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.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes. It is very beautiful. You should come to Japan and experience hot springs with your entire body not just your eyes.

  2. I love the photo cutout. How clever!

    1. Yes. It is clever. The Japanese words on the photo cutout express that if two more people join, they will have 1,000 people in the bath.

  3. If you are interested in Aomori and outdoor baths, scroll down to the next post to read about a remote but famous hot spring that I loved.

  4. This post is indeed interesting. "Feeling as relaxed as a Noodle..." is hilarious. Muahahahaha

    Are you able to read and write Japanese fluently now? I am still struggling.

    1. Hello Twilight Man, I am sorry, but I just noticed your message. My Japanese skills are at the intermediate level, but I wish they were higher. Contact me if you plan to visit Japan again.


Please express your feelings or ask a question.