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