The Shio no Michi area is located along a major geological fault and in an area of volcanic activity. This same geology has bestowed a number of blessings – and few of these hold as central a place in Japanese culture as the hot spring baths – or onsen.
The area on and surrounding the Shio no Michi hike is home to wealth of hot spring baths and inns. There is simply no better way to relax after a long day of trekking than to enjoy a deep, long soak and experience the healing properties of one of the areas’ many onsen.
Traditionally, onsen were located outdoors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well. Onsen, by definition ,use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs and are differentiated from sentō- indoor public bath houses – where the baths are filled with heated tap water.
Here, we profile a few of our favourite hot springs that can be found at the end of a long day’s hiking on the trail.
Asahiso Himekawa Onsen
The Himekawa Hot Springs are located on the border between Itoigawa City and Otari Village.
A number of hot spring hotels have sprung up around here, making it a charming, quiet place to unwind. Whether you are spending the night or just visiting during the day, you’re sure to leave feeling completely relaxed by the time you leave.
The Asahiso features both bathing inside the inn and also a quaint rotenburo – outside bath – on the roof, allowing visitors to soak while enjoying expansive views of the Himekawa Gorge, river and the occasional train passing on the nearby Oito line.
Oku Otari Onsen Yamada Ryokan
It is recorded that samurai warlord Takeda Shingen is credited with discovering Otari Onsen in 1555, so this is a hot spring with some serious history and longevity. Yamada Ryokan’s main building is a three-story wooden structure built in the Edo era (1603-1868) by the same temple carpenters who put together the venerable Zenkoji Temple. Yamada Ryokan is the designated “O-Yu” (primary bathhouse) of Otari Onsen.
At the entrance to the building, guests can see a green label proudly displayed – the Yukei Bunkazai -identifying the building as one of significant historic, artistic and academic worth by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
The bathroom is not large – around 3 to 5 persons, but incorporates a Ne-yu (lit: laying-down bath ) and an Utase-yu (waterfall bath) – all in the tight quarters.
Besides the indoor bath in the main building, the newer building features another pair of indoor baths adjacent to outdoor baths featuring a sweeping view of the forested valley.
Mizubasho Onsen – Sierra Resort Hotel, Hakuba
The Mizubashou Onsen, is the largest hot spring in the Hakuba area. At its source, the 48℃ water is light greenish in color and contains many beneficial minerals. It is 100% Gensen-Kake-Nagashi- meaning 100% pure with no added tap water or additional heating.
Although opened in 2012, the hot spring building is constructed using timbers taken from two traditional private houses built roughly 120 and 160 years ago. These timbers, reconstructed in a traditional manner, give the hot spring the feeling of a time past. The facility includes showers, indoor bath and outdoor baths.