By David Onsen Applebaum
You remember those times when you were a kid and you didn’t want to leave a party, and you cried and threw a tantrum…or how about those times when you were a full-grown adult and you didn’t want to leave an onsen, and you cried and threw a tantrum… someone famous at some point in history said “all good things must come to an end…”, but my question is why… why can’t I just stay in the water a short while longer…
Today, we are headed to Yachi Onsen in our home-prefecture of Aomori. This hot-spring was discovered about 400 years ago and has been in use since. In fact, given its life-extending qualities, there may be some bathers today who still remember when it all started. Today’s onsen is special. Wait. Every onsen is special. The Little Prince looked at a field of flowers and asked himself what made his flower special, and then realized that his flower was special because she was his. I don’t know if that analogy really works for onsens, but to the outsider, one might be forgiven for asking one’s self, “what is the big deal about onsens, I mean, aren’t they all more or less the same…”. The answer, my friend, is decidedly not in the affirmative, or to put it plainly, NO, ALL ONSENS ARE NOT THE SAME.
There is a mountainous area in Aomori, perhaps you are familiar with it, called Hakkoda. There are plenty of fine onsens in the region and most are well-worth a visit. Unfortunately, you will need a car to get around, or perhaps you might be into a good mountainous bike ride. It is about 1 hour by car from Aomori station. There is also, apparently, a free shuttle available from the Hachinohe station, Aomori station, Misawa station, Aomori airport, and Misawa airport. The shuttle bus operates daily, but reservations are required. Then, there is of course, good ol’ hitch-hiking. If you haven’t tried hitchhiking before, this is a good area to try it. All the cars are going the same direction, and people should be super-friendly because they are onsen-goers. If they figure out that you are a fellow-onsen-goer, they might just adopt you.
You might combine a visit to Yachi Onsen with a separate visit to Sukayu, another onsen of legend, but this onsen is well-worth a visit on its own. The onsen is housed in a small rustic inn. Yes, you can stay there overnight if you’d like, in fact there are those who stay there for long stays because of the therapeutic waters. There is no fancy sauna, or gimmicky baths filled with wine, tea or coffee… nope, this is the real deal. Unfortunately, there is not a mixed bath, so if you are traveling with a person of differing genitalia, you will not be bathing together.
The men’s and the women’s sides both have the same set-up as is common in many bath houses (although, I have been to a few where I have learned later that one bath is significantly smaller than the other one… and I missed out on the deepest stand-up onsen in Japan, because it was women’s hour when I was there…). The bathing area is made entirely out of wood and it is beautiful. There are two baths, one, Kaminoyu, with milky water that is about 42degrees and the other, Shimonoyu, that has clear water and is about 38degrees (for the Americans, that means one is hot, hot, and one is tepid, or not so hot).
Both baths are, of course, fantastic, and they serve different purposes from a health perspective. You obviously can’t stay in the hot-hot bath for too long, but the not-so-hot bath is perfect for a long, contemplative bath. I have been there twice and I have seen old men reading books and napping in the tepid waters. The water is just ever-so-slightly above body temperature, which means that you feel like if it gets just a little cooler, you will be uncomfortable. You can sit and sit, and sit and sit, and you won’t feel like you are slowly being cooked. Every once in a while, go back to the hot-hot water and heat yourself up.
For the hikers and walkers out there, this inn is at the starting point of one of the trails up Mount Takada Odake- which is one of the peaks in the Hakkoda chain, and what could be better than a good ol’ onsen soak after climbing a mountain.
The admission is a reasonable price. If you are interested in trying a new onsen, try this one and your skin will thank you all the way home.
If you are interested in knowing more about Yachi Onsen, please go to the following links: