|Kawaranoyu in Tsubame Onsen, Myoko, Niigata||Add caption|
Several years beforehand, Ogonoyu had been a mixed-sex bath. But since my last visit, the local community expanded the bathing area and created a male and a female section. I found the separation of sexes disturbing. Japanese social mores are changing for the worse. Why should humans be afraid of or embarrassed about our bodies?
Ogonoyu was still beautiful in the darkness. In our flashlights' beams, we saw huge stones arranged to form concave walls surrounding the rock-lined soaking areas. Steam with a slight odor of sulfur wafted off the surface of the thermal water. Tall trees stood over the baths. Though the rains had stopped, the cloudy sky was blocking starlight and moonlight.
|Hot Spring Addict bathing in the stream near Kawaranoyu|
Hearing no sounds of conversation and seeing no shoes at the entrance, we assumed that we were alone and decided to bathe together in the male section, which was straight ahead. We have been friends for many years and have bathed together in locations from Tohoku to Kagoshima.
With the flashlights off, all we could see was the essence of a pitch-black night. The hot mineral water's heat embracing my body was a perfect match for the cold air. The tight muscles in my body were melting like ice cream in the sun. In the night's silence, I recalled soaking in an isolation chamber in the early 1990s, when they were trendy. That night's experience was similar until an owl hooted, and my mind returned to the present forested environment.
Ten minutes later, we heard the voices of two men speaking and saw the beams of their light shining. The ladies decided to move into the female bathing area. The two men politely greeted us. My friend, who does not soak for as long as I do, decided he had reached his limit. I chose to join my wife and my friend's wife in the female section. Usually, I would have remained. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, I don't want to risk inhaling the exhalations of strangers. No one wears a mask in a hot spring.
We had a fantastic fifteen minutes or so of privacy and relaxation until a lady called to us from the bath entrance. She said that she was afraid to bathe alone in the dark and wished to bathe in the female section with her husband instead of soaking apart. By that time, we were satisfied, so we departed, allowing them to enjoy the privacy of a private bath.
The next day, we returned to enjoy another free outdoor bath called Kawaranoyu. Getting there requires a ten-minute walk on a path above a deep gorge where a mighty river churns, jumps, swirls, and pushes boulders and fallen trees downstream.
After crossing a footbridge, the trail turns and travels along the edge of a smaller stream cutting through mountain greenery. Insect sounds and frog calls stopped as we came close and continued after our passing.
|Walking bridge to Kawaranoyu|
The trail ends at one of the prettiest little hot springs imaginable. The water is blueish white. It continuously enters from the side of a fern-covered slope and exits through cracks in the rocks, flowing into the stream below. The only building is a rustic hut in which men and women leave their clothing before entering the same-sex bath.
The air holds the aroma of a fresh forest mixed with a tinge of sulfur. The spring provides relaxing music. And, often, dragonflies hover in the air. Kawanoyu is one of my favorite outdoor springs in Myoko, Niigata. After heating up, I like to carefully climb down the short slippery cliff to a spring pool to submerge myself in the mountain's coldness. Then, I climb up and repeat this heavenly healing process
To read more about Tsubame Onsen, click on the following stories: