By David Applebaum
When one feels the need to explore further afield…
The most recent print edition of The Lonely Planet Japan, aka the traveler’s bible, has left out Hachinohe completely. This will come as something of a shock for those of you familiar with the many, many wonderful things to see and do in the metropolis of Hachinohe. As you are well aware, Hachinohe boasts the largest morning market in all of Japan. Surely, this alone should be worthy of a mention in The Lonely Planet. But no, it appears that they just skipped it entirely. To be honest, they did not dedicate many pages to Tohoku in general. If only all those tourists who flock to Tokyo knew about the secrets of the Blue Forest. Sigh.
Today, we too are leaving the familiar confines of Aomori and heading to our neighboring prefecture to the south, Iwate. Hot Springs Eternal will take you to the “other” Hachi, the one that did make it into this year’s Lonely Planet. Yes, I am referring of course to Hachimantai. It is a stunning area, well worth a weekend trip and chock full of great things to do. Yes, there is a ski-resort there, and there is a massive snow-wall on either side of the highway, but there is also a fantastic onsen. No joke. This is the real deal. 100% onsen! No recycled water, no artificial colours or flavours, “Do Not Pass Go;” this is the epitome of relaxation. 源泉100％かけ流し!! On a side note, I have always felt that epitome sounds too much like epitaph… but I will go as far as to say that my epitaph will read that I died happy, having experienced the hot spring waters of Hachimantai.
The snows are receding (like my hairline, but such are the effects of age…), and while this means you won’t experience this particular onsen in the heart of winter, it is still most definitely worth a visit. Obviously, sitting in any outdoor hot springs bath (露天風呂) with heaps of glowing white snow all around you is an experience that must be… well… experienced. Just having the blue sky above you (or the stars, as the case may be) while soaking in thermal waters from the Earth’s core is a pretty great feeling. There are plenty of onsen to choose from, but I would like you to think about going to Matsukawa Onsen.
Matsukawa Onsen is located in an onsen area. I have been told that the other onsen are well worth a visit as well, but I only visited one on my visit there: Matsukawa-sou (松川荘). Of course, it is also a ryokan (旅館), and I have no doubt that staying there would be wonderful. You should look through their pictures on the website if you are having doubts yourself. A great get-away. If you are thinking about staying there, the price ranges from 8,000 yen to 15,000 yen.
There are two indoor baths, one with cloudy water and one with clear water. The cloudy, milky water is sulfurous and is said to be good for diabetes, rheumatism, neuralgia and atopic hypertension. One bath is hotter than the other, significantly hotter in fact. The outdoor bath is unfortunately not connected to the indoor bath, so you have to get all dressed up again to go to it, unless you feel like streaking through the hallway in your birthday suit. The place is so laid back though, that they probably wouldn’t mind. In fact, they might not even notice.
The outdoor bath is huge and simply wonderful. The architecture of the ryokan is all old wood style and beautiful. If you look the other way, you see the snow-capped mountains. Leaving the onsen, your skin will feel super-soft, and you will be radiating calmness. It’s almost what I feel a person would look like after climbing the mountain to seek ultimate knowledge from the proverbial guru.
Getting to Hachimantai by car takes only an hour and a half to a few hours depending on where you are in Aomori. There is a also a bus from Morioka. The area is beautiful and there is a lot to see and do there. It’s a little paradise, really.