by Kevin Hurley and Richard Estey
Higashiyama TOHO Onsen
There are about 50 onsens in the Aizu area, deriving from volcanic activity giving rise to natural hot springs, many of which have interesting mineral content. There are two very popular springs in Aizu. The largest is Higashiyama, which has over 30 inns and hotels straddling the Yugawa river as it pours from the mountain streams, making it a very beautiful area. The second most famous is the Ashinomaki onsen. There are about 20 hotels and inns around this area along the Okawa river perched above a scenic gorge which is especially breathtaking, as are the prices.
The onsens in Aizu are many and varied, and admittedly Richard and I have only been to about 15 between the two of us, but we would like to recommend five that we have especially enjoyed. If you like to go to cheap family places then Yutori or Tsuru No Yu might be just the ticket. If you are coming to impress yourself or others, Ashinomaki and Higashiyama are the places to go.
Although Higashiyama has many onsens, our favorite has been the TOHO hotel. Mainly this has been because of the view, located on the 4th floor, overlooking Wakamatsu. There are two options for an onsen here, one being more modern and the other more traditional. The modern bath includes a medium indoor pool, sauna, cold pool, nice soaps, and a large multi-level rotenburo commanding an excellent view best enjoyed in “land ho” pose (one foot on the ledge, pointing to the horizon, stark naked).
As you stand there enjoying the breeze you may notice a cemetery directly below you. This contains some of the oldest graves in Aizu and is worth a look. There is a very nice restaurant on the 7th floor with a good view of Wakamatsu and a massage parlor on the 4th floor. Hotel rooms start at about 1man, but may be worth the price. You do not have to stay at the hotel to use the onsen, restaurant, or massage area. Entrance to the onsen is 1500 and includes towels. Visit www.onyado-toho.co.jp or call 0242-26-4570 for more information.
Fujinoyu onsen a two-minute walk south of Wakamatsu Station. This onsen has one distinctive asset: they have flesh eating fish! In the lobby there are small tanks in which you can put your feet or hands to have small fish nibble on them. Although a bit strange, the experience is enjoyable. Please do pay before being eaten.
There is also a massage room that is reasonably priced. There are many different baths from mentholated to sulfur and also a medium sized rotenburo. There are about seven total baths, providing a nice array. There are also two saunas, one dry and one wet, and a cold pool. There is a restaurant on the 2nd floor that commands a rather drab view, but the food is nicely priced and decent. The best part of this onsen is its easy proximity to the hotels, eateries, arcades, pool halls, and station of Wakamatsu. Entrance costs 390yen and does not include a towel. The fee for the onsen with a towel runs about 500yen. Hours are 10am-12pm. Call 0242-32-1126 or click here for more information.
Takasato, located outside of Kitakata, is another great onsen. It is a very large building, which houses a restaurant with a minimal view but decently priced and tasting dishes. There is a monstrously large amount of space to sprawl here as well as a banquet hall, a small convenience store featuring locally made products, massage rooms, and private rooms. Inside the onsen are two or three medium sized baths, a cold bath, a sauna, and a very nice medium rotenburo. The best feature of this onsen is that it is expansive and great for big groups of people to spend a luxurious day. Entrance is 500yen and does not include a towel. This onsen is open 9am-9pm most days. Call 0241-44-2888 for further information.
One of my most frequented onsens is the one in Kevin’s town, Hongo. It’s called Yutori onsen and is located on the bank of the Agagawa river. It is two floors featuring a restaurant and lounge on the first floor, local produce, massage room and smoking area. Onsens on the second floor have a medium bath, sauna, cold pool, and small rotenburo with an excellent view of Mt. Bandai with Wakamatsu in the foreground. If you’re doing an article about very-old-naked Japanese people, hit this place up on a sunday. There’s a small kids park nearby if you want to play on a jungle-gym or whatnot before hitting the onsen. Also the ice cream is particularly good here. Entrance is 500yen and does not include towel. Hours are usually 9am-9pm. Call 0242-56-4364 for more information.
Last and not least is Tsuru no Yu, located on the banks of the Tadami river in Mishima. Legend has it that a crane was healed by the spring waters, hence the name. If you venture to the rotenburo you are likely to find a swan nearby, supposedly keeping to tradition and nursing itself on the spring’s water. This is a very cozy onsen off the beaten path. If you wish to get away from all the frills and being able to understand patrons, then this is the place to get lost in the murky waters and even murkier Aizu-ben.
This place consists of two floors. The 1st floor has a small lounge and a small shop of mostly locally made foodstuffs. The onsen is also located on this floor and contains a medium sized bath and a small rotenburo with a great view of the river. The 2nd floor has more lounging area, private rooms, and a smoking area. Entrance is 400yen. Call 0241-52-3324 for more information.
The onsens of Aizu are great and varied and these are just a sampling of them. If you like onsens, then coming to Aizu will be like being a kid in a candy store. For more information on ALL Aizu onsens, visit www.aizu-furusato.com and click on the area you wish to visit. Hope to see you all here soon. Let’s enjoy Aizu!