At my stay in Japan in 2002 I decided to go searching for a hot spring with an outside bath (build with rocks and not a concrete tub) , beautiful nature and tatami rooms. I found one in the middle of the mountains near Nikko. From a cluster of hot springs, one of them is named Hachou no Yu.
After asking my hosts to make the reservation I set out to my first experience of the phenomenon called onsen.
The travel route can be a bit long but rewarding.
The first step was just getting near enough to the place to be. At the train station searching for a ticket to Nikko I decided that the ticket counter would be a safe bet to guide me to the right ticket and train.
The ticket salesmen decided that the limited express train would ruin my experience of rural Japan (he was right) and gave me a stop-train ticket which increased my travel time considerably.
Arriving at the train station I started the quest of finding a way to the ryokan. That seemed to be a bus which only rides 4 times a day and to my horror I noticed that I would be in for a long wait. At that moment I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of Japanese people. A couple that wanted to go in the same direction (same mountain range, different ryokan) decided that they would rent a car at the station and proposed to drive me to the 2nd part of the bus route. You can’t imagine how delighted I was that some couple took a stranger who could only speak very basic Japanese in the car to help him on his way after a long train trip.
After arriving at the free parking (you don’t drive your own car to the inn’s) area I thanked the couple heartily and started searching for the small van who would drive the guests to the inn over a very small mountainous road.
I think it would have been an … interesting experience to drive those roads in the middle of the winter with lots of snow.
If you’re familiar with this surroundings of this place you can also decide on taking the walking route. It takes (if memory serves right) about 1 hour at a relaxed walking pace.
I did take this route from the inn to the parking space (and the van back) but unfortunately 90% of my photo’s where black thanks to my broken camera lens.
The final destination
Layout of the inn, to the right the 4 springs and waterfall, to the left sleeping quarters and in the middle the dining room and entrance.
Hachou no Yu in early spring.
My experience at the inn can be called pleasant. The service was excellent, the sphere was relaxed and truly felt like a place to unwind and for a while, leaving all the hectic and troubles outside.
The futons where a bit thin but thanks to the invention of stacking them together a good night rest was assured even to the big surprise of the cleaners the next morning.
Breakfast and dinner is served in a big room with no chairs and very low tables. It was well made and the people in the kitchen and the hosts were friendly and I think they were happy to see me enjoying the meal.
Like most Ryokan’s you can have breakfast and supper, for dinner though you have to scout the neighbourhood to hunt for delicious items to fill your stomach with.
Washing can be done as you can see at the right in a public room. I used it also to get fresh water for a new batch of tea.
As for the “convenient room” be prepared for the classic hole in the ground and a very small place to stand.
Like most hot springs the best times are when there is a layer of snow outside (or even a light snow falling down) to get a soak and fully enjoy the warmth of the spring and the cold of the winter. I got the remains of a snowy season which was good enough for me. On the other hand, being in the middle of a mountain range the autumn would create a awesome view also.
The experience of soaking in a nature stone bath in the open, watching the uncountable stars in the sky and hearing the water fall from the waterfall beside you is almost indescribable.
The onliest thing that could have taken the experience even better would have been company. All in all this hot spring was a delightfull experience.
One interesting addition to the site I saw recently (april 2009) is the following text :
To the visitor of the foreigner
When you use us, it is necessary to bring a
I don’t know what triggered this change in text at the homepage but i suspect the language barrier is sometimes too big to have a smooth stay for both sides.
Links of interest :
Hachou no Yu homepage (jpn)
2004 May lodging report (jpn)