by David the Applebaum
Christopher McCandless, while sitting in his “Magic Bus” in the wilds of Alaska wrote “Happiness is only real when shared”. I think I know how he felt… well, not the part about starving to death while wondering why he went into the wilderness so poorly prepared, but the feeling of wanting to share happiness. I was reflecting on this the other day while I was sitting in a wonderful outdoor onsen with heaps of snow all around. At that moment, I wished I could share that feeling with everyone in the world. I felt bad for all the people out there who will never get to experience this.
I am from Canada, and I have sat in outdoor hot-tubs in the middle of winter. It is a great feeling, and if there is no onsen-option, it is well-worth doing at some point. Sitting in an onsen though is a whole new level. In fact, I find myself sneering at people whose idea of luxury is to sit in a heated bathtub surrounded by snow… I mean, come on people. Maybe it can be compared to dancing in the rain… some people might say, “yeah, but I have had a shower, I mean how different can it be”, WHAT?! If you have ever danced in the pouring, pouring rain while splashing through the puddles and felt the rain pelting down on your head, then you know what I mean…
Get thee to an onsen (forget the nunnery).
For a wonderful weekend getaway, you should head to Hachimantai. Any time of year, this region is spectacular. The fall colours are beautiful, the spring and summer hiking is an adventure surrounded by green, and of course, the winter is snow everywhere, including around the onsens. Previously, I have written about Matsukawa-so. There are in fact, three onsens in that neighborhood, each with its own amazing qualities. Each onsen has both a mixed-sex outdoor bath and a women only outdoor bath. Of course, you can stay at the onsen-hotels too if you’d like, but they are all around 10,000 yen. If you are feeling adventurous, you can go to all three onsens in one day. If you are even considering going though, you should go while there is still snow, because an onsen in the snow is like hot chocolate with marshmallows… it’s still great without it, but it just makes it that much greater.
Today, I would like to introduce you to the wonders of Kyounso Onsen. The moment you walk in, you are surrounded by serenity. Two rocking chairs are positioned looking out on the snow covered world and you can rock your afternoon away while reading a book after your onsen. Day-admission is 500 yen, and you can bathe till 8pm if you’d like. The women’s side and men’s side are set up similarly. There is a very large, hot bath inside, and both have access to a rotenburo. The women’s side has access to the women only rotenburo, while the men’s side has access to the mixed-sex rotenburo. The only downside is that if you are a male and a female traveling together, the female one will have to get dressed and undressed to go to mixed-sex rotenburo.
After immersing yourself in the hot, hot water of the indoor bath, you slide open a window that is about 1 meter (3 feet) tall, and step out (naked!!) into the snow. You walk (barefoot and naked) along a short snowy, snowy path and there you are at the rotenburo. The water is cloudy and sulphury (which I am not sure is a word…). It feels wonderful. It feels wonderful. Some things need to be said twice. Sit in the water for as long as you can, and when you need a break, hoist yourself onto the side of the bath, and sit on the rocks, with piles of snow all around you. Reach out and grab a handful of snow if you’d like. It is an amazing feeling to be sitting completely naked in freezing temperatures and nothing can touch you. You are unaffected.
Your skin will smell onsen-y for a few days afterward, but that is to remind you how great this onsen is. Every once in a while, you may find yourself discreetly smelling your own arm, and when you do, you might find a small grin creeping onto your face.
If you have guests from out of town, or if you need to discuss important issues while your bodies are immersed in the therapeutic waters of an onsen, or if you are just someone who loves onsens any time of the year, then head to Kyounso.
Chris McCandless was wrong about one thing though. The happiness that you experience while sitting in this onsen is very real. It is just unfortunate that it can’t be shared with your friends and family outside Japan…
Car is the easiest way, but if you would like to take a bus, there is a bus from JR Morioka Station for Matsukawa Onsen. It takes just under 2 hours to get there.
For more information, check out these links:
http://www.kyounso.jp/onsen/ (this one is only in Japanese, but the pictures are worth the visit!)