By David Applebaum
I have to admit that when I first came to Aomori, I wasn’t thrilled. I had wanted to be placed in Hokkaido, but when I found out I was going to Aomori, I figured that I was close enough to Hokkaido that I could go whenever I wanted. I thought I would be going to Hokkaido fairly regularly. Aomori, however, is slowly revealing it’s secrets and I think I have fallen in love. If you are someone who loves communing with nature; someone who loves going deep into the woods to inhale the clean, clean forest air; if you are someone who is happy to get away from the city, then Aomori is wonderful for you. For all you city types, there are enough pleasures in the cities here in Aomori to keep you going till your next big trip to Sendai, Sapporo, or Tokyo.
… And of course, there are onsens a-plenty here.
Aomori is home to the oldest and last virgin beech (ブナの木) forest in all of Japan. I am referring, of course, to the Shirakami Sanchi (白神山地). In fact, it is home to “the last virgin remains of the cool-temperate forest of Siebold’s beech trees that once covered the hills and mountain slopes of northern Japan” (Source: UNESCO http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/663 ). In 1993, UNESCO designated the whole forest a World Heritage Site. Part of the forest is in Aomori and part in Akita. There is a fantastic visitor center in Nishimeya-Mura (西目屋村), and there is a fully bilingual description of the significance of beech trees, and this forest in particular. It is definitely worth checking out at some point.
There are various hikes that you can do, but if you want a quick glimpse of the wonders of the forest, there is a 400 year old beech tree called the Mother Tree, not too far from the road. You are welcome to approach it and even to wrap your arms around it, or rather to try, seeing as it would take four full-grown adults to surround the tree.
Now, you might be wondering what all this has to do with onsens… well, it has everything to do with onsens. There is nothing more wonderful than soaking in the soothing waters of an onsen after a day of exploring and hiking through the green, green forest. Needless to say, there are plenty of options. In fact, there is an onsen right beside the visitor center in Nishimeya-mura. I didn’t go there though. My traveling companion, whom I might add is also my special lady friend, and I, opted for the onsen-village of Dake Onsen (嶽温泉).
Dake Onsen is a small, compact onsen-village not too far from the entrance to Shirakami-Sanchi. There are a handful of places to stay, some high end, and some reasonable, but you don’t need to stay there overnight. It is enough to drop in, use the onsen-facilities and then head off on your happy way. The Takanagane campground (http://www.hirosakipark.or.jp/takanagane/), not too far from there, lets you use all the firewood your little heart could desire, and it is a beautiful setting- that is where my happy way leads me when I am in that region.
Dake Onsen’s waters are hot and opaque. The water temperature at ground level: 78 degrees Celsius, but of course, the onsen water is not that hot… The bath type is a sulfur spring, which might be an unpleasant smell to some, but like many luxuries is an acquired taste. The specific description of the water is “earth-muriated acid hydrogen sulphide spring” (source: http://www.en-aomori.com/hotspring-018.html). A good soak in the water will help with relief of “chronic joint rheumatism, back pain, wounds, hemorrhoids, neuralgia (nerve pain)”, and other afflictions (same source as above). The onsens we used were two simple baths in an old wooden ryokan… beautifully decorated and quiet. Using the onsen was 500 yen. There was no rotenburo for day-users, but if you wanted to get a private room, you could have your own private rotenburo and a cooking spot using traditional Japanese charcoal too!
For more information, you might want to check out these sites: