Monday, July 9, 2012

Foot Baths For the Disabled , the Able-bodied, the Poets, and Everyone Else in Murakami, Niigata

Five unique foot baths, called ashiyu (足湯),  located with views of the sea, beaches, and traditional Japanese ryokans that hang locally caught salmon to dry in the salty wind are some of the charming points of Murakami, Niigata (村上新潟).

The Cutest Foot Bath (足湯) in Japan
Murakami, far from any major city, is along the Sea of Japan, where strong winds, heavy rains, deep snow, and powerful surf  make life challenging and invigorating for the residents. Visitors to this remote city can experience traditional Japanese culture and a variety of excellent hot springs. For today, though, I will introduce the superlative foot baths of Senami Onsen (瀬波温泉), a village within Murakami. An introduction to other hot springs will come later.
The Cutest and the Hottest Foot Bath in Japan
The first foot bath earns two superlatives: the cutest foot bath I've ever seen and the hottest foot bath that I have put my feet into. To facilitate the healing of an injured knee, I soaked it in the foot bath. Because of the extreme heat, I couldn't last more than one second without drawing my leg away in pain. I found the spigot for cold water and opened it. After the water had sufficiently cooled, I soaked my knee. You can see how the hot water had caused my skin to turn boiled-lobster red.
It Was So Hot, My Skin Quickly Turned Bright Red
Senami Hospital has the first foot bath I have seen which was designed to be enjoyed by both disabled and able-bodied bathers.Take a close look at bottom of the photograph. You can see the same symbol used in parking lots for cars with disabled drivers or passengers.  In the case of this foot bath, the symbol indicates where wheelchairs should pull up to the bath.  Senami Hospital has earned my respect for providing such a wonderful service to the community!
The First Bath I've Seen For Disabled People

Bathing Directions for Wheelchair Users
The designation of the best literature-related foot bath is awarded to a wonderful foot bath in front of the Sunset Inn Shiomiso, called Akiko's Foot Bath due to its prior use by Akiko Yosano (7 December 1878 - 29 May 1942), a prolific author, feminist, pacifist, and social reformer. Yosano-san reportedly spent many nights and days bathing and writing poetry in Murakami. Like many lovers of hot springs, she clearly was a sensualist. Here is one poem that expresses how she felt after bathing:

Did Akiko-san Soak Her Feet and Write Poetry Here?
My skin is so soft
Fresh from my bath
It pains me to see it touched
Covered by the fabric
Of an everyday world

Click to read a short biography and more of her poetry.


The longest foot bath that I have ever set foot in is right on the beach in front of the Taikanso Hotel. It is about thirty meters long. This is an excellent place to rest your feet and watch the sunset, waves, and local fishermen trying to catch dinner. If your hungry, but don't want to fish, you could bring your own eggs and place them in a special box designed for preparing onsen tamago, boiled eggs, which is provided free of charge. While the eggs are cooking, heat your feet and chill out.
Longest Foot Bath on a Beach in Senami Hot Spring

Add Eggs, Relax, Wait, and Eat

The last of the superlative foot baths is the one that is closest to the beach. From here, you are within walking distance of shady huts, which are set up every summer. All five of these foot baths are within walking distance from one another. My recommendation is to stroll slowly, look around the town, stop for a bath, walk a little more, have a snack, and enjoy the ambiance of Senami Hot Spring. At the end of the day, your feet will say, "Domo Arigato Gozaimashita." And you thought your feet couldn't speak Japanese!

Your Feet Will Thank You After Soaking At All of the Foot Baths in Senami Hot Spring

To learn more about foot baths in Japan, including steam baths for feet, click here.