Yet another picturesque onsen that we visited during our road trip around the different onsen of Northern Tōhoku was Yachi Onsen (谷地温泉) in Hōryō, Towada-shi, Aomori-ken.
At Yachi Onsen, you’re truly in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain with Mt. Takada-Odake looming on the side: No TV, no mobile reception or Internet, it is bliss!
When you turn the corner and get your first glimpse of the building, it looks like a collection of sheds and you might feel a bit of a worry. But after checking in and finding your room, you can relax as the room was new, spacious and clean. The onsen is interesting: a series of similar baths in a row with different temperatures, and at the end you can climb down to enter a space where the water drips over you. Interesting! As the water was rather “strong” it burned my skin a bit and during my subsequent soaks, I washed myself with the shower after bathing; there were signs on the wall suggesting to do exactly this as clearly I was not the first person with a bit of a sensitive skin.
Dinner was iwana fish (岩魚) as sashimi, tempura and grilled with salt among the other usual ryokan delicacies. Breakfast was more of the same type of fish. I could eat this fish everyday of my life!
We visited in March and there were still meters of snow outside. Apart from the onsen, one of the attractions was that a lot of Japanese marten, ten (貂), would come out at night and roam the area around the buildings just waiting for an alert photographer to capture them in a great pose. Several of the visitors had come with long lenses and flash units to attempt exactly this. In the morning we could see the tracks in the fresh snow and knew that loads of ten had come out to play that night.
Otherwise, it looked like most people were visiting for hiking and skiing the Mt. Takada-Odake area while enjoying a relaxing bath after the day’s activities and the great food; next time I’ll stay longer to be able to enjoy the outdoor sports myself.
Notable thing: signs everywhere to keep doors closed or snake would sneak in. Good thing we visited in Spring in the cold. 🙂
Last month I picked up a K&F Concept adapter for Pentax 6×7 lenses to the Pentax K mount and tested it on my Pentax ME Super and on my Pentax MZ-S cameras. It is a quality adapter and, most importantly, on all my Pentax K mount cameras, DSLRs and SLRs alike, the fit is perfect and the focus to infinity is as promised.
The lens I have been looking forward to using on my Pentax SLRs the most is the S-M-C Takumar 6X7 105mm f/2.4. This is a great lens that recently has been declared the holy grail of lenses and the prices are getting out of hand. Still, it is a great lens, especially at f/2.4 aperture where the bokeh really gets unique.
I was wondering if that bokeh would also translate to the Pentax K mount cameras as well as it does on the Pentax 6×7 and the Pentax 645 cameras and wasn’t disappointed.
I carried the camera around for three hikes, the usually very light and small Pentax SLRs do turn a bit into a beast with a Pentax 6×7 lens attached and it might draw a bit of attention of people wondering what that big bulk of a lens is about on such a tiny camera.
The focussing of Pentax 6×7 lenses is of course fully manual but when you use the adapter, the aperture needs to be operated manually as well. Luckily this is very easy with the Pentax 6×7 lenses that always have a big switch on the side that allows you to stop down the lens to the desired aperture and get the exposure reading if you’re using a TTL camera.
Another great onsen that we visited during our road trip around the different onsen of Northern Tōhoku was Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯温泉) on top of a mountain in Aomori Province. It is very popular with outdoor people and a lot of people took the cable car from Sanroku Station (山麓駅) to Sancho Park Station (山頂公園駅) and skied down to Sukayu Onsen to stay and to relax in the baths.
The major attraction of Sukayu Onsen is the awesome bath around the lobby area: it is a very large mixed bath but the men and women area is split down the middle (watch the signs) and a part on the women’s side is shielded off. If that still sounds like a show-stopper to use this bath, if modesty is still an issue: early morning the bath is women-only and at any time of the day women who don’t feel like being nude with the male visitors can use a yugi (湯着) which is a piece of clothing that covers everything up perfectly and which can be bought in the shop, if you didn’t bring one. The reason for insisting on this is that this is a great bath and should be enjoyed by all, Sukayu Onsen did everything to make it enjoyable for all.
There is another bath, gender separated, certainly worth the visit too but concentrate on that main bath, you’ll be telling stories about that one to the people who stayed at home!
Self-catering is an option but we had selected the dinner in the restaurant. The dinner was pretty standard ryokan but it tasted excellent, probably because of the exercise we had had that day. Breakfast was buffet-style and loads of people were already queuing up before the restaurant opened in the morning to get out and have fun as soon as they could. I love it when there is curry and spicy pickles for breakfast and plenty more!
Our room was new, spacious, non-smoking and clean, but there are different options and price-classes available. I’m still amazed how big this ryokan is as there were corridors shooting off left and right.
We took a 45 minutes massage that night and left very relaxed.
This was the one onsen that had the most tourists visiting of our road trip. There is a direct bus from Aomori Station to this ryokan and it was very busy with Japanese and non-Japanese tourists alike, However, at no point it felt that Sukayu Onsen was too popular with the tourists during our stay. We had rented a car (recommended!) and were lucky to time our arrival differently from the arrival of the bus so check-in was easy, but the lobby was very busy each time a bus arrived. If that happens to you, relax and park yourself in front of the TV and await your name being called to wrap up the check-in process and being shown to your room. A very well organised ryokan.
Immediately next door is a soba restaurant and a ski rental, basically, it is a place you don’t want to leave, ever.
In the spring of 2013 we visited Taiyō-ji for a temple stay (shukubo) and loved it, we visited again in the winter of 2014-2015 and confirmed that Taiyō-ji does give the best shukubo in Japan. After those visits I had collected quite a number of photos and compiled that into a book and we sent a copy to the temple. Last week, friends of us visited the temple, and behold, our book was there and well read.
I am very happy that the book was well received by the monk of Taiyō-ji and all the visitors. We had not asked our friends to check on the book, suddenly we were happily surprised with photos of it on Facebook. 🙂
The first onsen that we visited during our road trip around the different onsen of Northern Tōhoku was already a whopper: Fujisan ryokan (鉛温泉 藤三旅館) in Hanamaki (Namari area), Iwate. The ryokan has two parts: a more shabby area for long-stay visitors who can cook for themselves if they desire and a newly renovated area for guests who come to enjoy the food and the larger and better rooms. Both parts have their appeal but it is certainly worth staying at the more stylish area and pick the option with the excellent, traditional food in the restaurant area.
But what makes this ryokan almost unique in Japan is the large bath where you not sit in, but need to stand, even as a tall person. There are other baths too including a rotenburo, very enjoyable baths, but the standing bath is quite the experience: You enter through one of the doors to immediately decent about 20 stone steps to enter an area to undress. On the other side is another door with similar steps. In between is a large stone oval bath with a small ridge about 50 centimetres in to help you get in and out of the bath. When you get into the bath, the hot water is excellent. As the bath is quite far down in the building, when you look up, the church-like view of the tall roof with the tiny window at the top is unexpected for a building in Japan..
It is a mixed bath with women only access for an hour every day and open 24 hours a day.
We just got back from a trip to Japan where we spent 10 days on a road trip along the fabulous onsen in the north of Japan. It is probably a good thing that most tourists have split Japan into a just a handful of areas where you are supposed to go for certain activities, and ignore better locations elsewhere: For example, most tourists are convinced that for a temple stay you go to Koyasan, for the countryside you visit Takayama and for an onsen you visit Hakone or Yufuin. If things were only this simple… 🙂
Although I would like to see more people get more out of their trip to Japan, frankly I’m also glad that they spend their time between Shinjuku and Kyōto and don’t bother taking a shinkansen north. I guess I’m selfish that way
We rented a car to get to these places. After a certain number of visits to Japan, you realise that a JR Japan Rail Pass, a great bargain, only gets you to a limited number of locations and at that time you book a rental car and explore the areas only served by the occasional train or bus service and beyond and start to enjoy a lot more of Japan.
These are the places in Iwate, Aomori and Akita that we visited and we stayed at most of these ryokan. Very recommended!
One of the things we like to do in our weekends is to walk one of the many circular walks that the Luxembourg tourist organisation has laid out around Luxembourg. Just a matter of following the blue arrows to get to the most beautiful areas of Luxembourg and safely back to your car.
It has happened to us once or twice that logging had cut down trees with the blue markers causing us a bit of a head-ache. 🙂 Recently we load our smart phone’s offline map with the GPX file from the trail from Waymarked Trails and that solved all problems.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to use my Cambo SC2 4×5 Monorail large format camera more even though it is a pain to transport being a monorail camera and requiring the heaviest of tripods. The photos above were shot on New Year’s Day and I’m enjoying the process of Large Format.