Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rust-colored Onsen Water in Unique Yamagata Ryokan

Visits to remote Japanese ryokans (旅館), or traditional Japanese inns, become windows through which you can observe Japanese culture. A visit to a ryokan in Oguni, Yamagata, named Miyoshisou  will introduce you to the culture of Japanese mountain communities. The ryokan feels like a natural history museum. Miyoshisou also has a unique bath, called Awanoyu, which is well known by Japanese connoisseurs for its rusty-iron-colored spring water.  The slightly carbonated water is thick with mineral deposits, yunohana (湯の花), which are visibly floating in the bathwater shown in the picture on the left.

Many novices to the hot spring experience may feel uncomfortable submerging their bodies in such water, but the water naturally flows from the earth in that condition. It is just unfiltered, so it is rich in minerals and good for your skin. The particular mineral content entering baths affects the turbidity.  Some hot spring hotels filter the water. Another unique aspect of this hot spring bath is that the temperature is around 38 degrees Celsius. Most hot springs range in temperature between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius. Hot spring water is heated at many hotels. One of my fellow bathers visits Miyoshisou several times a year. He believes that lower water temperature takes longer to warm his body, but he feels that he stays warmer afterwards. On the contrary, another bather expressed disappointment because he was expecting a hotter bath. Luckily for him, Ryokan Miyoshisou has another bath that is filled with spring water that the hotels has both heated and filtered. Both have glass windows that face a nearby river, hills, trees, and fields.

Eat the local, seasonal specialties in the tiny restaurant on the premises. Recently picked  mushrooms and other "wild" vegetables, along with river fish, are included in their tempera, noodle, and rice dishes.  The restaurant, like the hallways and almost all of the walls of the building, are "decorated" with an eclectic collection of historical, cultural, and tacky knickknacks, furs, and photographs that can teach you about both the lifestyles of people in the region and the quirky tastes of the hotel owner.


To learn about another fascinating hot spring that is only a few kilometers from this hotel in Oguni, Yamagata, follow this link. If you are curious about the various colors of hot spring water, read this post.