Sunday, May 3, 2020

Japanese Hot Spring Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Japanese Onsens?

Thinking deeply about hot springs
Choose the best answer for each question. Scroll to the bottom to read the correct answers. Click on the links to read informative posts and boost your knowledge of Japanese hot springs. 

1. What do city officials in Beppu, Japan, award to bathers who soak in 88 different hot springs?
a.  A black belt b. A black towel c. A black T-shirt d. A black bar of soap

2. What is special about Hirauchikaisen Onsen on the island of Yakushima, Kagoshima?
a.  It is only accessible at high tide b. It is next to a live volcano c. Monkeys bathe there  d The water is dark red

3. The famous bathing "hot spring monkeys" of Nagano, Japan, are ...
a.  Japanese macaques b. Japanese squirrel monkeys c. Japanese gibbons d. Japanese marmoset
Searching the sea for the answers

4. Which healthy substance has been added to just a few hot spring baths in Japan? Perhaps the best example of this can be found at a hot spring ryokan in Ureshino, Kyushu.
a.  citrus fruits b. vitamins c. green tea d. protein powder

5. Which Japanese city made a promotional video that showed amusement park rides turned into hot spring baths?
a. Hakone b. Sapporo c. Kyoto d. Beppu

6. Taking a sand bath (sunayu in Japanese) means ...
a. Rubbing sand on one's skin b. Being buried in hot steamy sand c. Experiencing a dirty bath d. Soaking in a bath that has a sandy bottom

7. Which type of Japanese bath is connected with the story of a thief who was boiled to death?
a.  Goemonburo b. Uchiyu c. Rotenburu  d. Kazokuburu

8. Some hot springs were reportedly discovered after hunters noticed animals such as cranes and ___________ bathing and healing injuries.
a. Rabbits b. Eagles c. Deer d. Turtles

9.  The thermal water in hot springs is sometimes ...
a. Clear b. White c. Black d. Green d. Tea-brown e. Red f. All of these are correct  

10. Yunohana are substances that are collected from some hot springs. Yunohana are often sold as souvenirs.What are these?
a.  healthful bacteria b. soap c. algae d. mineral deposits
Hotel hot spring in autumn


 Answers and Links to Related Posts: 
Question 1 B. A black towel
Question 2 A. It is only accessible at high tide
Question 3 A. Japanese macaques
Question 4 C. Green tea
Question 5 D. Beppu
Question 6 B. Being buried in hot steamy sand
Question 7 A. Goemonburo
Question 8 C. Deer
Question 9 F. All of these
Question 10 D. Mineral deposits







Sunday, December 29, 2019

Enjoy Yoga or Stretch Pole Exercises Before Bathing in a Japanese Hot Spring

Japanese hot springs promote mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Add yoga exercises or stretch pole exercises to double the health benefits. The folks at Senami Onsen in Murakami, Niigata, have a plan to help you lose stress and loosen up your body with healthful stretching.
 From the right angle, the thermal mineral and ocean waters merge. This is one of the baths at Taiseisou.
One-hour yoga or stretch pole sessions start at 2:00 and end at 3:00 on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month. Stretch pole events are almost always on the second Saturday. The teachers are professionals hired by the Senami Onsen Association. Although the yoga teacher did speak English, the two Israeli tourists and the one American who joined her session participated by following her movements. The two Israelis said that they had a fantastic time and felt wonderful! One added that doing yoga in such a beautiful location was so far the highlight of her trip. Our yoga and bathing healing session took place at Senami Onsen Resort-Hotel Taiseisou. The kanji for Taiseisou is 大清荘。

The views from the baths and the yoga room were almost identical:  panoramic perspectives of light blue sky, dark blue water, and relaxed, smiling faces.
These events happen at various hotels within Senami Onsen. Check the schedule to learn specific details. Unfortunately, the plan is in Japanese only.  Contact me in advance if you need help. Yoga mats are free. The rates are the following: 600 yen for Senami hotel guests, 600 yen for members of the association, 1,000 yen for day participants with reservations, and 1,100 for participants who drop in. Hotels will charge for towels. We brought our own. The fees above include access to fantastic baths.
I met him after yoga and a bath. Look how calm he is.
Senami Onsen is a walkable hot spring village along the Sea of Japan on the northern end of Niigata Prefecture. Trains run from Niigata City to Murakami. Murakami has a long history of fishing, salt-making, agriculture, and cooking with seafood, especially salmon.  Very few foreigners visit Murakami. Local festivals are unique. Most hot spring baths face the sea, and the sunsets are legendary. For those reasons, I recommend visiting Murakami and bathing in Senami Onsen.

Hotels and ryokans range in price from 6,000 to just over 50,000 yen a person per night. Breakfasts and dinners are usually included in the price. Three other recommended Senami bathing spots are Taikanso Senaminoyu  (大観荘せなみの湯), Shiomiso Inn, and Haginoya.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Onsen Hotel with Hellishly Good Hot Spring Hell Images

The Japanese use the word hell (地獄, pronounced jigoku) for both the mythical area where humans suffer for their sins and an area where enormous quantities of hot water and steam issue from Earth.

Shiraike Jigoku

Situated on one of the most active regions of the Ring of Fire, Japan has its share of large hells. On Mt. Unzen and in other locations, samurai boiled Christians and other criminals to death in those hells. But that was long ago. Today, many are tourist attractions. Beppu, Oita, has seven hells. It was a hell of a surprise to discover that Seikaisou, a reasonably-priced hotel in Beppu, gave me a room with its own hell. It was hellishly good, and I slept like an angel

Hot Spring Addict relaxing after relaxing
Seikaisou is unusual for installing lovely hell images in rooms but also for having tatami (woven-straw- mat flooring) in the rooms with baths. Another guest told me that the tatami flooring is soft, so she feels good about bringing her children there. If they fall, they won't bang their heads on hard surfaces.

Seikaisou's rare bathing area with tatami
From the baths, one sees and smells the sea and hears seabirds singing. This is partly what Japanese bathing is about. As I soaked, I noticed a lone fishing boat moving across the horizon. I looked to the right and discovered Mt. Takasaki, which is famous for a monkey park.
Mt. Takasaki on the right
I recommend Seikaisou for its cleanliness, location, service, and delicious meals. We ate dinner out, but our breakfast was delicious. And from our table, we also saw the ocean. Our simple room was less than $100.00 for two people. Prices vary depending on room location and type. The most expensive rooms come with private onsen baths on the balconies.

If you are looking for a  super lunch experience or a luxury hotel in Beppu, read about this fantastic location. Want to know more about other Beppu hot springs and ones across Japan? Write Beppu in the search field.




Hotspringaddict.com did not receive any discounts or preferential treatment. I wrote this positive blog post because the hotel impressed me.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Bathe and Dine Like a King in Beppu While on a Middle-class Budget

Many high-class Western and Japanese style hotels in Japan welcome day guests into their gourmet restaurants and luxurious bathing facilities at reasonable rates. Those in the know can luxuriate in enchanting hot springs and partake of mouthwatering meals at surprisingly low prices.



Case in point, the new ANA InterContinental Beppu Resort currently (as of October 2019) has a special deal that allows middle-class travelers to enjoy a high-class experience. For 3,400 yen (around US $30.00) + service charge, you will be able to partake of a semi-buffet lunch and use the bathing facilities: sauna, outdoor baths, and indoor baths. A similar experience in the US would cost at least three times that much. The views are as exhilarating as the spa area is relaxing and the food is exquisite. Feast on the pictures.





                                               
                                                                                                                                                                   
Here are some tips for getting the most enjoyment out of this particular deal. First, ask if you can be seated on the outdoor patio, which has the best views. The wide vista embraces a vast stretch of Beppu from the mountains that slope to the blue sea. You'll love the swirls of steam that rise out of hot springs in many parts of the city. The clouds of steam seem to dance before dissipating.
Second, eat before bathing. Soaking in hot springs when very hungry or thirsty can lead to fatigue and dehydration. Keep this point in mind when deciding the time that you will get to the hotel. Making a reservation in advance is best. The lunch & bath combination is not available on weekends. Some hotels refuse admission to daytrippers if they have many guests during holidays.
Third, give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the outside views and to appreciate the artworks on display in this elegant hotel. Oita prefecture is famous for bamboo artisans. The hotel has a fantastic collection of intricate works of art crafted with bamboo.

To make a reservation by phone from within Japan, call 0977-76-8258, or you can click on this link. Look at the top left corner and click again where you see the words Book Table.


I search for lunch and bath combinations like this to celebrate special occasions or to pamper myself when I feel that I need pampering. The bath and lunch combination was better than I had imagined it would be.

Many hotels and ryokans that have lunch and bath specials do not always advertise them. Look carefully at their websites. If you do not see useful information, write or call.

Here is another blog post about a similar deal in Niigata, and this hotel in Nagoya has a very reasonable lunch and bath combination.

The Hotspringaddict did not receive money for this positive review. If you have gone to this hotel or will go in the near future, please share your impression with other readers.

Monday, September 16, 2019

To Become a Master Bather in Beppu

Beppu is the only city in the world that officially certifies worthy bathers as onsen (hot spring) masters. From free neighborhood bathhouses to first-class hotel spas, from muddy thermal water on a mountain to mid-town springs, from jacuzzi baths to ones in the sand, Beppu has a plethora of training locations.














                                                                             

What is an Onsen Master?  Beppu City created a  program that transforms ordinary humans into Onsen Meijin. Meijin is an honorary term for a person who has mastered a valuable skill or art. In Beppu, which bills itself as the onsen capital of the world,  an onsen meijin is a person who has taken the time and effort to bathe in 88 hot springs scattered across Beppu from its coast to its mountains. It is sweaty work. I know. I have become a master twice, and I am working on my third black towel.





















You read that right. Black towel! The Japanese phrase Onsen Meijin is sewn with gold letters on my towel. I immediately framed it, and now I display it on my living room wall. Only bathers who have traveled a path called the Beppu Hatto Onsendo deserve black towels. By September 17, 2019, just 8,072 people in the entire world had achieved black towel status. Two proud holders of black towels display their golden-lettered-cloth trophies.

Proud Masters of Bathing in Beppu

Bernie Goldman, a visitor from the UK, spoke about his bathing experiences in Beppu: "With my passport in hand, I was determined to acquire a set of towels and a prized certificate to say I had visited onsens. I have to say it’s was properly the most varied baths I’ve come across in Japan. We managed about 4 onsens a day, so I was well on the way to receiving my certificates and towels which I treasure to this day."
Proudly Receiving  His First White Towel and Certificate from Beppu City Officials

What is the Beppu Hatto Onsendo?

Eight different hot spring areas are within Beppu city limits. A long time ago, they were separate entities. Each hot spring area has distinguishing characteristics: mineral content, temperature, location, color, and more. These different areas are collectively referred to as Beppu Hatto. Onsendo is the way or the path of the hot spring. Traveling and bathing in the eight bathing areas cultivates health and happiness.

The First Steps on the Onsendo

First, get your body to Beppu Train Station, Oita prefecture, Kyushu. Then buy a Beppu Hatto Spaport and a hot spring guidebook. Choose either the Beppu Hatto Onsen Book, which is in Japanese only, or the Be Beppu, a guidebook written in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. They are not the same, but the content is similar. The books explain about bathing customs and local springs and include discount coupons. The money that you save with the coupons will be more than the costs of a spaport and guidebook. Plus they come with useful maps and photographs of the hot springs, so you can easily plan your bathing route.

