the ranks of my top onsen experiences. I stayed at a luxurious remote Japanese inn named Awanoyu. Photographs of this outdoor bath are often published in magazines and books extolling the beauty of Nagano onsens. Within Japan, this bath is famous, but few foreigners know about Awanoyu. Now, you do.
Walk through the Curtains to Reach the Hotter Indoor Baths
The forest and I Faced Each Other in a Relaxing Moment 
Meals were superlative. The chefs prepared vegetarian meals for two of my companions. I tried the local delicacies, including basashi, which is shown below. Basashi is the red finely sliced raw flesh of a horse. This unusual variation of sashimi is popular in Nagano, Kumamoto, and a few other Japanese prefectures. 

To learn more about the extraordinary environment of Shirahone Onsen and neighboring Norikura Kogen, please click on this link to the first of a three-part story that I wrote about my joyous winter holiday during which I bathed, climbed mountains, and visited frozen waterfalls while surrounded by pristine snow.
The Side of the Bath is Caked with White Mineral Deposits

Even Desserts Were Otherworldly (In a positive way)

Relax in the Same-Sex Bath with Friends

One of the Frozen Waterfalls in Norikura Kogen

Gorgeous Winter Hiking Trails
For more on beautiful winter hot springs in Japan, here are links to other posts about winter bathing spots in Japan: The Cloud Sea Bath, Hot Springs for Swallows, Zao Onsen, Intercultural Bathing in Hokkaido, Various Winter Springs, Black Onsen Water in Myoko Kogen, and Tainai, Niigata. 

Please write comments and give suggestions. Thank you.

Awanoyu did not pay me for this positive review. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

High Mountain Bath and Forest Sauna Therapy at the Okushiga Kogen Hotel


The Okushiga Kogen Hotel in Nagano has created a very unique bathing environment that combines aspects of shinrinyoku (defined below), soaking in hot water, and sweating in a sauna. Four essential elements come together to facilitate incredibly bathing at this hotel. The first is the water—the source is melted mountain snow that becomes a nearby river—which is heated and piped into the simple rectangular bath positioned in front of a wide window that provides a spectacular view. The second element is the calming forest that encircles the hotel.

In addition to these, outside the rear of the hotel is a sauna trailer (the third element), also with windows. Next to the sauna is a transparent geodesic dome (the fourth element) It is about five meters in diameter. Lounge chairs, a small rug, and a heater are within. For 3,000 yen, guests can bathe in the sauna, walk outside into below freezing temperatures to scrub their bodies with clean snow, and then relax in the warmth of the dome while immersing themselves into the panoramic forest landscape. I recommend repeating these steps at least twice and finishing this cleansing experience in the big hot bath within the hotel. I think of this type of bathing to be forest-sauna-bath therapy. The trailer and dome are available for private rental, so families and friends can experience this healing tranquility together.


Click here for an article about Okushiga Kogen. The next link will take you to the Okushiga Kogen Hotel.


Soaking in a hot spring or bathtub is bathing. But bathing in Japan also includes lying on a hot surface, such as heated tiles, rocks, rock salt, or a floor. The Japanese word for this action is ganbanyoku 岩盤浴. The first kanji means stone. The second is plate, and the last kanji represents bathing. If you have never experienced ganbanyoku, imagine that you are lying in a low-heat sauna and the heat is coming from beneath you.


Another type of bathing is sunayu, 砂湯. The literal translation is a sand bath. Bathers are buried in sand. Only the head remains uncovered. Hot steam flows through the sand and heats their bodies more slowly than immersion into a hot water bath does.


Finally, think about forest bathing, which the Japanese call shinrinyoku, 森林浴。 The first two kanji mean forest, and the last is bathing. One explanation of forest bathing is “a mindful, immersive experience into the environment of a forest.” For more information, read this page from the website of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy and Guides.


Sometimes we take a bath merely to get clean or to heal an injury or to relax the body, but for many people in Japan, bathing is a process of physical, emotional, and mental refreshment. For the hot spring addict, a bath often becomes a meditative experience (without chanting or other rituals) that brings about a peaceful state and a sense of being joined to the world.

This blog promises to acquaint readers with Japanese onsen, but on rare occasions, I introduce extraspecial locations (such as the Okushiga Kogen Hotel) within Japan that do not officially qualify as onsen as the according to standards set by the Japanese government. To be legally designated by the government as an onsen, the spring water must contain at least one of nineteen specific minerals and naturally be over 25 ºC, or 77 ºF.

