tamagawa

During these chilly winter months, there’s nothing quite like taking a dip in a natural hot spring and feeling your aching muscles soften like a pan of chocolate on a warm log cabin stove. But if you’ve seen every onsen (hot spring) that Japan has to offer or are simply wishing to avoid the crowds of like-minded visitors, locating a new place to bathe isn’t easy. Thankfully, help is at hand.

In an article over at Yahoo! Japan’s R25 digital magazine, a member of the Nihon Onsen Kyoukai (Japan Hot Spring Association) lets readers in on three little-known, not to mention rather unusual, hot spring locations that are sure to leave you with plenty of tales to tell family and friends. All the juicy info after the break.

With more than 3,000 hot spring locations scattered across Japan, it’s little wonder that we’ve all by now seen plenty of photos of bathing monkeys, steaming pools of water surrounded by undisturbed snow, or young ladies wrapped in towels taking a dip. But for the onsen extraordinaire, once the spots listed in all of the travel guides have been checked off, where is there left to turn? The Japan Hot Springs Association’s Fuyama-san has some very interesting recommendations:

“If you’re looking for something a little different, I recommend Toyotomi Onsen, situated at the northernmost point of Hokkaido, which is known for being a ‘petroleum hot spring’.”

Did she just say petroleum? As in the stuff we pump into our cars to help us get to Starbucks faster!?

“That’s right; there’s a very thin layer of petroleum oil floating on top of the spring water here, which means there’s an ever-so-slight whiff of gasoline. But the oil in the water is actually very good for skin conditions, and so hot spring fans from all over the country flock here each year.”

▼If you’re looking for “remote countryside”, Toyotomi is definitely the place!

Toyotomi onsen location

Although it may sound far-fetched at first, a quick search online in Japanese for “Toyotomi onsen” does indeed yield numerous independently written blogs, complete with photos, detailing how Toyotomi’s hot spring water helped cure a variety of minor skin conditions. Although bathing in water whose surface is covered in petroleum might not sound especially appealing, the Japan Hot Springs Association’s representative assures her readers that it’s far less oily than we might imagine, and when we consider how many people use Vaseline- a petroleum jelly based product applied directly to the skin – on a regular basis, there really is nothing to be afraid of.

 ▼OK, just one picture of girls in towels! toyotomi onsen

Next up is Akita Prefecture’s Tamagawa onsen resort, which Fuyama-san informs us contains springs whose water – with a pH of 1.1 – is by far Japan’s most acidic. But at 10 times the acidity of ordinary lemon juice, can that really be a good thing?

“It certainly makes your skin tingle all over! The water here is said to be beneficial to those with high blood pressure or suffering from arteriosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries). For this reason, the resort has many visitors who come to stay for long periods of time, and there’s even self-catering accommodation available.”

Tamagawa onsen 2

With barren surrounds and rocks scattered everywhere, Tamagawa may not appeal to those partial to a dip in the tub with a rubber duck and a glass of red wine, but with 100% natural spring water gushing up through the ground and tingling every inch of your body, you’ll have plenty to tell your friends about when you get home. Getting the water in your eyes or an unhealed paper cut, however, is probably not the best idea.

Finally, Fuyama-san introduces us to a hot spring resort that, while not boasting petroleum-membrane or skin-tingling water, has a very special, centuries-old custom of its own. Located in Tottori Prefecture in southern Japan, the Iwai Onsen resort invites visitors to sing a little while taking a dip!

iwai onsen

“With over 1,200 years of history, this resort has a custom known as yu kamuri (lit.hot water cap”). After soaking in the water for a while, guests sing what is known as the yu kamuri song while placing their hand towel on top of their head and ladling the hot water over it. It’s said that this custom helps the effects of the water spread through the entire body.”

As R25′s reporter writes, Tottori prefecture is not exactly renown for its onsen resorts since, next to Okinawa, the prefecture has the smallest number of natural hot springs in the country. But it’s perhaps for this very reason that the people of Tottori enjoy their baths a little more than most, and, let’s be honest, who among us hasn’t sung in the bath or shower at least a couple of times?

If any of you are fortunate enough to have paid any of these locations a visit, we’d love to hear your impressions! Let us know what you thought of the resorts in the comments section below or via our Facebook page!

Source: Yahoo! Japan R25

▼Tottori Prefecture is Japan’s least populous prefecture.

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Tamagawa Onsen image

Iwai Onsen image

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