Get wet, sweaty, and pleasantly immersed in Beppu! Beppu has hundreds of hot springs. Bring your spaport. At each bath that participates in the program get a stamp pressed into your spaport, which is similar to a passport. Stamps are proof that you have entered the baths. Some free or almost free neighborhood bathing facilities are unstaffed. Look for a stamp and ink pad and stamp your spaport yourself after putting coins into a box for coins.


Beginners can earn a Beppu Hatto Onsendo handkerchief after receiving stamps from 2 qualifying facilities, which is ridiculously easy. But you need 8 to qualify for a white towel, 24 to for a green towel, 40 for a red towel, 56 for a blue towel, and 88 for the towel that shows the world that you have the discipline and the motivation to reach meijin status.

Explore Beppu and the Baths

Beppu is unique. No other Japanese city that has such a wide variety of baths close together. In one afternoon, you can have yourself buried in steaming sand along a beach, walk uphill and soak in sulfur-rich water, and after that soak in a hot spring that is within the grounds of a temple, and ascending higher, find a bath where you can smear warm healing mud on your body.

The author Ursula Le Guin wrote, "It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end." This pithy quote applies to the path toward becoming an onsen meijin. This road led me into conversations with strangers from Korea, Japan, Australia, Thailand, and other locations. I saw three generations of one family scrubbing each other's backs. I walked along tiny alleys and into bars and restaurants that I would never have entered without my hot spring map.

 

Cooking with Hot Springs

Fortify your body with delicious local dishes prepared with steam. The people in Beppu have perfected the art of cooking with steam. You'll encounter people cooking crab, shrimp, potatoes, greens, and more in various locations, and some Japanese ryokan and hotels specialize in this way of cooking. They call it Jigokumushi, which roughly means cooking with the hell steam. You can rent steam cooking facilities and purchase ingredients cheaply at Jigokumushi Kōbō Kannawa, or you can choose dishes from a menu. The most popular dish is named Treasure Box Steamed from Hell.

Most Popular Item on the Menu
Cooking with Steam


















 

How Much Time Does the Path to Meijin Status Take?

I recommend taking your time and going at your pace. If your itinerary prevents your entering 88 baths, set your goals toward another towel, and remember, you can always come back. Beppu will not run out of hot water this century. Bathe slowly, sense your body, appreciate your surroundings. Enjoy your life and the path known as Onsendo.


A  Simple, Clean Bath
Contemplating the View from a Hotel Bath



Hot Sand Bath
Steam Vents Near Holy Monument

Concluding Thoughts

Some who might say that the pursuit of certificates for bathing is a trivial pursuit. They might add that the world has too much suffering because of social injustice, environmental problems, and terrible politics. I agree with them, but bathing in hot springs refreshes my mind, my heart, and my soul. Invigorated and recharged after bathing in hot springs, I am stronger and more able to be an active citizen who tries to make the world a better place for all bathers.

For More Information: Beppu City Official English Webpage
                                      https://enjoyonsen.city.beppu.oita.jp/


Friday, August 16, 2019

Shika Onsen is a 1389-Year-Old Japanese Hot Spring

Six Different Baths at Shika No Yu
If the sulfur-stained wooden beams and slats of Shika No Yu could speak, they would tell us about countless generations of Japanese Ainu, samurai, priests, farmers, merchants, and artists who have been healing their bodies and souls in the hot mineral water. 

Local residents discovered a natural spring and then built an onsen around it in the year 630. Over a millenium has passed since then. Cultural norms have changed tremendously. But our naked bodies have remained the same. Modern man, like many animals, still finds solace when soaking in natural springs. 

The name of the onsen, Shika no Yu, translates as hot water of the deer. Tales of hunters, soldiers, and travelers observing animals soaking in and healing injuries in hot springs are familiar across Japan. Such is the origin story of Shika no Yu. In the remote Nasu Highlands, during the coldest times of winter, the heat of the hot springs would have been welcomed by man and beast.

The wooden baths are divided by temperature--the coolest being a comfortable 40 Celcius or 104 Fahrenheit. I advise entering that bath first and slowly working your way up toward the hottest. Take breaks between baths. Most people cannot endure the hottest bath for long; the water temperature is a skin-searing 48 Celcius or 118 Fahrenheit. I have been bathing in Japanese hot springs for a quarter of a century, yet I could not stay longer than half a minute in that scalding bath. After jumping out of the bath, I gave the local elders a good chuckle. I spoke with a strong-looking man in his seventies. He told me that he could soak  for several minutes at a time, but the 46 Celsius or 114.8 Fahrenheit bath was more comfortable.  

Another onsen  with baths that reach or exceed 46 Celsius is Ootakinoyu in Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma prefecture, which many Japanese consider to be among the three top onsens in Japan.

Several locals who I chatted with and most of the other bathers I saw in the bathing facility appeared healthier than the average person. Probably, their fitness was a result of habitually visiting hot springs. 

Kaburi-Yu is the name of a special style of bathing that is unique to this hot spring. Visitors are advised to pour ladlefuls of hot water on their heads 200 times before soaking their entire bodies. Read the sign and look at the illustration above. I tried to follow the custom, but after pouring water on my head about twenty times, I did not have the patience to continue. My hot-spring-addicted body and soul needed a complete immersion in the thermal baths. Within seconds of entering, my stress melted and flowed with water out of the wooden tub.

When bathing, I sometimes imagine my stress seeping so deep into the earth that magma incinerates my worries and anxieties. Squeezed by the planet, the ashes of my burnt stress become sparkling diamonds. Nothing refreshes my body and soul more than a natural hot spring.

Shika No Yu is located in the tiny hot spring village of Yumoto, which is on the slopes of Mt. Nasu in Tochigi prefecture. Relatively few foreigners visit this village, which has a selection of several small, old-fashioned baths and ryokan. Unfortunately, I had time for Shika No Yu only.
My memories of the mineral water, the atmosphere of the small traditional baths, town, and nearby shrines, and the beauty of the nearby hiking trails and forested mountains are calling me back.

I plan to return and write more stories. Please return to this blog and read other posts, too. I would love to read your comments and questions about Japanese onsen. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Sukayu Onsen: Mixed Sex Bathing in a Traditional & Relaxed Environment

One of Japan's largest indoor mixed-sex bathing onsen facilities is located in one of the best areas for nature exploration and outdoor sports: Towada-Hachimantai National Park in Aomori. After a beautiful day of forest bathing, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, or flower gazing, relax with your loved ones in a warm, safe, friendly environment where being nude is as natural as, well, being naked. In other words, men and women chill out while warming up and relaxing. The photograph below was taken for fun. The second illustration represents actual conditions.
 Happy Communal Mixed-Sex Bathing               Photograph Courtesy of Sukayu Onsen
Everyone should bathe at Sukayu Onsen at least once in their lives. The experience is an interactive history and culture lesson that leaves your body feeling as relaxed as a noodle. Sukayu Onsen is a hot and wet time machine. You'll float back to a time when people were more comfortable with their bodies. Staying in this onsen hotel, I remembered what I had learned about Japanese customs before almost everyone's homes had hot water and plumbing. Neighbors would bathe together. Vacations in Japan used to center around trips to hot springs with distinctive characteristics.

