April 20, 2013 by sevenbrane
Bessho Onsen, looking down at Ueda in the distance and the Japan Alps on the horizon
Ever since we have left Japan, we’ve been chronically starved for a good soak in a hot spring. So every time we come back, we indulge ourselves and spend a night in a fancy ryokan in a small hot spring resort. We prefer small towns over the heavily commercialized ones and a traditional ryokan over a huge resort hotel. For just one night however, good access from Tokyo is also important. Bessho Onsen
(別所温泉) ticks off all the points in the list, thanks to the Nagano Shinkansen
line. Bessho is a charming rural town with sulfuric waters, the oldest hot spring of the region. It moreover provides the visitor with just enough sights to see for a one day stay while leaving enough time for bathing and relaxing.
Octogonal Pagoda at Anrakuji
Called the Kamakura
of the Nagano region, Bessho Onsen is home to three important Buddhist temples, all of which can be reached easily on foot from anywhere in town. The Zen temple Anraku-ji
(安楽寺) is home to an octogonal wooden pagoda, the only one left in Japan.
Nearby is Jorakuji
(常楽寺), notable for its unusual thatched roof and an impressive trained pine tree growing in front of it. Both temples are located up the hill at edge of the town and afford a nice view of Bessho, the city of Ueda
further down in the valley and the Minami Alps
on the horizon, including the volcanic cone of Asama-san
Aizenkatsura tree at Kitamuki Kannon
The third notable attraction of Bessho Onsen is the Kitamuki Kannon
(北向観音) temple. The Kannon statue at this temple is said to fulfill prayers for this life already. On the precincts is the 1200 years old Aizenkatsura
tree, designated natural monument of Nagano Prefecture. The new leaves looked spectacular in the sunshine.
For those who did not get their fill of bathing at their ryokan, there are also three traditional bath houses and a modern hot spring complex available, none of which we tried since we were busy using the three different baths at the ryokan where we stayed.
The beautiful temples and the peaceful air of the surrounding wooded hills made Bessho Onsen a perfect setting for a relaxing onsen weekend and ranks it right at the top of my hit list.