By Toad (David Applebaum)
This week, we go north. The weather is getting cooler. The nights are chilly, the leaves are changing colours, and it is time to start getting seriously into some hot water.
If you are one of those people who loves the proximity of Aomori to Hokkaido, then you already know that there are many things that are wonderful about Hokkaido. Hokkaido, as we all know has a unique status as a “dou”, and it is well deserved. There is so much to see and do there, and there are onsens aplenty. Perhaps you have seen pictures of the fields of lavender at Furano? That is a good reason to go there in the summer. However, if you were to limit yourself to a summer visit, you would be missing out on hitting the nearby onsens when the air is nippy and there is a possibility of snow falling!
Not far from the city of Furano, there is an onsen-village called Shirogane. I would like to just take a moment now and talk about onsen-villages. This is something very special about Japan. There are onsen-villages all over the country. The whole purpose of these villages is to bathe in the natural hot-springs. Yes, there is luxury accommodation if that is your thing, and fine food to partake in, oh and you can walk around the village in your yukata, feeling like you blend in, even though you probably don’t, but really, the main reason you go is to bathe to your little heart’s delight. Noboribetsu in Hokkaido is an example of an onsen-city… a fascinating experience. Definitely worth checking out, but not the subject of today’s onsen article. I have digressed.
Shirogane Onsen is part of Biei town, which in turn is part of Asahikawa city. It is located about 600 meters above sea level at the base of Mt. Tokachidake and Mt. Bieidake. Mt. Tokachidake, by the way, is an active volcano, which means you can see plumes of smoke coming out of the mountain. The mountain is well worth the climb and there are excellent
hiking paths to get you there. The onsen village is a quiet little area. There are 7 hotels there and 2 campgrounds. You get a discount ticket for the onsen, if you camp at the campground. There is one small grocery store and a ramen-shop/restaurant which also sells some kitschy souvenirs. There is a huge earthquake information center there too, but I don’t know if anybody actually goes in… You have to walk up this long covered stairway, and the center is really strange. Perhaps it is great. If you go, let me know.
All the hotels have onsens that the public can use. We went to two of them. The second one we went to was Yumoto Shirogane Onsen Hotel. It has the usual indoor baths and a great rotenburo overlooking the ravine. On the men’s side, you are a little exposed to the pedestrian bridge that crosses over, but that is all part of the experience. The water is a greenish colour (think about the diving pool at the Rio Olympics). The water, for those of you who care, is a sodium/ magnesium/ calcium sulfate/ chloride spring, and is good for curing any number of ailments.
While you are in the region, I highly recommend hiking from the hotels to what is known as the Blue Pond. It is so-called because of a high aluminum content in the water and it therefore has a surreal blue colour. The pond is special, but the path there is really nice. Not many people walk that path, and it is green, green, green! Do it. Halfway along the path, there is a side-path that takes you to a beautiful waterfalls, where there is a mini-mini shrine. The falls are breathtaking, and few people actually go there because they are in such a rush to get to the Blue Pond. It is the kind of falls where you
could easily spend a whole afternoon, reading a book or meditating.
Okay, well, I have now convinced myself that I want to go back there. Hopefully, if you got this far in the article, you too are interested in going to Shirogane. I think there is just not enough time in life to go to all the great onsens… sigh.
For more information, check out the following links: