Close to Kotan Onsen and also on Lake Kussharo is Wakoto Onsen which is located on that tiny peninsula that is so recognizable for Lake Kussaro. This rotenburo is a bit more secluded and even though it was just as cold when we visited Kotan Onsen, the windchill was a lot less and we didn’t feel like we were freezing.
The view was excellent but the water was a bit dirty with clumps of algae that floated around and occasionally stuck to our bodies. All in all, it was a great experience and both Wakoto and Kotan rotenburo are recommended!
Along Lake Kussharo in the tiny town of Kotan, the locals have created a rotenburo (outdoor hotspring) bordering the lake. We visted this December with a temperature of -5 C in a gale that must have had a windchill factor of -20, or so.
Regardless of the outside temperature, I got into the bath and enjoyed a nice soak as the water had a great temperature. However, getting back into my clothes was freezing cold but I wouln’t liked to have missed this experience for the world!
The other day we visited Koshikawa Onsen, a tiny, old building along the 244 leading to the south-east out of Shari, Hokkaido. It is an unmanned onsen and you pay the 200 yen fee by putting the coins in a box. It seems the be mainly frequented by locals and travellers who have heard of the place. The building looks a bit run-down but the bath is nice and the water is hot.
I do treasure these tiny onsen as anybody can go to the big baths of Yufuin or Hakone, but in my romantic view this is much closer to the way onsen were used in the past before it was all about the souvenirs or the drinks. There are still the leftovers of a much older Japan out there for those who bother to look.
A video compilation I made of the videos that my wife and I recorded during our trip to Japan last December/January. We need to get a camera with shake-reduction, but somehow the shakiest parts are the most fun to watch 🙂
We had some great time and I’m glad that we spent a lot of our time in new areas for us like Nagano and Hokkaido, those areas were so rewarding! I’m getting pretty bored with the touristy areas of Tokyo like Shibuya, Ginza or Shinjuku and the crowds at Ikebukuro were overwhelming, but Ueno, the busiest area by far, always stays fresh for me as you can tell from the video. 🙂
If you are a fan of the work of Michael Kenna, like I am, you recognize the scene in the photo below from his photo books or from the very inspiring video that he put up on his website. If you haven’t watched it yet, take a few minutes and watch it now and you’ll love it. This photo is taken around Biei in Hokkaido and this is an amazing area, especially in the snow, and a very popular area for photographers these days.
For me the most remarkable thing in the video is that Michael and his assistant enter the field and plough through the snow to find the right spot to take the photo. When I visited in January, the fields at several of the famous locations around Biei were roped off and large signs in Japanese, Chinese and English every 20 meters indicated that it was forbidden to enter the fields, including the area around this copse. But as you can see in my photo, people do enter the field nevertheless; damaging the seedlings, spoiling the shots with their tracks for us who decide the follow the rules and triggering investigations by the forestry ministry. We ran into a car of the ministry and a guy was taking eyewitness reports about the people who had entered the field that morning.
I’m not saying that Michael Kenna behaved incorrectly, it is clear from the video that the field was not roped off and no signs were visible at the time. But I’m saying that if it is roped off and if signs are indicating that it would hurt crops to enter the field, people should follow the rules. You might have your shots, but what if the farmer is fed up with the constant damage and decides to level the copse and end this great location for everybody forever? You probably don’t care about that, as I said, you have your shots… 🙁
Normally I never hesitate to shoot first and ask questions later, but the reason for the ban was explained and I would hate to leave tracks that would impact all the other photographers that would come after me as is obvious from my photo. Thanks for nothing!
Aoi-ike or Blue pond is a relatively new tourist attraction around Biei, Hokkaido; very beautiful with dead trees in a blue pond. Of course the pond wasn’t blue frozen over, so the choice for black & white film was no issue.
The scenery was lit up at night making it a magnet for photographers who, probably because they wanted to catch snowflakes in the foreground, couldn’t stop using their flashes resulting in images of walls of white in the heavy snowfall with no trees visible. I guess you need to know what you’re doing to get the effect right and probably using your flash in automatic mode wasn’t the correct way as it was pretty much pitch dark even with the lights so the flashes were bright like nuclear explosions. (A “feature” of a DSLR on a tripod is that everybody standing behind you gets to see the result on the tiny screen and I checked out the results of quite a few of my fellow photographers — it didn’t look like any of them had any “keepers.”) 🙂
Anyway, a lot of my long exposures were ruined by the flashes and I tried to out-wait them for an hour or so, but in the end I gave up and returned at another night which turned out to be exactly the same. In the end I returned during the day time as the pond was just a couple of kilometers from our hotel at Shirogane Onsen on the way to Biei.
Hokkaido in winter is a photographers’ paradise, and it is packed with photographers. We’re in Biei and we see cars and taxis coming and going around the famous trees in the area and we keep meeting the same people at the different locations. It is all understandable, the scenery vaguely reminds me of Luxembourg and the gentle slopes are very different from the steep mountains that make up most of Japan. The snow transforms all and a row of trees or a small copse becomes an object of beauty.
However, as everybody appears to be taking the same pictures, it is time to use the fact that we’re here for a few days and explore. I wanted to make my way to the coast as well, but the weather is frankly horrendous over there and I’m not really temped to end up getting stuck in a snow drift or caught out on a road with black ice even though the Nissan we rented is a 4WD. Best to see if we can find some areas around Biei that are not packed with too many photographers.
Additional: We found some great locations on the way to Furano, very nice!
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