Saturday, March 30, 2013

My Favorite Seaside Hot Spring in Murakami, Niigata

Early Evening in Murakami
Fairly comparing hot springs is a complex task. An outside hot spring on a mountain top and an inside hot spring in a fancy resort are as different as white wine and red wine, or a cat and a dog. I live in Niigata, Japan, so it is quite natural for my neighbors to ask me about my favorite hot spring or onsen in Niigata. My usual response is that deciding which is best is impossible. There are too many wonderful baths in Niigata. However, when I am asked which is my favorite seaside hot spring that does not require a long drive, my answer is Taikanso Senanminoyu (大観荘せなみの湯) in Murakami, Niigata. Senami Onsen is a tiny onsen village in Murakami City.

The photograph above shows the Japanese hot spring in which I have soaked while orange sun rays diffused the sky and the orb of the sun disappeared slowly into the ink-blue sea. In freezing winter, I have felt toasty warm when hard hail pellets bounced off sculptured rocks or snowflakes fell like cold feathers onto my skin. In summer, I have watched fishermen and swimmers enjoying the sea. The outdoor bath is broken into two wide segments, each about ten meters long and each parallel to the beach. Artfully placed shrubs and small pine trees provide privacy while allowing bathers a panoramic view. Occupants of the outdoor sauna can also enjoy sea views through windows facing the ocean.

The hot spring belongs to a fancy hotel that permits day visitors to use the baths for 1,000 yen (close to U.S. $10.00). There is no time limit, so you can spend hours relaxing amidst the indoor bath, outdoor baths, saunas, showers, massage and other comfortable chairs in the rest areas. The sunset views from this area of Niigata entice many evening visitors.
The entrance to the hotel introduces visitors to an important aspect of Murakami culture -- salmon. Salmon has been caught in local rivers for thousands of years, and Murakami chefs have developed unique recipes for preparing and cooking salmon. In Murakami, many shops and homes display salted salmon that are hung outside from eaves to dry in the wind. The popular mascot of Murakami, is a character, called Sakerin, who features a salmon on top of the head. Manhole covers in the Murakami streets feature salmon, too. Salmon products, of course, can be purchased all around town.

Murakami Salmon Hanging Out
The hotel  is both luxurious and quirky, as you can see in the photographs. Murakami also is a wonderful place to stroll and enjoy ashiyu (足湯) which means foot baths.
Maybe Noah's Ark Landed in Murakami, Japan

Sit and Chat with a Penguin Sailor
Murakami's Character "Sakerin"
Murakami City Manhole Cover Depicting Salmon