Mar 27, 2009

Kurama Onsen, Kyoto City, Kyoto Pref.

Open-air bath for ladies.

Paid a visit to Kyoto, most famous ancient city in Japan last week. Maybe I should have forgotten about onsens while staying in Kyoto. There are many interesting temples with long history instead. Anyway I visited four onsens, and the Kurama Onsen, a ryokan or a Japanese inn at north of Kyoto City was one of them.

Although there are two fountainheads and cold sulfur springs gush naturally (many onsens in Japan are drilled and pumped up), amount of the gushing is so limited.

There is also a small indoor bath.

One is only 2.5 liter per minute and the other is 5.8 liter, not enough for filling the baths. Therefore the sulfur spring was water added, heated, filtered, circulated (the water in the bath is reused again and again!) and chlorinated. No wonder I couldn't feel original character of the spring water at all.

The biggest problem was too much chlorination. The open-air bath smelled like an over crowded swimming pool at mid summer. I saw many visitors made faces and complained. The small indoor bath (see above photo) was bit better.

Location and atmosphere is very nice, and a man working there (maybe a manager) is a friendly, very nice person. If you just want to see and experience a Japanese onsen, I think you can enjoy without disappointment, but this isn't the place for soak addicts like me.

Not all onsens in Japan are recommendable, and I should admit unrecommendable onsens are increasing rapidly.

Kurama Station.Plum tree was blooming.

Travel tips:
They accept day visit from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM (until 8:00 PM in winter), charging ¥1100. Ladies' baths and men's baths are separated. If you pay ¥2500, indoor baths and sauna at main building are also available, including towels and Yukata rental. Overnight stay with dinner and breakfast starts from JPY 15,750 per head.

A freee shuttle bus meets every incoming train at the Kurama Station. Or you can walk to the onsen in 15-20 minutes. Eizan Densha from Demachiyanagi Station at central Kyoto takes you to Kurama in about 30 minutes.
Links: Official website of Kurama Onsen (English)

Location: 35.119224,135.77657

Useful words:
Kyoto (京都)
Kurama Onsen (くらま温泉)
Kurama Station (鞍馬駅)
Eizan Densha (叡山電車)
Demachiyanagi Station (出町柳駅)

Mar 19, 2009

Man arrested for entering ladies' bath

A 51 year old man was arrested last weekend after staying more than 9 hours at ladies' bath of a day visit spa in Kanagawa Pref.

The spa opens all night long, and the man of 150cm (4'11") tall, dressed and maked up like a lady with a hair wig and a skirt, came late at night. He could make it to ladies' changing room as nobody noticed he was a man, and he rapped his body with big bath towel not to show his body and stayed at ladies' bath for hours.

But after he fell asleep on a bench outside of sauna, the towel around his body rolled up, exposed his important part. Real ladies around him must have screamed. He insisted "I am a woman" after arrested, according to a newspaper. I couldn't find his photo.

As far as I know a man of same name (must be same person!) was arrested for entering another ladies' bath three years ago. I wonder if there is such an incredible guy in other countries.

[Updated on Apr 5, 2009] Another man of 64 years old was arrested for entering ladies' bath in Hokkaido, northen Japan on April 3. He too dressed and maked up like a lady, but soon revealed he was a man as his make up came off with steam and his sweat.

Mar 14, 2009

Blog of the Week@Tokyo×Work×Life

I got a mail from an editor of Tokyo×Work×Life, a website for foreign business people living in Japan, telling this "onsen soaker" was chosen Blog of the Week by them. Thanks for choosing newly opened blog with only eight posts!

There are many blogs related to Japan on their past Blog of the Week list. If you are interested in Japanese life and culture besides Onsen, check it out!

Mar 12, 2009

Shinjuku Juniso Tennen Onsen, Tokyo

View from an observation hall at 45th fl. of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bldg. Shinjuku Juniso Tennen Onsen located basement of marked bldg, lower right. If the sky was clear, Mt.Fuji might be seen in this photo.

Are there any onsens in Tokyo? Yes, many! But you have to say goodbye to one of them soon.

Shinjuku is known for one of the busiest area in Tokyo, and the Shinjuku Juniso Tennen Onsen(新宿十二社天然温泉) sits just few blocks away from Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Grand Hyatt Tokyo. It's going out of business on 29 March 2009, ending more than 50 years of history. This is the only onsen accepting visitors in Shinjuku-ward (Others are also onsens in condominium buildings, but open exclusively for the condo residents) .

Heated bath. 43 degrees Celsius at my visit.

The admission fee is rather expensive at JPY 1900. (Link to currency converter) It had been preventing me to visit there, but I didn't want to loose a chance to soak an only onsen available in this area, so I made a first and last visit the other day.

Located basement of a condominium building, there are indoor baths only, no open air baths. The water is as dark as coke or coffee, you can see only few inches into the water from the surface. Keep in mind there are steps inside baths for sure.

Why dark? Onsens in Tokyo are unrelated to volcanic activities, most of them are fossil seawater. Many are dark and cold.

"Cold hot springs"? Yes, they are literary hot springs, but physically they aren't hot at all. As for Shinjuku Juniso Tennen Onsen, it's 25.9 degrees Celsius at fountainhead.

"L" shaped unheated bath was 21.8 degrees. 
The Hot Spring Law of Japan stipulates that if the temperature of specific water is more than 25 degrees Celsius at fountainhead, or if specific water contains certain amount of any of 19 kinds of minerals(sulfur, radon, lithium, barium, carbon dioxide, and so on) at fountainhead, it's certified as an onsen. It means cold mineral springs are also onsens, as long as they contain certain amount of those minerals. So there are many cold hot springs in Japan.
Shinjuku Juniso Tennen Onsen applies hot spring by both of temperature and mineral component.

There are many cheaper "Sento" onsens in Tokyo and elswhere around Japan. Wait for information and photos. I will write an entry on Sento Onsen someday (may be not in near future).

When it comes to the observation hall of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bldg, it's open to the public everyday from 9:30 AM to 11:00 PM (last entrance 10:30 PM) for free. There are north and south towers, and both or either of them would be open anyday.
Entrance of changing rooms. Men to left, ladies to right.

Mar 6, 2009

Kita Onsen Ryokan, Tochigi Pref.

Kita Onsen of Tochigi Pref, Kanto Region might be too famous to say hitou or hidden onsen. But this is one of my favorites. There is only one Japanese inn "Kita Onsen Ryokan" at Kita Onsen.

What's the charm? Well, parts of the building including 20 guest rooms were built in later 19th century, and they are still in use today. I mean you can stay at a room built in Shogun & Samurai days of Edo Period. I still can't believe wireless Wi-Fi internet access is available now (But their website says so).
The oldest and best known bath is "Tengu no Yu", a bath of Tengu. The Tengu is one of the legendary monster-spirits of Japan (more information on Tengu in Wikipedia). As you see their face masks in the picture above, they are believed to have red faces and Pinocchio-like noses. It is said a Tengu had found Kita Onsen in late 8th century, that's why the bath was named "Tengu no Yu". This is an indoor mixed bath without changing room. Actually, it's more like a part of corridor than a bath room.