By David Onsenbaum
I was taught that the way to remember that dessert has two s’s is because you would only want to cross a desert once, but you would go back again for more dessert. I feel the same about onsens… I think we should change the spelling to onssen, or maybe onssssssssssssssssssssssssen…. I guess some people might see the s’s as dollar signs, because it can be costly to go to onsens every weekend, but you are extending your life-years, so what is the price of that? Anyway, today we are going to talk about an onsen that was already written about last year, but well-worth a revisit. We head to the beautiful waters of Oosawa Onsen in Hanamaki, Iwate…
I last wrote about Hanamaki after having run a race there… my onsen companion (and travel-mate) and I happened to stumble on Oosawa Onsen. I mean stumble in a Google sense… all the information you can handle and more… we bathed and soaked and swore that we would return one day. Well, return we did, and now we are hooked… we spent the whole time there thinking about how we have to go there again another time… two days was not enough.
You see, while many onsens charge an extortionate amount to sleep there overnight, there are some gems out there that are surprisingly cheap. Sukayu in Aomori, is pretty affordable for a night-especially if you don’t get the meals included (although their breakfasts are pretty great).
Oosawa Onsen has this great deal that should really be kept secret… but I will let you in on it (assuming that someone out there actually reads this column). For a mere 2,300yen, which is cheaper than a Tokyo hostel dorm room, you can stay in a barebones tatami-room in a first class, nationally recognized onsen. If you bring your own sleeping stuff (such as a futon and blankets or even just a sleeping bag) and you don’t mind the fact that the room is unheated, you’re set. The room has a light, a TV and a fridge, the rest is up to you. Of course, all is available as well for rental, and it works out to be another 2000+yen, which is still a pretty decent price. My rationale is that I don’t need a heated room because I can have a long soak in an onsen and then just jump into my futon and I’m good to go. There is a communal kitchen where you can prepare meals and such too.
The building where you sleep is the same building that has the onsens in it. It is made entirely of wood and has an old, comfy feeling to it. The funny thing is that beside the cheap tatami-room building is a fancy-shmancy hotel where you can pay top-dollar (or top-yen as the case may be), but you get the same onsen experience. The world works in mysterious ways.
The onsen itself is known for it’s beautiful rotenburo. I should let you onsen-purists know that while the water in the rotenburo is still straight from the source, and not reheated water, they have added a minimal amount of chemical to keep the water clean. This is not obvious at all, and the only reason I know about it, is because it is written on the information sign. The rotenburo is a mixed-bath, except for 2 hours in the evening when it is female only. I don’t know that many women use it however, because it is clear water and fully visible from the bridge that connects the two sides of the river. While I was there, there were a few brave female souls who said “to hell with it” (but the Japanese version) and had a good ol’ soak in the open.
There are other baths, all are indoors except for one female only rotenburo (smaller than the main one). One bath is called “retro” and it looks like one of those old sento places. I have heard that the water is great, but the look didn’t appeal to me. There is another bath that is indoors but has huge windows and is quite nice. I imagine that the windows get opened when the weather is nicer. My second favourite bath at Oosawa Onsen is the one that is across the river. It is a smaller wooden bath with very hot water. The water is super-soft and a great soak.
Oh, did I mention that some of the baths are open 24hours? Yup, that means that if you stay over, you can go have a bath in the middle of the night…
I know that I mentioned it before, but I want to spread the word about what could possibly be the best bakery in the world. It is called Ishigama artisanal bakery Michel, and it is fantastic. They are always churning out tons of amazing breads and they give out free tea and Calpis. My girlfriend and I ended up getting back in line 3 times… it is just the kind of bakery I have been looking for all over Japan. The bakery is only a 15 minute drive from the onsen, and heck, even if you are not into onsens, this bakery alone is worth a drive down to Hanamaki!
For more information on Oosawa Onsen or to make a reservation, you can call them at 0198-25-2021 or check out the following links:
Information about the cheapest of the 3 accommodation levels at Oosawa Onsen:
Information about Oosawa Onsen itself:
Information about the more expensive options at Oosawa Onsen: