Wednesday, April 24, 2019

One of Japan's Best Hot Spring Inns

This is one of Japan's Best Hot Springs
When people learn that I have bathed in about 600 hot springs in Japan, they usually ask for my favorites. At the end of March, I stayed at Aoni Onsen.  Now, my answer is that this is one of Japan's best hot springs. It has everything that I want in an onsen. But it also lacks something ubiquitous at almost every contemporary hotel. That lack is a significant part of its allure.
Private Dining at the Traditional Aoni Inn
Look at the photographs above and below. What is missing that you would find at almost every other hotel around the world today?
A Hot Bath in an Old Wooden Barrel amid Snow
The answer is electric lights. Kerosene lamps are what you are looking at. The rooms do not come with electricity.  Forget about TV,  video games, phone calls,  email messages, distracting beeps, and electronic vibrations.  What you will get is time well spent with friends, time being aware of your body and your surroundings, and time that seems to slow down. Call it mindfulness if you wish.
Another Great Bath. A 30-Meter-High Waterfall is to the Right.

One of my travel companions described his reaction to the Aoni Inn: "I was worried at first that the loss of connection to the outside world would make me jittery. But it proved unfounded. What a relief I felt. My checking, minding and concentrating days are gone. I have never imagined that being untethered was so therapeutic. And the onsen. The clear hot water looked no different from the hot tub at home. But it felt so soft, and a couple of minutes in the tub warmed my body from the core. Based on my seat-of-the-pants understanding, there are two kinds of onsen; stimulating or soothing. Aoni onsen belongs to the latter and completely matched with the ambiance of the lamp-lit inn."
Stream By the Traditional Ryokan
Why doesn't the Aoni Inn have electric lights and outlets? The manager explains that the inn was built before any homes or buildings in that remote area had electricity. The nearby town got electricity years before the Aoni Inn did. Remember that the Aoni Inn is in one of the most remote regions of Aomori prefecture, Japan. When electrical lines were finally connected to the Aoni Inn, the connection was weak and unstable. In the meantime, people around the world were becoming unhealthily addicted to Internet services. Visitors were amazed by the depth of relaxation that they experienced when they were cut off from electrical appliances. Guests started calling the Aoni Inn as the Lamp Inn. People love the atmosphere of the kerosene lamps and heaters. The hotel management decided to limit the flow of electricity to just a few machines in the main office. Word spread about this old-fashioned oasis.
Simple Rooms with Super Views                Photo Courtesy of Jiji Press
Rooms are simple. You'll sleep on a soft mattress on a tatami floor. The screens are traditional paper screens. Both the lighting and the heating are powered by kerosene. The heat and intensity of illumination are easily changed. My room did not have a private toilet, so I walked down the hallway to a shared one. It was clean. When I opened the window and briefly looked upwards before sleeping, I had a glimpse of the sparkling Milky Way. Secluded in rugged mountains, the Aoni Inn's skyscape is unaffected by light pollution.
Exquisitely Prepared Mountain Delicacies            Photo Courtesy of Jiji Press
And the food! The chefs are experts. They transform river fish, mountain vegetables, and local farm products into gourmet dishes that are deceptively simple in appearance. The flavors are rich and natural. These are meals that showcase pride in traditional Aomori cuisine. You will not be served coffee or bread or cereal. Immerse yourself in the food culture just as you do the bathing culture.
Spring Shifting into Summer Along the Aoni River     Photo by the Aoni Inn
I experienced the Aoni Inn in winter. My dream is to return in spring, summer, and fall. Each season will provide different colors and temperatures. So much to sense!
The Aoni Inn Dressed for Autumn      Photo by the Aoni Inn
The long six-kilometer private road that leads to the inn is a perfect place for strolling, flower viewing, and spotting wildlife. You can also walk to a nearby dam. Do not worry about traffic jams.
This is the Same Bathing Area Shown in the Third Photograph from the Top           Photo by Aoni Inn
The Aoni Inn is one of the top ten best hot springs in Japan because of the stunning natural beauty of its surroundings, because of the excellent preparation of local Aomori foods, because of the variety of baths with different views, and because of the simple, natural lifestyle that it reminds us to enjoy. The Aoni Inn did not take long to detoxify the stress of modern living from my soul. I honestly did not want to leave. The Aoni Inn did not pay me for this positive review.
Clean Thermal Water that Runs Without Stopping                        Photo by Aoni Inn

Address 1-7 Aonisawa Takinoue Okiura Kuroishi-shi Aomori-ken 036-0402
Tel 0172-54-8588

For rates, click this link to the official webpage of the Aoni Inn.

For directions to the Aoni Inn and for information regarding activities in the area, click this link to a site run by the Aomori government.

For information about other fantastic hot springs in winter, check out these links:  Shirohone Onsen, 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. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Multisensory Pleasures in Hot Springs on the Izura Coast

A Japanese saying is "Food is meant to be eaten with the mouth and the eyes." Likewise, the best hot springs are multisensory. The hot spring baths at the Itsuura Kanko Hotel pleasure and relax the eyes, ears, nose, skin, and heart.
Outdoor Public Bath at the Itsuura Kanko Hotel's Bekkan Building
The Itsuura Kanko Hotel is perched on a cliff above the Izura Coastline of Kita-Ibaraki. From the baths, sea- and skyscapes are visible. Watch the colors of water and light play and dance while you are warm and comfortable.

Private Outoor Bath that Comes with a Suite
Since all of the baths are close to the sea, the sounds of waves, wind, and birds roll over you as you bathe. The feeling is akin to an auditory massage that melts stress away. The Izura Coastline was selected by the Japanese government for inclusion in a list of the best 100 soundscapes within Japan.
Public Outdoor Bath at the Honkan (Original Building)
You'll find yourself breathing slowly and deeply, a feeling that comes when you are miles away from the hassles of life. Breezes off the ocean, carrying traces of the salty sea, linger around the baths before disapating into the atmosphere.
The Hotel Manager Standing By Main Lobby Flower Display
Under the soothing influence of the natural onsen water, you'll experience your skin becoming smoother and more sensitive.
Choose Japanese Traditional Bedding or Western Style Bedding

Refreshing Views of the Sea

High-quality food, service, and excellent baths enrich the hearts of visitors. I stayed just one night, but I wished that I could have stayed longer. The Itsuura Kanko Hotel in located in Kita-Ibaraki, which is barely visited by foreigners. My friends and I were probably the only Westerners enjoying the facilities that night. If fine service and Japanese traditional luxurious surroundings are what you want, I recommend this hotel.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Nagoya's Newest Healing Hot Spring Space

Nagoya, Japan's fourth most populated city, delights visitors. yet few foreign visitors know Nagoya's many attractions. Located between Kyoto and Tokyo, high-speed trains fly from Nagoya to Kyoto in thirty minutes and wing to Tokyo in just over ninety. Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Jingu (Shrine), and the Tokagawa Art Museum introduce visitors to local and national history. Nagoya is also home to the World Cosplay Tournament, and the subway system that circles the city is fast and tourist friendly. When I go to Nagoya, I always drop into one of Japan's best and newest contemporary hot spring facilities. Raku Spa Garden's specialty is healing the bodies, minds, and spirits of locals and travelers.
Outdoor Baths
Raku Spa Garden, Nagoya © Raku Spa Garden
Raku is Japanese for relax, take it easy, or comfortable. Traveling is exciting but tiring. Cleanse the travel dust off your body, be one with the hot water, and give your mind and body a soothing time.
Pleasurably Melting into the Floor in a Hot Sauna Room

The Japanese have applied their renowned work ethic towards perfecting the art of relaxation. Give yourself at least several hours to try out Japanese methods of bathing that most people in the world have never experienced. Your stress level will plunge, your body will thank you, and your heart will be rejuvenated. 

Ganbanyoku, Healing on Hot Rocks

Raku Spa Garden comprises a healing collection of a dozen unique baths and saunas. Indulge in baths of hot carbonated water, baths that send electrical impulses through the water, baths with low- and high-intensity jets, and outdoor baths with stone walls, baths that exude the smell of the cypress wood. Then, give the dry saunas a try. You will energize your body and soul.
At Raku Spa Garden, you can bathe, nap, eat delicious food, drink juices and beers from around the world, read books and manga, swing in hammocks, space out, play games, and chat with friends for hours, even all day, for reasonable prices.  The rates for adults and children on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays are 1,680 yen and 700 yen. The weekday rates are 1,480 yen and 600 yen. A morning bath special of 600 yen and 400 yen is available on weekends and holidays. Children five and younger are free.
Bathing in water is done in bare skin in sexually segregated bathing areas. Men and women enjoy the dry saunas together. Everyone wears colorful robes that they choose when entering.
Airy, Stylish, and Filled with Greenery
Getting to Raku Spa Garden by bus is easy. For access information, read this article. If you read Japanese, go directly to the Raku Spa Garden website.
TV Addicts Get Their Own Chairs and TVs
Other wonderful bathing spots in Nagoya include the international airport, one in downtown which has a delicious lunch with bath special, Dainagoyaonsen, and Ryusenjinoyu. Raku Spa Garden, though, is Nagoya's newest and greatest temple of relaxation.
One of the Many Dry Saunas and Relaxation Spaces