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Archive for the ‘Onsen’ Category

Mermaid at the Beach at Unohama Onsen

Mermaid at the Beach at Unohama Onsen

With so many spots still to explore in Japan (see our Hello Kitty map), we decided to take advantage of the newly extended Hokuriku Shinkansen to explore the formerly rather inaccessible Sea of Japan coast for a weekend getaway. The line has been extended from Nagano to Kanazawa. Since we had already visited both endpoints on former occasions, I was trying to decide on one of the places in between. But frankly, it seemed that none of them is touristically very developed. I first thought of Unazuki-onsen (it being a hot-spring resort), but then decided against it as the sightseeing railroad into the neighboring Kurobe Gorge has not yet reopened after winter. In the end, I decided on Unohama Onsen in Niigata Prefecture, because, again, hot springs. That the place is directly on the beach seemed another plus.
View of the Niigata Coast from Kasugayama

View of the Niigata Coast from Kasugayama

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View of the snowy mountain ranges with distinctive volcanic cones from Ikaho Onsen

View of the snowy mountain ranges with distinctive volcanic cones from Ikaho Onsen

Visiting a hot spring town is a quintessential part of the Japanese experience, so obviously we could not miss out on that. Since our Japan map still has many empty patches, we tried a new region this time, namely Gunma (群馬) prefecture. Ikaho Onsen (伊香保温泉) recommends itself for an overnight trip as it can be reached within two hours from Tokyo (shinkansen plus local train plus bus, or shinkansen plus bus). Located on a mountain slope, Ikaho Onsen commands beautiful views of the plain below surrounded by mountain ranges.
The bottom of the Ishidangai, the famous 360 stone steps leading up through the town of Ikaho Onsen.

The bottom of the Ishidangai, the famous 360 stone steps leading up through the town of Ikaho Onsen.

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Bessho Onsen, looking down at Ueda in the distance and the Japan Alps on the horizon

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

Octogonal Pagoda at Anrakuji

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Shuzenji Onsen

Katsura river in Shuzenji Onsen A stay in Japan would be lacking without a decent soak in a hot spring. An escape to an onsen town with an overnight stay in a traditional ryokan with good bathing facilities and a good kaiseki style dinner is, admittedly, an indulgence, but nothing else gives you this Japanese feeling! With limited time and baby in tow, we were looking for a place within two hours from Tokyo with hassle-free access. The Izu peninsula recommended itself through its easy access via the Tokaido Shinkansen and multitude of hot springs. While we had stayed on the sea shore in spring, we chose a place inland this time: Shuzenji Onsen (修善寺温泉), half an hour by local train away from Mishima which is reached by Shinkansen. Mt. Fuji is looming behind as the local train crawls down the Izu peninsula.

Shuzenji Temple

Shuzenji temple

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Since we’ve been missing the Japanese hot springs, we’ve gone on a little weekend getaway from Tokyo. The Izu peninsula boasts a variety of generously flowing hot springs. Atami (熱海), only half an hour’s ride by Shinkansen from Tokyo, was our first stop. Its main attraction are definitely its seven hot spring sources. The town lies on the hillside descending down to the ocean, sporting a sun beach and beach front that is lit up at night. Its main products are dried fish of all shapes, citrus fruit, and onsen manju, a Japanese sweet that is traditionally steamed in the steam escaping from the hot springs themselves.

Dried fish - Onsen Manju - Citrus fruits

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The famous bath house in Dogo Onsen (Shikoku)

A very Japanese thing is the onsen (温泉) or hot spring. The volcanically active country is blessed with countless natural hot springs with many different types of mineral waters, some alkaline, some highly acidic, which are usually ascribed specific health benefits. The Japanese flock to the public bath houses in regions with famous hot springs, and a resort hotel stands and falls with the quality of its baths.
Hot spring resort towns often have the word “onsen” added to their name, such as for example Beppu Onsen. Going to the onsen is integral part of the experience of traveling in Japan. Nothing is more restorative after a train ride or a hike than soaking in the mineral waters of a hot spring. (more…)

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Up in the mountains beyond Nagano, where the hot springs flow plentifully, there is a place known as monkey paradise. In Jigokudani Yaenkoen (Hell-Valley Wild Monkey Park), the wild Japanese Macaques which live in the mountains come to soak in the hot springs. Some winter feeding provided by the park is naturally an extra motivation. (more…)

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