By David Applebaum
One of the many beautiful things about onsens is that they are everywhere. What better way to finish a day than to relax in a natural hot-spring under the stars. You feel the tightness of your muscles disappearing, your troubles slowly dissolve into nothing more than foam on the water. Onsens leave you feeling tingly all over, which is why you should plan your trips in Japan to places where there are onsens nearby. Luckily, this is not that difficult a task. There are more onsens in Japan than there are Slovenians. I don’t know that for sure, but I know that it is much easier to find onsens than Slovenians.
Now is the time that many of us start to think about where we might go during the winter break, the spring break, or even as far away as Golden Week. You might be considering a trip to Okinawa at some point, but you hesitate because it is far away and could end up costing you plenty. Well, why go to Okinawa where there are tourists everywhere, when you can go to Hachijojima, one of Japan’s best kept secrets. There are, of course, onsens there, and mountains and palm trees, not to mention year-round subtropical weather. The temperature is wonderful, even in the heart of winter, and the best part is that it is really easy to get to from Tokyo. So, open your planners, or click on your digital calendar and make a note to yourself that you need to go to Hachijojima at some point. The onsens are waiting.
Wait, you say… where is Hachijojima? Well, it is actually in Tokyo… WHAT?!! Yup, Hachijojima is an island off the coast of Tokyo. It is a 10 hour (overnight) ferry ride from Tokyo or a 50 minute flight, but the two places could not be more different. Tokyo is madness. Tokyo is the very definition of 賑やか. Tokyo is well-worth a visit, but after a few days, you might be tired of the constant movement and the bumping into people as you, and 10,000 of your closest friends all cross the street together. Well, get thee to Hachijojima. It is quite literally a breath of fresh air, (or perhaps not quite literally). Hachijojima is an island with two old volcanoes, one of which looks very much like Mt. Fuji… so much so that it’s name is Little Fuji. Of course, onsen-lovers everywhere know that where there are old volcanoes, there are probably hot-springs bubbling up from the earth.
I know that not everyone is into camping, but if you are, there is a wonderful campground there- completely free and not too far from the ferry port. If you aren’t into camping, there are plenty of little guest houses all over the island. Interesting fact about Hachijojima is that after the war, the Japanese weren’t allowed to go to Okinawa, so they went to Hachijojima and tourism boomed. At one point, Hachijojima had two massive hotels, one of which was the biggest hotel in Japan. Now they sit abandoned, and if you are the crazy, adventurous type, you might consider sneaking in for a wander, but you didn’t hear that from me.
What should you do while you are there? Um… first relax. Breathe. Clear out Tokyo from your head. Once you are ready, then set off to climb both mountains… an easily achievable task, but so, so rewarding. Both mountains have trails that are easy to use and you find yourself singing “Welcome to the Jungle” while climbing. Chances are pretty high that you will be the only hikers on the path.
At the end of the day, you will, of course, want to have an onsen. Unfortunately, all the onsens are on the other side of the island. This is not the end of the world, but it does require a bit of planning, or perhaps a bit of hopeful hitchhiking. There are a few good onsens to choose from. First, let’s go to Miharashi no Yu, a beautiful onsen with an outdoor bath the shape of the island of Hachijojima. Every night they switch it from men’s to women’s. There is another smaller outdoor bath as well that alternates with it. The water is hot, the view is stunning and the experience sublime. https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1091151-d1794593-r338634183-Miharashi_no_Yu-Hachijo_machi_Hachijo_jima_Tokyo_Prefecture_Kanto.html
There is a section of the island that has a concentration of 4 and a half onsens. I call it onsen alley. You can buy a pass that lets you go to all the onsens in the area. The first onsen overlooks a ravine and is in such a pleasant setting, BUT for some reason it is not a naked onsen. It is a mixed onsen and swim-suits must be worn. Wearing a swimsuit in a Japanese onsen just feels wrong. It is like using a fork when eating a さかな ていしょく, or worse using a fork and knife to eat sushi… gasp. In any case, if you plan it right, you can have a nice dip in each of the onsens, including the foot bath, and still make the last bus out of there. Each onsen has its own unique character and your body will thank you. Walk, onsen, walk, onsen. Breathe. Repeat.
If you are feeling really crazy, and you don’t want to spend too much, here is what you could do… you can catch an overnight bus from Aomori to Tokyo on a Friday; you arrive on Saturday morning; you hang out in Tokyo all day Saturday; Saturday night, you catch the overnight ferry to Hachijojima and spend all day Sunday there; you catch the last flight out of Hachijojima on Sunday night; you catch the overnight bus back to Aomori and depending on where you live, you manage to arrive at school in time for the first bell. Of course, if you are willing to spend a bit more, you could take the shinkansen in on Friday night. Take the first flight in the morning, spend the weekend on Hachijojima, take the last flight out, and then shinkansen back Sunday evening.
I suggest that you perhaps take one or two more days though. It is well worth it.
For more information on Hachijojima, please go to: