Saturday, 22 August 2009

The variety of Onsen(hot springs)

It is said that the Japanese love hot springs, Onsen(温泉). Hot springs are probably the most popular domestic travel destination. There are more than a thousand hot springs dotted around the country, but Kyoto is unusual in having very few. In recent years drilling to tap into geothermally heated underground water has become very, very popular and because of advanced technology we have so-called hot springs in the very central of big cities but personally I don’t consider these real onsens because they aren’t natural springs. They are more like sentos(銭湯) which I’ll explain in more detail in another post.

Tamagawa-Onsen, Akita Pref.Tamagawa Onsen, Akita Pref.

People in my area think of going to hot springs as a fun way to spend a couple of days but elsewhere attitudes can be different. One of the biggest differences is self-catering accommodation. Many onsens run both hotels and very basic self-catering facilities in Tohoku and people may stay a week, a month or even longer for medical reasons. This style is called “Tohji(湯治)”, literally meaning “hot water curing”. I had traveled to Tohoku before and was familiar with this kind of accommodation having stayed at some of the Tohji-yu (湯治湯 a hot spring for Tohji) but my husband was surprised to see our accommodation when we stayed Sukayu-Onsen(酸ヶ湯温泉) and whispered me that the place was more like a hospital than a hotel. –Actually the hotel looked like my wooden old elementary school building to me.

Sukayu-Onsen, AomoriSukayu Onsen, Aomori

Many of big Japanese hot spring ryokan/hotels open their baths to non-residents during the day. Visitors pay admission to take their bath which is often called “higaeri-nyuyoku(日帰り入浴)” which means day-return, thus we can visit many hot springs without staying in expensive hotels. Although part of the experience of staying at the hotel is the food as well.

Thuta-Onsen, AomoriThuta Onsen, Aomori

There is a huge range of Japanese hot springs, from free outdoor hot springs to exclusive ryokans(Japanese inn) with 5-star cuisine; it depends on what you are looking for but there’s something to fit all tastes.

Yuze-Onsen, Akita Pref.Yuze Onsen, Akita Pref.

-I’ll tell you the very basic rules of how to take a Japanese bath next time.

Kuroyu Onsen, Akita Pref.Kuroyu Onsen, Nyuto Onsen-go, Akita Pref.

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