By: David AppleOnsenBottom
Spring has sprung, which means that it is time for road-trips. Some people are still slowly emerging from their long winter hibernation and stretching their limbs. Might I remind you though that we live in Japan, where adventures await around every corner. If you have a car, get out there… if you don’t have a car, find a friend who has a car… or if you would prefer it, take a bus, take a train, hitchhike, or bicycle, but don’t miss out on all the wonders this region has to offer. Henry David Thoreau, as far as I know, had never been to Japan, but had he been to Japan, he might have been referring to exploring Aomori when he famously wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Our road trip this week takes us up the axe handle towards the town of Yokohama, which is not to be confused with the city of Yokohama. We will continue on to Mutsu. Onsen-trips should be viewed as treasure hunts more than just road-trips. The onsens are little rewards for the journey, like getting a “seal” from your 5nensei teacher for raising your hand and volunteering. On your way to the onsens, make sure that you stop and smell the flowers. The yellow fields of flowers in Yokohama, the nanohana, or their unfortunate English name, “rapeseed blossoms”, have a not-so-pleasant smell, but you should still go see them.
If you are someone who likes camping, I highly recommend camping at the Yokohama beach. It is free to camp there, and they have running water and toilets. You can have a giant fire on the beach, and you don’t need to worry about putting the fire out because… well because it is a beach and sand doesn’t burn. You wake up looking over the Mutsu Bay, and wondering why the whole world doesn’t love camping… Anyway, the campground is a secret, so don’t tell anyone.
In the morning, before you head off for a day of adventure and onsens, you should definitely make a stop at 湧水亭(ゆうすいてい). They also sell tofu doughnuts at the michi-no-eki, but the tofu doughnuts from this place are amazing. Make sure you ask for hot ones. They come in singles or packs of 10. A 10 pack is 630yen in a box or 600yen without a box. They are so good you will pop 5 or 6 in your mouth before you even think about it. I think of it as the Krispy Kremes of Aomori, but definitely better for you and made with super-pure spring water… The tofu doughnut shop is itself a beautiful building, and they sell all kinds of tofu products, including tofu-yogurt, tofu ice-cream, and of course many, many different kinds of tofu too. There is a nice sitting area inside and you can drink free tea too! If you have never tried tofu doughnuts get thee to this doughnut shop. It will change your life.
After stuffing your maw with fresh, hot doughnuts, you are ready for some hiking and onsens. There are plenty of nice areas to walk around Mutsu and I will leave that to your own discovery. After hiking though, you might want to check out Tonami Onsen, also known as Bijin No Yu. Not to worry if you are someone who is concerned about your looks, because everyone emerges from bijin-no-yu looking beautiful. I gave myself a wink in the mirror when I left the place! It is located beside the fancy Mutsu Grand Hotel. The water is constantly flowing from the source, so they don’t recycle their water like some places!
Tonami Onsen is only 10 minutes by car from Shimokita Station. The entry is 310yen and the water is alkaline, so there is no smell. There are baths a-plenty for all. There is a sauna too, but I actually found it too hot to stay for long in there and besides, the TV show wasn’t particularly interesting. There is a great massaging bath which is well worth a lie-in. There is also a “pulse bath” which I always avoid, because electricity flowing through water is something my foreign upbringing instructed me was a bad thing. The rotenburo is quite nice, and there is a space where you can lie down and relax on the ground. I actually fell asleep out there basking in the sun… (luckily for you, I have no pictures of that…).
Overall, it is a nice onsen experience, and a great way to round out the day.
For more information, check out these links:
Yokohama camping on the beach:
This is a site about Yusuitei Tofu Doughnuts, but it is all in Japanese: