far off tourist season, we were alone even
though all the stores had staff. We stopped for hot coffee - yet
another Japanese innovation that hasn't (yet) made it to North
America. Vending machines will sell you a can of hot
coffee. In cold weather, that coffee is a great hand warmer and
once it's about the right temperature, a nice drink. Why aren't
they in Canada yet!
Onsen is one of my ideal Onsens. It's
in the mountains (no 7-11 next door), it's outdoor, it's mostly mixed
(there is a women's bath) and the baths have history. Women
generally join men wrapped in towels so things remain decent. You
are next to the river and large banks of snow so you can really feel
The hotels here aren't well rated so we decided to make this a day
trip. Taking photos of people in Onsens is kind of a tricky
thing. First thing to realized - the Japanese are camera buffs at
least as much as North Americans and there are plenty of camera happy
locals. If you arrive in the morning on a weekday you may find
yourself alone in the baths. Generally it's fine to take
pictures. If you are not alone, don't take pictures.
After about a two hour soak. we were cooked so we headed to our next
hotel.Chojukan, Hoshi Onsen
trip splurge number one. Chojukan is an old
Onsen - more than 100 years old - and while it has expanded several
times (and has a better access road) it still has much of it's old
Mark commented the food seemed like they went to a really good fish
market and just bough the most expensive of everything. That's
pretty cool except we are high up in the mountains and ocean fish isn't
exactly local. We did get some freshwater fish, but the ocean
food was a principal component. I was particularly impressed
with the baby zucchini in the tempura - we sometimes see baby sized
veggies in our markets in Canada, but they are rare.
excellent food, the Ryokan is really
it's baths. There are now three baths and by most standards they
are award winning. The main bath is dived into a number of cells
and you wash off just outside of the bath area. There are no
taps, shower heads or modern shampoos. Of course for people look
for a bit more modern convenience, there is another modern style bath
(with the expected fixtures). Finally, there is also a womens
bath. The main bath is mixed genders most of the day but it is
women only from 8pm to 10pm.
stayed at Chojukan for two nights and used it as
our base of operations. The plan for the day between the two
nights was to do a guided snowshoeing trip in the mountains.
Amazingly we got rained out. The tour company didn't have a rain
cancellation policy because in all of their years of operating, they
never seen rain in February. It was an unseasonably warm
year. Not to be stopped, we decided to visit another hot springs
Kusatsu Onsen is a strange town in Japan - one of the few towns without
a train station anywhere nearby. We drove about an hour and half
to get here, the last half an hour up to the top of a mountain.
Kusatsu Onsen is definitly an Onsen town - the middle of town is
dominated by a natural hot spring feature spilling hot water onto the
are a few private (indoor) hot spring baths here
and lots of small shops for tourists to lighten their wallets. On
the side of the hot spring grounds is a hand and foot spa. Hot
water first pours into an upper pool (hand bath) and then a lower pool
(foot bath). Given that it is pretty cold up here, it was nice to
get a bit of a soak in before the rest of touring.
The town has a hot springs park in the middle with a large public
outdoor bath in a park setting. This is a large bath (easily a
hundred bathers are supported) and sitting in the hot water with the
cold wind on your face and the sun lower over the trees, you really get
a good relaxing soak. Watching the steam rise over the hot water,
I really wanted a camera, but of course that isn't appropriate for such
a bath. Funny enough, the outside walls of the bath aren't quite
high enough so while you sit in the bath, you watch tourists explore
the paths on the neighboring hill. After my soak I went out a
took a picture in.
Kusatsu Onsen was along our route into Nagano
Prefecture - our next destination.