Two of the best ways to experience the pleasures of rural Japan are a long hike and a leisurely dip in a hot spring, or onsen, as they’re called in Japanese. With the country’s chains of volcanic mountains, there are plenty of spots where you where you can do both in the same day, with onsen resorts often not too far from where mountain trails start or end.
But instead of booking a room in an inn with a hot spring, you can do something even better in this part of Hokkaido by digging your own onsen!
If you’ve been to a couple of hot springs in Japan, you’ve probably picked up the term rotenburo, which signifies an open-air hot spring bath. But if you want to get even closer to nature, you’ll want to experience noyu, a bath made by simply digging a hole in the ground in a spot where geothermally heated water naturally bubbles close to the surface.
But while Japan certainly has a lot of hot springs, you can’t just expect to stick your shovel into any random plot of earth and find an onsen. One of the best places for noyu is Nakadake Onsen, on the northern island of Hokkaido.
Nakadake literally means “Central Peak,” and, true to its name, it’s situated deep in the mountains. About an hour from Asahikawa City by car, you’ll come to Asahidake Onsen Station, from where cable car rises to Sugatami Station, some 1,600 meters (5,249) feet above sea level.
From there, it’s about a two-hour walk to Nakadake Onsen, but being the energetic outdoorsmen we are, we decided to tack on a two-hour detour to go to the top of Asahidake, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido, which would make our entire hike a six–hour route.
▼ On the way to the peak
▼ The view from the top
Still, a two-hour hike is nothing to sneeze at, and as soon as we left the peak, we immediately started fantasizing about our upcoming rejuvenating noyu soak.
We knew we were getting closer when we spotted steam rising from the mountain, plus when our noses detected the scent of sulfur. At first glance, though, Nakadake Onsen’s hot springs look more like puddles.
But like we said, this is a do-it-yourself hot spring, so we grabbed a shovel and got to work making something a little more spacious.
With the work done, we stretched out and felt our fatigue melt away. Maybe it’s a good thing there’s no hotel or lodge at Nakadake Onsen. Between the warm water, beautiful scenery, and crisp blue skies that stretch on forever, if they offered us a place to sleep, we might not ever leave.
[ Read in Japanese ]