Safe and Warm Mixed-Sex Bathing in Japan                   Photograph Courtesy of Sukayu Onsen






















Even hot spring addicts who have been to hundreds of hot springs within Japan will realize these baths are exceptional. First of all, the mixed-sex bathing area that is named Sennin Buro, or "bath of a thousand bathers," is one of the largest I have ever seen. You won't actually encounter a thousand bathers, and the  2,669-square-foot communal bath guarantees adequate privacy and space to stretch out. Second, the water contains an unusually thick mix of minerals, including sulfur, which feels terrific on smooth, healthy skin. But it causes skin cuts and the eyes to sting. The mineral content also reduces water visibility, which adds to the privacy of your privates. The third point is the utterly relaxed attitude to public nudity. Hundreds of onsens in Japan still allow communal bathing, but there is something about the local culture and the size of the baths that keep people mellow and respectful of others. Finally, the old beech-wood building and steamy air combine to create an old-fashioned healing atmosphere. The hot spring has a history of over three hundred years. In addition to the large bath that men and women share, there are smaller single-sex baths for people who prefer not to mix.
Jigokunuma or Hell Swamp in Winter        Photo Courtesy of Shintaro Takada
Winter was in full bloom when I visited Sukayu. Over nine meters of pristine snow covered the mountains, valleys, and roads in late March. In winter, Sukuya Onsen attracts snowshoers, skiers, snowboarders and other snow lovers. The hotel rents equipment and will set you up with guides. The active volcanic soil emits boiling water and volcanic gases year round, so walking with a guide is recommended. Trails lead from the onsen to numerous breathtaking natural attractions. The nearby Hakkoda Ropeway gondola flies passengers up to the Hakkoda Ski Area. If you have the guts and a knowledgeable guide, you can descend down the back of Mt. Tamoyachidake through woods to Sukuya Onsen, where the hot baths wait to refresh and reinvigorate.
Jigokunuma or Hell Swamp in Fall       Photo Courtesy of Shintaro Takada
As the two photographs above prove, the area around Sukayu Onsen is gorgeous all year round. My first trip was in winter. I am planning to return in autumn to see the previously white-capped mountain ranges explode with fiery colors.

Dinner Sashimi
A satiating meal in your room is part of the Japanese ryokan experience, and the staff at Sukayu will make sure that you are so stuffed that the only thing you can do afterward is chill out with friends or heat up in an onsen. When arriving at the hotel, the staff ask what time you would like to dine, so you can go out skiing or soaking and return to your room at that time to discover that your room has been prepared for a scrumptious dinner. There is no need to get dressed. Relax in the loose Japanese robes that are in the closet. Pick up the phone to order drinks that hotel staff will quickly deliver to your room. My friends enjoyed Aomori beer and sake. Since Aomori is famed for the best apples in Japan, I ordered bottles of Aomori apple juice that were the real deal: unfiltered, unsweetened, unadulterated natural appleness.
Local Aomori Beef
The hotel rooms are unpretentious and comfortable. The building has been rebuilt and expanded during its long history. My room faced a courtyard filled with snow during my stay. But I was warm and snug under a thick, heavy blanket on a soft futon placed on the tatami floor.
My Warm, Snug Futon
In My Imagination, The Snow Outside My Room Looked Like a Whale
The hotel is spacious and decorated with Japanese art, photographs, and stuffed wildlife, which might disturb some foreigners, but these displays are quite common in mountainous hotels and ryokans. Consider the decorations to be a part of the local culture. If you are lucky, you might encounter live animals in the nearby forests. 

Be sure to amuse yourself and friends with a photograph taken while you stand behind the cute photo cutout board. See below. The Japanese reads that only two more people are needed to reach 1,000 people.

For more information about the hotel, check out https://www.en-aomori.com/hotspring-008.html or http://www.sukayu.jp, the webpage of the hotel. Unfortunately, that page is only in Japanese. You can click on this site to make reservations in English, or use your preferred hotel reservation service or travel agency. I do not get any kickbacks for this positive review. I really had a great time during my stay. Short-time visitors can use the baths for six hundred yen.

Getting There: Scroll down this page for bus information. 

Another outstanding hot spring hotel in Aomori is the Aoni Inn.

An excellent report on winter sports in Aomori is here.