Sunday, April 11, 2010

For the Love of Onsen

Now that spring is finally here, time to post winter pictures that I have been meaning to post for ages. Though it doesn't snow heavily in Kyushu, winter seemed bone chillingly cold to me and so Justin and I survived this winter by going to as many onsen (hotsprings) as possible. The map above is of Japan's number one onsen village, Kurokawa Onsen, which is tucked in a small valley to the west of the largest caldera in the world. Kurokawa Onsen is basically a town made up of dozens of traditional style hotels with hotsprings along the main river. Those who come to Kurokawa spend the day walking from hotel to hotel trying the different onsen using a wooden "onsen pass."
A common onsen snack - eggs slow cooked in onsen water. It is such a satisfying feeling to come out of the onsen, clean and wobbly from soaking in hot water and to eat a perfectly cooked egg.
At one of the onsen hotels there was a traditional fireplace (this is the kind of fireplace that you would have inside a traditional Japanese house) to keep warm by contemplating which onsen to go to next. We stayed in Kurokawa for two days and went to about three onsen a day.
An onsen by the river. It's hard to see, but those open parts in the fence are windows for you to look down onto the river through.
An onsen hotel. I have come to deeply admire Japan's onsen culture - older generations swear by soaking in hot water to cure all kinds of ailments and prolong life. I think it is great that one of the main tourist past times in Japan is going to onsen! It seems like a very healthy way to spend vacation and it is really common to see whole families and couples hitting the hotsprings. If I tell any of my coworkers that I spent the weekend at an onsen, they immediately gush with jealousy and understanding of how good a time it was.
We stayed at an onsen hotel, which was a lot of fun. Inside the hotel all the guests wear yukata (a loose fitting robe) while strolling around. We were served a multiple course meal in our room, which was both novel and delicious!
Its all in the details - I loved the fabric bag you had to open to reveal a savory custard called chawan mushi inside.
Tiny bites - it may seem strange to pop a whole crab in your mouth, but it's so good!
For breakfast we had our own private breakfast room. I've gotten so into Japanese breakfasts (which usually consist of rice, fish and miso soup) because it makes a lot of sense to me to start the day savory and with protein! Sometimes so much fish early in the morning can be a touch overwhelming though.
We spent the day walking from onsen to onsen along a pretty forest road that connected everything.
We saw this neat looking fluffy ice on a hill.
Another onsen. Such a great feeling when the air is freezing (it snowed while we were there) and you are soaking in the most scalding water with a river running right by you.

Ooooh la la, some scandalous shots taken when we were all alone. Most onsen are separated by sex, except for some where you wear a robe into the water.

Another onsen hotspot we visited is Beppu (on the northern coast of Kyushu). Beppu is famous for its mud baths and monkeys...

We went to three onsen in Beppu: a mud onsen, a fancy hotel onsen with beautiful views (seen above), and an onsen that this guy built in his backyard (that's how much hot water is around and just waiting to be tapped) where he served you lunch after your soak.
The mud onsen was funny because both men and women were naked in the same area but while the women had a sheltered privacy cover to enter the water under, the men just had to run out in the cold and dash into the water while we all laughed and watched. It was a really funny feeling to sit in mud and slowly sink into it and I think my clothes smelled like sulfuric mud for weeks after.
Beppu is also home to the largest population of Japanese macaques in all of Japan. There was this open park where you could go and walk around amongst them all and watch their antics.
Justin befriended a baby.

No mountainy town in Japan is complete without a ropeway, and of course we are always suckered into riding them to the top in hopes of a view.

All of Beppu below us.


Rachel S said...

Kelly, I cannot express the level of joy I experienced reading this post and looking at this pictures! I want to waft from onsen to onsen, too!

Jaz said...

Those catering to families and seniors usually offer small private rooms with private baths, like a budget hotel without the housekeeping.

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