I went for an onsen trip! We stayed at a ryokan in the mountains and it probably doesn’t get any more rustic than that.
We went to Yunishigawa Onsen in the Nikko area, somewhere in the Tochigi prefecture (you’ll know you’re there when you start seeing lots of strawberry-flavoured souvenirs). It took us around three hours by train and bus to get there from Tokyo
What’s a long journey without ekiben? I saved on breakfast just so I could eat my train bento.
Eventually the bus dropped us somewhere in the mountain valley. We found our ryokan, Hana to Hana (彩り湯かしき花と華), a traditional Japanese inn a little like something out of a Ghibli movie. I’m pretty sure I’ve used that reference before; every time something’s old and Japanese I just say it looks like Ghibli.
I’ve never seen greater hospitality anywhere other than ryokan. They greet you at the entrance, have a special plaque with your family’s name on it, show you to your room and basically make you feel so welcome it feels like home. There’re hospitable in so many subtle ways too, like how there’ll be hot tea and a bowl of manjū (little Japanese confectionery) waiting on the table for you.
Ryokan rooms are the bestThey’re spacious and clean and laid out with tatami flooring, perfect for you to just lie around on and relax. While you’re at dinner the staff come and set up the sleeping futon for you, so you can come back to a nice and cosy room with fluffy mattresses.
And of course you can’t miss the onsen. My friends and I went two to three times because it just felt so good to soak in a hot spring after spending a day out in the cold winter. My favourite was the big outdoor bath (rotenburo)
Dinner was a local traditional Japanese-style barbecue called okaribayaki, where everyone sat around a hearth and grilled our own meat and vegetables. It was a huge dinner course with lots of different dishes, so we were eating for a really long time.
The tray was arranged so nicely, and everything tasted good too! My favourite part about these kind of Japanese meals is getting to try so many different things. It’s like a sampling menu that still fills you up.
The hearth we sat around had this grill surrounded by food on skewers, kind of like our own little campfire. There were things like mochi and konnyaku and chicken which somehow tasted even better on a stick.
(and this fish)
We relaxed a lot during this tripI guess that’s the point of going on a trip to ryokan—enjoying simple nature and disconnecting from busy life in the city (literally, sometimes, when there wasn’t Wi-fi). Since there were several types of onsen we went as and when we wished—that night a few of us stayed up talking all night (eventually mumbling and trying hard to stay awake) until it was almost dawn. Then we went to the outdoor onsen again for a bath at sunrise
Breakfast was another grand event! They served us a course meal again with hot mochi soup and some cold tasty dishes in more pretty trays. After that we went back to the room to loll around the comfy room somewhereI ended up falling asleep for a bit again because I didn’t sleep the entire night.
Yunishigawa Onsen’s a sleepy area in the mountain valley with the bare minimum of buildings and roads, but there was gorgeous scenery instead. Like that part of the lake that was frozen
I’m happy I got to experience an onsen getaway with friends for the first timeIt was a lot of fun going as a group; being in a peaceful place makes everything and everyone feel closer, in a good way. It was just one night but I miss it already.
So I made a video in commemoration—it’s on YouTube here!