By David OnsenApple
Hello fellow onsen lovers out there, or should I say: Hello, fellow hedonists. Yes, what could be more hedonistic than a good long soak in the thermal waters of the Earth which are so full of minerals that even just thinking about them makes you feel better.
Today, we are going to an onsen town near Hanamaki in Iwate called Dai Onsen. It is a small onsen town that time has forgotten. It does not have the central square that many touristic towns have, and it lacks the busloads of tourists who walk around in their yukatas. Dai Onsen is overshadowed by the many, many resort style onsens in the Hanamaki area, including the mighty Oosawa Onsen, written about previously in this column. In fact, there are close to 50 different onsens in that area… that is a lot to choose from.
There is a parking lot down below where you can park and walk the short walk up a narrow road to get to the onsens. The onsens themselves are not flashy- but this is actually the appeal of this town. The bathers are mostly older folk and the onsens are smallish. Don’t expect any big sauna rooms, or fancy outdoor baths. Don’t expect massage rooms and all that. If you go to Dai Onsen, it is because you want to experience bathing in fantastically pure thermal waters straight from the source.
The Dai Onsen area has been known and used for over 1200 years. There are still places to stay in the area, but unfortunately, there are quite a few abandoned buildings. Many of the onsens are in private facilities but they let day-bathers in. There is one public onsen called Seiga No Yu (精華の湯). It is a wonderful place, probably one of my favourites. The water is great. It has a white noren hanging outside of it, and it has a parking lot too. When you enter you buy a ticket from the vending machine and then put it in the box… there is no attendant there, it is entirely an honour system, but it works because this is Japan.
The bathing area is a beautiful domed wooden room with huge windows looking out on wooded hill. There are two baths, with water overflowing from one to the other. If you happen to be there while the sun is shining, you get to sit in the onsen water with the sunshine pouring in the window… it’s what I imagine heaven must be like…
The water is wonderful and healing. It has a Ph level of 8.9 and it comes out of the ground at 98degrees, so needless to say they do cool it down with spring water or else you would have a lot of boiled people.
If you are feeling adventurous, and you want to try another onsen while you are in town, try going to Fukuju Kan(福寿館). It looks like a private residence, but there is a small sign outside it. Inside, you will find a nice old lady who lets you in and takes your coins. The onsens are at the end of the hallway. There are two small baths, and they alternate them between the women’s side and the men’s side. Fascinatingly enough, the baths are actually from different sources and have both different pH levels and different temperatures at the source. The water is great and you feel like you are taking part in some kind of secret ritual. It is very possible that you will be the only bathers there, so bask as you wish.
Dai Onsen is definitely worth a visit, especially if you are not one to be dazzled by shiny things…
For more information, please check out these links:
http://www.daionsen-iwate.com/selectyado/seiganoyu/ (all in Japanese)