Dec 29, 2009

Snow Monkeys, Jigokudani Yaen-koen, Nagano Pref.

I visited the Jigokudani Yaen-koen(地獄谷野猿公苑, the Jigokudani wild monkeys park) in Nagano Prefecture to see the world famous snow monkeys on the other day. You can see onsen bathing monkeys in the winter. About 200 wild monkeys are said to live around the area (They are wild monkeys but I saw a park worker feeding them). Usually you can see their onsen bathing from Dec. through Mar. But it depends on the temperature and I can't assure you.

They just ignore visitors and relax in the bath, so visitors can watch them closely.

My husband asked me "Hey, how did you take this self-portrait?"

Temperature of the bath around here was 38.8°C.

Probably boss of the school. When this monkey stepped in the bath, other monkeys gave space and walked away.

◆Jigokudani Yaen-koen (地獄谷野猿公苑)

Type: An open-air bath exclusively for monkeys.

Address: 6845 Yamanouchi-machi Shimotakai-gun, Nagano Pref.

Location: 36.732745,138.462775

Business hour: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM in the winter (Nov. to Mar.)

Holiday: None

Admission fee: ¥500 for adult, ¥250 for child

Access: From Yudanaka Station of Nagano Dentestu Line(for the access from Nagano to Yudanaka Station, see related post), take a bus to Kanbashi Onsen (上林温泉)taking 15 minutes and costing ¥250. For bus timetable see below. You have to walk about 30 minutes from the Kanbayashi Onsen to the park (Ask the bus driver which way to walk). There is no direct transportation to the park. Even if you take a taxi, you have to get off at the entrance point of the walk pass and walk for 25 minutes. The taxi ride costs about ¥1800 one way.

Bus timetable (as of Dec. 2009):
From Yudanaka Station:(* not operated on weekends & holidays)

From Kanbayashi Onsen: (* not operated on weekends & holidays)

If you stay overnight at the Yudanaka Onsen or Shibu Onsen or other neibouring onsens on weekend or holiday season, you have a chance to ride the "Snow Monkey Holiday Mini Bus". It cost ¥800 one way,  return ticket is ¥1700 including the admission fee of the park. This bus takes you to the closer to the park, and just 10 minutes walk will take you to the park. Advance booking is necessary, but you can book and buy the ticket just the day before (not earlier). Ask about the bus service to the ryokan you'll stay. If you are a day visitor, you can ride the bus if seat is availble on the day.

You need appropriate shoes to walk snowy or slippy or muddy foot path for 30 minutes one way. Although I saw many visitors in sneakers and leather shoes, I think it's difficult to walk in these shoes after fresh snow falls.

The walk pass to the park as of late Dec. 2009. It was a warm day for the winter and the snow was melting partly.

Official website of the Jigokudani Yaen-koen in English
Live Webcam of the Snow Monkeys

Related Post:
Kaede no Yu, Yudanaka Onsen, Nagano Pref.

Dec 21, 2009

Hotel Kuanzuling, Kuan Tzu Ling Hot Springs, Taiwan

One of the private baths. Overnight staying guests can take a bath here anytime, if nobody inside and the door is open. You can see how thick their mud bath is.

Kuan Tzu Ling (關子嶺, also spelled "Guan Zi Ling" and "Kuanzuling") Hot Springs located Southwest of Taiwan is one of the most impressive hot springs I've ever visited. It's gushing with mud and smells like volatile oil. I mean you can soak yourself in a mud pot with benzine-like smell. Isn't it exciting? It looks sticky, but actually it has powder-like smooth touch and it's good for your skin.

I stayed at the Hotel Kuanzuling again in early Dec. It hasn't changed much since my last visit in June 2007. The Japanese style entrance is still used as the back entrance. It has history of more than 100 years.

The present main entrance (left) . The Japanese style entrance still remaining as the back entrance (right).

I never think of staying other places at Kuan Tzu Ling. Because it's close to the fountainhead, their mud baths are thicker, and it's cheap to stay overnight (TWD 1000 for a single room on a weekday) . There are five private baths, and the bathroom attached to the guestroom also supplies mud hot springs.

The bath in the guest room also supplies hot springs.

Dec 3, 2009

Osenkaku, Takaragawa Onsen, Gunma Pref.