To learn more about Japanese terms that belong to the world of Japanese bathing, visit the Visual Japanese Onsen/Hot Spring Glossary.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Five Suggestions for Bathers with Tattoos in Japan

You've got some cool tattoos that express your experiences, beliefs and feelings. Your tattoos are important to you. Unfortunately,  tattoos are taboo. Many Japanese associate tattoos with the yakuza and other criminal organizations. What are you going to do? Giving up on experiencing wonderfully relaxing Japanese onsens should not be an option. Consider these five suggestions so that you can immerse yourself in the unforgettable, invigorating hot springs of Japan.

First, if your tattoos are not extremely visible and if you are feeling bold, just undress, wash, and enter the baths. Chances are that most people are not going to complain, and if they do, the complainers will have to get out of the bath, dry themselves, and find the management. You, meanwhile, will be enjoying the bath. If asked to leave, depart without making a fuss, and politely ask for a refund.  Over a period of twenty years, I have bathed many times  with friends in hot springs that officially prohibited tatooed bathers. No one with me has ever been asked to leave, but I have heard stories of it happening. One lady told me she was asked to leave a hot spring just as she had decided that she was finished, and she got her money back. My friend whose tattoo is showed above and I had a great time at Sanage Onsen (in the image immediately below) in Toyota City, Ryusenji-no-yu in Nagoya (in the second photograph). He also visited baths in Beppu, Oita, and Osaka without any problems. On the other hand, other friends have complained about snotty, annoying comments from onsen staff. If you can handle this possibility, take the plunge.

Second, a simple solution for tiny tattoos is covering them with Band-Aids, pieces of gauze, or other bandaging. If you expect to bathe for a long time, considering bringing replacements as they may fall off. Another friend purchased cheap Band-Aids to cover his three small tattoos before we bathed at Murakami's Taikanso Senanminoyu. Most hot springs in major towns and cities are close to convenience stores, so buying bandages is almost never problematic.
CeramicTublike Baths are One of Many Ways to Soak at Ryusenji-no-yu
Third, rent a hot spring facility for your private use. Rental bathing facilities are called kazokuburu, meaning family  bath, and kashikiriburu. Kashikiri means rental, and buru means bathtub. Rental periods vary according to the rules of each establishment. Prices usually range between 1,000 yen and 2,500 for an hour. Reputable onsen managers empty the water and clean the baths before new guests soak. You can enjoy intimate bathing with close friends. I highly recommend kazokuburus and kashikiriburus.

Fourth, go to baths that are tattoo friendly. But how are you going to know which Japanese onsens welcome tattoo individuals with open arms? The most useful resource in Japan is the map made by the great people of Tattoo Friendly Japan.

Finally, find the remote hot springs in mountains, on beaches, and along rivers that few people visit. These are usually free and no one usually cares about tattoos.  Check the links to learn about three absolutely incredible locations that will blow your mind while erasing your stress.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017's Most Delicious Gourmet Meal in a Japanese Onsen Ryokan

Hedonism is the best word to expresses the unrestricted glowing warmth of pleasure you can feel in the best of the best Japanese ryokan. Japanese inns with  hot springs are all about health, relaxation, and indulgence.
Uchiyu, Indoor Hot Spring
Ryokan Ohashi in Misasa Onsen, Tottori prefecture, offers all of the above. Gratify yourself. This year, if you deserve it, treat yourself to an unforgettable ryokan.

Succulent Crab Sashimi, Still in the Shell
Seafood that is fresh from the sea that laps at the beaches of Tottori, mushrooms and mountain vegetables picked that day from the nearby mountains and fruit grown on local farms are all turned into works of edible art by a nationally aclaimed chef.
The Incredible Edibles of an Almost Never Ending Dinner
Before or after eating, slip into the loose, comfortable yukata and geta (Japanese robe and wooden-soled sandals) provided by the ryokan. Then stroll and take photographs along the quiet Mitoku River and rural spa town where a foreigner is still an unusal sight. Drop in and chat with friendly locals in their tiny shops and art galleries. If you don't speak Japanese, just smile. There is no pressure. Misasa is an unusual mix of stimulation and relaxation.
Ohashi Ryokan Entrance
This Photograph Shows Just Part of our Healthy Heavenly Breakfast

River View from Elegant Lobby of Japanese Inn
Nearby attractions include the following: the famous Tottori sand dunes, where you can ride camels, slide down the dunes on sandboards, paraglide, or just stare at the sea from the peak of a dune; a museum of sand sculpture based on mythical and historical locations worldwide, fruit orchards, intricate shrines and temples that rival those of Kyoto and Hakone in their beauty and cultural value. Climb Mt. Mitoku or Mt. Daisen, both centers of an ancient form of Buddism that worshipped spirits in nature. These two mountains are religiously, historically, and environmentally among the most important mountains in Japan. Read this article for more information. There is much more to see and do than I can list here.
Pick Your Pears at Tottori Pear Farm
If you want an English speaking guide, contact Richard Pearce (, who lives in Tottori. He is an expert on the region.

Transportation Information:

You'll probably regret leaving, and you will certainly want to return.

All rights to this post reserved by the Hotspring Addict. Nothing may be copied without permission.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Summer Hot Spring Experience in Tokamachi: Art, Baths, Forest Walks, Gourmet Food

Hot Spring Addict Relaxing in one of the Outdoor Baths at Matsunoyama Onsen Ryokan Chitose
With over three thousand hot spring resort areas in Japan, one could spend a lifetime trying out new baths what a great life that would be—so why visit some areas again and again? Often, one trip is not enough to savor all the waters, food, and attractions. Also, seasons in Japan are as different as sashimi and roast beef. Consider Tokamachi, Niigata, for instance. Last winter, I stayed at the Cloud Sea Hotel in Matsudai Onsen, Tokamachi, where I snowshoed and soaked in baths surrounded by vast regions of snow. While driving from the hotel to the mind-blowing, gigantic, snow-sculpture Tokamachi Snow Festival, I saw a road crossing an icy river into a narrow valley. A cliffside sign announced the existence of hot springs I had not yet visited. I had a premonition that the road would lead to a great time; it did. Returning to Tokamachi for summer bathing was a fantastic decision.
Walking Around Matsudai Onsen in Yukata
So was my choice of Japanese ryokan. When friends came from America for their first exploratory trip of the Japanese countryside, my memory of the aforementioned road beckoned me. After a little research, I took them to Matsunoyama Onsen Ryokan Chitose for their introduction into Japanese onsen culture and rural Japan. Why? I had learned that Japanese onsen connoisseurs rate the thermal discharges in this tiny onsen village as being among the top three most medicinal waters in the entire country. The thermal waters are among the most mineral-laden waters in Japan. Otaku is Japanese for nerd, or someone obsessed with a particular interest. In this case, the hot spring otaku community is almost unanimous in declaring that Matsunoyama Onsen, Arima Onsen, and Kusatsu Onsen are the best for healing purposes. Locals say that their springs heal cuts and wounds, skin conditions, nerve pain, back pain, circulation problems, and they add that the waters also clean and moisturize skin. When bathing, you will notice that the smoothness of the water. After bathing, you do notice a marked difference in the quality of your skin.
One small road leads up and down the center of the tiny onsen village
Waterfalls, sake tasting, gourmet meals that never seemed to end, walks punctuated by foot baths, a private bath, a jazz coffee shop, bird watching in the day and moon watching in the evening. Matsudai Onsen is small, but there is a lot to do, and all the activities lead to relaxation

The fourth generation of owners/managers provide personal service. For instance, my vegetarian wife got an all vegetarian meal. One friend wanted pork. Another wanted to eat the local beef. I had a little of everything. The quality and quantity of regional specialties that the chefs prepared for us left us more than satisfied and much more than full. We ate in a dining room arranged for just us. If you stay there, you can eat in your private dining room.
Visitors can use some of the bathing facilities, but I recommend staying. The owners speak English well. They provide excellent service. Also, they are happy to show you old photographs of the area and teach you about unusual local customs in Matsudai Onsen. 
A Photograph of the Owners During a Local Ceremony
You can choose from a wide variety of rooms, including ones with private baths next to the bedroom. If you stay in a more economical room, but want to share a bath with your family or friends, the hotel has a bath that you can reserve for private use. Made of cypress wood, the bath exudes a pleasant woodsy aroma.

You should combine forest walks and art walks with your onsen trip. Next to the local train station in Matsudai, is an art walk that can take several hours if you see everything. You might think that crazy—in a good way—artists had scattered their most eclectic art throughout farmland and woods.

I did not mention prices because those depend upon the rooms that you choose and the booking service or travel agency that you use. 

My only complaint with this onsen village is that between the old-style Japanese buildings, such as Ryokan Chitose, stand a few concrete monstrosities that detract from the natural and traditional atmosphere of the area. My praise of Rokan Chitose was not paid for with  freebies.

Another wonderful hotel, which is within a short drive and which has an excellent rotenburu, outdoor bath, is the Cloud Sea Hotel.