The mixed gender open-air bath named "Kodakara no yu" in the midwinter, not in early Dec. (photo: courtesy of the Osenkaku, Takaragawa Onsen)

This onsen ryokan is everyone's favorite without a doubt. There are four big rotenburos or open-air baths along Takara-gawa, the River Takara. One of them is for ladies only, and other three are mixed gender baths. All of them are harmonized with surrounding nature and you don't have to choose season to visit as you can enjoy any time of the year. I spent hours hopping the four baths and an indoor bath at my last visit in  March.

The Main building of the Osenkaku, Takaragawa Onsen in the midwinter.

It's a huge estate (at leaset for the Japanese). If you make a day visit, pay admission fee at the Takaragawa-sanso just besides the bus stop, put your valuables in a locker (¥100 necessary), walk through junks (you'll see) to the rotenburos. Changing rooms are gender separated, and ladies are allowed to rap their body with bath towels, it's easy for female first-timers to try the mixed bath here. You can rent a bath towel (¥100). If you need a hand towel, you have to buy it (¥200).

"Maka no yu", the biggest open-air bath in the night.

Nov 21, 2009

Landmannalaugar, Iceland

Landmannalaugar located southeast of Iceland is known for a highland trekking base rather than hot springs. I made a short slideshow from my travel photo album of last August. It's two minutes long without any sound. Of course some pictures of hot springs are included.

Nov 17, 2009

Kaniyu, Okukinu Onsenkyo, Tochigi Pref.

Daiichi Rotenburo, or the first open-air bath exclusively for ladies at Kaniyu. (photo: Nov. 2009)

I went hiking last Sunday to Okukinu Onsenkyo (奥鬼怒温泉郷) in Tochigi Prefecture. There are four onsens at Okukinu Onsenkyo; NIkkosawa, Teshirozawa, Hacchonoyu and Kaniyu. All of them but Teshirozawa accept day visit soaking and I visited all three. Kaniyu (加仁湯) is the biggest among them.

There are one rotenburo for ladies, many mixed gender rotenburos, gender separated indoor baths, and some private baths for overnight staying guests. They have five fountainheads.

Nov 12, 2009

Hotto Yuda, Kawashiri Onsen, Iwate Pref.

Green light shows you have at least 30 minutes for next train. (photo: Sep. 2005)

"Hotto Yuda" (ほっとゆだ) of Kawashiri Onsen (川尻温泉), Iwate Prefecture, Tohoku Region is one of the most unique onsens in Japan. There are working traffic lights inside of both bathrooms for men and women. Do you know public baths equipped with traffic lights in your countries? If you know the one, please leave a comment.

These traffic lights are not for car drivers, but for train passengers. Well, the Hotto Yuda is annexed to the train station of same name, "Hotto Yuda" of Kitakami Line. It's located in a rural area, and the train service is sporadic. If you miss a planned train, you might have to wait for a next train for hours, so these alarming lights are installed.

The onsen and the station share same building.

The lights are off most of the time, and the green lights come up when the next train comes in 30 to 45 minutes, then change to yellow (train comes in 15 to 30 minutes), and finally the red lights (15 minutes or less) turn on. You'll never miss the train, won't you?

Nov 5, 2009

International Onsen Conference

Anybody coming to the International Onsen Conference, officially "the 2009 General Assembly and International Thermalism/Scientific Congress of The World Federation of Hydrotherapy and Climatotherapy (FEMTEC) " at Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan next week?

I'll be at the venue on Monday, Nov. 9 and probably on the following day, too. Look for me and let me welcome you to Japan.

Reference: Third Circular of the event (pdf file)

Oct 17, 2009

Daikokuya, Kashi Onsen, Fukushima Pref.

Rotenburo for ladies of "Ebisu no yu". They say the best time to see beautifully colored leaves is around Oct. 20 every year. (photo: Oct.2009)

Kashi Onsen(甲子温泉) in Fukushima Prefecture, Tohoku Region has long history since first discovered in 1384. It was forgotten for long time, rediscovered in 1600 and the first ryokan was built in 1636.

There is still only one ryokan named Daikokuya(大黒屋) now. It had been under renovation for a while, and the newly rebuilt main building opened in late June this year. They used to close the ryokan from late Nov. to end of March, but it's going to open throughout the year from coming winter.

Newly built main building and annex buildings accommodate up to 60 persons.

There are two fountainheads, spouting 380 liters per minute together, both of them are transparent without strong scents, their touches are soft and smooth. One is 45.1°C and the other is 45.8°C at the fountainheads, around 40-41°C in the baths, perfect for long time soaking (at least for me).

Oct 4, 2009

General Info: Part 2 - Tattoo Ban

Tattoo ban signboards at the entrance of day visit onsens in Kanagawa and Tokyo. They say "People with tattoos or tattoo stickers are not allowed to enter regardless the size of tattoo" (left) and "People with tattoo can't take a bath here. If you don't follow, we will call police" (right).

This is a controversial topic, but most day visit onsens in Japan ban people with tattoo. Tattoos used to be a symbol of criminals and still being associated with Yakuza or violence group, at the same time the number of young people with tattoo just as fashion is increasing recently.

A manager of a day visit onsen once told me "We ban all kind of tattoos, even a tiny one, because sometimes it's difficult to distinguish a fashion tattoo from a scoundrel tattoo".

According to a newspaper's report a few days ago, a boss of a violence group or Yakuza was prosecuted recently for ignoring "tattoo ban" sign and a manager's petition to leave at least twice at a bath house.

Of course some onsens aren't strict about tattoo ban, and I know many foreign visitors with tattoo have enjoyed onsens in Japan without any trouble. But I feel it's getting stricter and I see the "tattoo ban" signs more often than a few years ago.

If you have a tattoo and plan to visit onsen, you'd better recognize there is a risk that you will be cordially asked to leave. I suggest people with tattoo to go to the onsens with private baths that you can share the bath just among your group.

I don't remember any tattoo ban signboard at ryokans. So I called the Japan Ryokan Association to confirm if the tattoo ban applies for ryokans as well. A young lady answered "There is no uniform consensus among the member ryokans about guests with tattoo, it depends on each ryokan's decision".

Sep 28, 2009

500 yen rice bowls at the Hakodate Morning Market

This post is unrelated to onsen.

If you travel Hakodate, Hokkaido on a tight budget, why don't you try one of the "500 yen don" or 500 yen rice bowls at the morning market just next to the Hakodate Railway Station?

There are many restaurants to serve fresh seafood at the market, and I found a place serving a bowl of rice topped with fresh seafood for just 500 yen among other places charging nearly or more than 2000 yen.

Gomoku or Mix don (upper left); Salmon roe don (upper right); Crab meat don (lower left); the restaurant, Ekini Shijo located upper floor (lower right)

I think you'll like them if you like sushi. There is no menu in English, but Japanese menu carries pictures of each rice bowl, so you can order just pointing a picture. Served with miso soup and pickles. Opens 6:30 AM till 2:30 PM everyday.

Sep 23, 2009

Mizunashi Kaihin Onsen, Hakodate City, Hokkaido

Onsen Soaker in lukewarm Mizunashi Kaihin Onsen. (photo: Sep. 2009 courtesy of Hijiribaba-san)

There are many onsens in wild settings in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of four major islands in Japan. The Mizunashi Kaihin Onsen(水無海浜温泉) in east of Hakodate City (函館市) is one of them.

The transparent sodium hot spring is spouting at the sea shore and mixed with sea water in the pool. You have to choose right time to soak just like the Jinata Onsen of Shikinejima in Tokyo, because high tide submerge it under sea.

I visited there a little bit too early after high tide, the temperature of the water was less than 30°C, perfect for swimming but too cold for bathing, felt like soaking myself in a tide pool.

An old couple in swim swuites approaches the onsen. There are some more bath-like pools around there.

There is no restriction on clothing, you can soak in your birthday suites or swim suites as you like. In the mid summer most of the visitors wear swim suites.

Sep 15, 2009

Recommendable Onsen Ranking - JTB survey

A view near Hakone Yumoto Station. It's difficult to choose a typical Hakone picture as there are various types of onsen there. (photo: May 2007, courtesy of my husband)

The most recommendable onsen in Japan is Hakone Onsen, in Kanagawa Pref, Kanto Region - a recent online survey by the JTB, a leading Japanese travel company reveals.

You can't miss the Yubatake (hot spring filed) when you visit second ranked Kusatsu Onsen. (photo: Dec.2003)

The survey was conducted in early Aug, collected 1254 polls. Asked about "most recommendable onsen to others", 103 respondents picked Hakone. It's popular mainly because of easy access from Tokyo. Actually, it's within a day trip distance from Tokyo, and there are various types of onsen like public baths for local residents, an onsen amusement park, and so many ryokans and hotels scattered in wide area.

Sep 3, 2009

Recent Updates

[1] Funsenchi of Gero Onsen, Gifu Pref. has changed dramatically. It's surrounded with primitive walls now, and all soakers regardless gender and age are required to wear swimsuites. Swimsuites bathing is in transition period now and obligatetory from Feb. 1, 2010 (I think if we have to wear swimsuites, walls aren't necessary). See my post "Funsenchi, Gero Onsen, Gifu Pref." dated Jan.17, 2009.

[2] After the DPJ's landslide victory over LDP at the general election last weekend, future of the Kawarayu Onsen, Gunma Pref. gets unpredictable, as the DPJ has promised to suspend construction of Yamba Dam, which was going to submarge the Kawarayu Onsen.

The Yamba Dam construction plan first made public about 60 years ago. Residents of the Kawarayu Onsen accepted the plan in 2001 after severe opposition activities against it for several decades, and before the recent election, they were supposed to move alternative site "New Kawarayu Onsen" in a few years. See my post "Kawarayu Onsen, Gunma Pref. (1)" dated Jan. 24, 2009.

[3] Added how to go to the Kita Onsen, Tochigi Pref. by public transportation. See my post " Kita Onsen Ryokan, Tochigi Pref." dated Mar. 6, 2009

Sep 1, 2009

Kaede no Yu, Yudanaka Onsen, Nagano Pref.

This is a very convenient onsen for those traveling by train. This Kaede no Yu(楓の湯) in Yudanaka Onsen(湯田中温泉), Nagano Pref. sits next to the Yudanaka Station. Actually, it utilizes formar station building.

It's a typical Japanese day-visit onsen. There are gender separated indoor and open-air baths. The open-air baths are small and surrounded by walls with hardly any view except sky.

Yudanaka is the entrance point to Jigokudani, and the Kaede no Yu is usually desparately crowded in the winter especially on the weekends with tourists after vising Jigokudani to see famous snow monkeys.

The hot spring is water added, so it isn't that hot compared with small public baths in Yudanaka Onsen. Recommandable for first timers.

◆Kaede no Yu, Yudanaka Onsen (湯田中温泉 楓の湯)

Type: Gender separated. Indoor and open-air baths. Day visit only.

Address: Yudanaka Onsen, Ymanouchi-machi, Simotakai-gun, Nagano Pref.

Location: 36.741859,138.414862

Business hour: 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM (last entry 8:30 PM)

Holiday: First Tuesday every month (If national holiday falls on, following day)

Admission fee: ¥300

Equipment: Rockers, complementary soap and shampoo. A foot bath outside (see picture below) is free of charge.

Access: Fom Nagano Station, take Nagano Dentetsu to Yudanaka Station. Yudanaka is the terminal station, taking about 45 minutes from Nagano by express train. Nagano Dentetsu is a private company different from JR, they don't accept Japan Rail Pass, and the Nagano station is separated at the underground level.

Tips: If you make a day trip to Yudanaka, juts buy "Kaede no Yu coupon" at the station. At the Nagano Station, it costs ¥1500. You can make round trip between Nagano and Yudanaka and also enter the Kaede no Yu with this ticket. If you buy the train ticket each time, it costs ¥1,130 oneway adding ¥100 if you take an express train.

My rating (out of five): 3

A local train at Yudanaka Station.

An express train at Yudanaka Station. The leftside building is Kaede no Yu.

Aug 20, 2009

Klambragil, near Hveragerdi, Iceland

There are some very active geothermal fields around Hveragerdi (correctly Hveragerði), about 45km southeast of Reykjavik, Iceland. A friend of mine and I enjoyed hiking to the hot spring river of Klambragil north of Hveragerdi in early August.

The hot spring was too hot to soak, we had to look for a soakable spot. We found the river water joined hot spring, and downstream of the joining point was soakable at 42 - 43°C. We met many travellers mainly from Continental Europe in the afternoon.

The entrance of the hiking trail located north of Hveragerdi. There is a car park at the entrance. You can see hot spring steams from the entrance gate. Be ware of boiling hot springs, especially if you go with your children as there are no fences arounnd the gushing spots.

We found this "Danger" signboard (even with Japanese word "危険", German and Italian?, too) in the area no hot spring was gushing. I heard the hot spring gushing points changed dramatically after the magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit the area on May 29, 2008.

The hiking trail was well marked with red & yellow painted sticks. It's rather easy walk without sharp ascend or descend. It took around an hour to the hot spring river.

We had to cross the river on the way. I took my shoes off for walking in the river. People in the picture came from Colombia.

There was hardly any path between the hiking trail and the hot spring river, we walked too far.

Jul 21, 2009

Jinata Onsen, Shikinejima, Tokyo

(photo: Oct. 2008)

Believe it or not, this spectacular wild onsen sits in Tokyo. Well, probably the Tokyo Metropolitan Government covers wider area than you assume. You can find this Jinata Onsen(地鉈温泉) in the small island, Shikinejima (式根島, Shikine Island), one of the Izu Islands off the coast of Honshu, the main island. This is my most favorite onsen in Tokyo.

Approach to the onsen is as wonderful as onsen itself. The onsen located at the bottom of the V-shaped valley, you have to walk down several hundred steps from the clifftop. That's why it named "Jinata Onsen" as "JI" stands for land, "NATA" for a hatchet in Japanese. It looks like someone made this valley with a hatchet, doesn't it?

To soak yourself in the onsen, you have to visit right time. High tide submerge it under the sea, and maybe it's too hot at low tide especially in the summer. Even in October last year, the sodium hot springs were more than 55°C at some hot pots when I visit there. Be careful.

Swim suites required for bathing. A typhoon in 2002 washed away the changing room, and not yet rebuilt, so you have to change clothes in the toilet up on the cliff or anywhere else. There are many big rocks around.

Shikinejima is a real small island of 3.9km² with population of about 600. Although there is only one traffic light, there are some more onsens in the island. If you're a soak addict, it's worth visiting. You will see another Japan.

Type: Gender mixed, open-air bath, swim suites necessary

Available hour: Anytime throughout the year.

Admission fee: Free

Equipment: Clock, lighting facilities (if you visit after dark I recommend you to bring your own light), toilet (several hundreds steps up on the cliff)

Access: Overnight slow boat to Shikinejima leaves from the Takeshiba Pier near Hamamatsu-cho, in central Tokyo every night, taking 8-9 hours. Returning boat leaves Shikinejima in the morning and arrives at Takeshiba Pier in the night same day. If you take fast jetfoil, it takes about 3-4 hours one-way. Or you can fly into Nijima, the neighboring island and then take a small boat to Shikinejima. The Nobushi Port of the Shikinejima located north of the island, you have to walk about 30 minutes to the Jinata Onsen at the south. Usually your ryokan or minshuku (family run casual ryokan) will provide free shuttle service if you book in advance.

Location: 34.318615,139.212323

Minus points: Too many sea louses around the onsen. Few people speak English in the island. Many of the ryokans, minshukus, restaurants close down in off season and the boats often suspend services under bad weather.

Link: Official website of The Tokyo Islands Tourist Information Promotion Association

My rating (out of five): 5

Jul 7, 2009

A ryokan owner's son arrested for filming ladies' changing room

The Houkokukan and its ladies' indoor bath. (photo: June 2004)

The second son of the owner of the Houkokukan, a ryokan in Manza Onsen, Gunma Pref. was arrested for filming ladies' changing room of the ryokan on June 29, 2009.

A female guest noticed a small video camera set in a ventilation pipe near ceiling of the changing room and called the police. The police easily found the offender as he had filmed himself while setting the video camera (The camera wasn't wirelessly controlled).

According to some newspaper reports, he admitted he had filmed the changing room several times before. The ryokan has suspended its business after the scandal was reported widely. It is said to open again in late July.

The Houkokukan has more than 80 years of history and being popular among Japanese soak addicts including me.

[Update] The Hokokukan resumed its business on July 14, 2009.

Jul 5, 2009

Useful Site : Japan Ryokan Assosiation

Now that the holiday season has started in many counties, the number of incoming e-mails asking recommendable onsen ryokans is increasing, and it's getting difficult for me to respond each request.

I suggest you to look up the official website of the Japan Ryokan Association. It has English, Korean, simplified Chinese, and traditional Chinese sites.

It carries overall information on ryokan in Japan like "What is Ryokan", "How to choose" and "How to stay". It has extensive list of ryokans all over Japan as well to help you finding suitable ryokans.

Please note the ryokan itself is Japanese style inn, not necessarily supplies onsen. The number of the ryokans accepting solo travelers is limited. Usually they provide dinners and breakfasts and charge per head, not per room. Check in time is generally around 3:00 - 4:00 P.M, and check out time is 10:00 A.M.