A Ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn, with traditional Japanese meals, yukata and futons.
An Onsen Ryokan is pretty much the same thing, except that you have access to some natural hot springs as well. It’s like a night in heaven.
There are plenty of active volcanoes in Japan. It means that in several places in the middle of the mountains you can stumble upon a geyser and smell this lovely odour of rotten eggs. It also means that you’re about to experience the natural hot springs, those springs that come out of the soil for the greatest pleasure of Japanese people (and myself as well…!) who just loves to have hot baths. Basically, an Onsen Ryokan is like a Spa Hotel in Europe. But way better. Come on, let me take you to the Kanaguya Onsen!
THE KANAGUYA ONSEN RYOKAN
The very big surprise for me is that Noriko is bringing me and her family to the Onsen Ryokan that inspired Hayao Miyazaki for his famous movie Spirited Away. They even have a room called “Rin”. And you can find some sceneries from the anime!
The Kanaguya Onsen Ryokan is located in Yamanouchi, in the Nagano Préfecture, in the heart of the Japanese Alps. This Onsen can be found in a kind of Onsen Town, called Shibu Onsen. Here, you can find many bathhouses and it feels like entering another world while strolling in the tiny cobbled streets. This neighbourhood was built around 1303 and at that time, Kyoto’s priests came to take their baths here as the water is well known for its curative functions. Later, that was the samurai who came bathing in those Onsen.
This Onsen Ryokan adventure begins with the very first bath and putting on the Yukata. For one or the other, I’m happy that Noriko is on my side. She explains to me every step of the washing and how to behave in an Onsen.
HOW SHOULD YOU BEHAVE IN AN ONSEN?
- Don’t show any tattoo. They’re a kind of stigma of criminal behaviour. Often related to yakuza.
- You have to be naked. But hide your body with a towel while you’re reaching the bath.
- Rinse yourself with some water from the Onsen. Wash your body and hair at the ‘shower’ before entering inside the Onsen. Rinse yourself and your towel.
- You must cover your body front with a towel while walking the few meters between the ‘shower’ and the bath.
- Enter the Onsen.
- Put your towel on top of your head, so it’ll absorb your forehead sweat. Never ever let your towel drawn in the water. Same with your hair, that needs to be tied up.
- Don’t stay too long, the water is really (REALLY) hot. You could faint.
- Wash yourself again. But not as entirely as before, especially if you’re going to bath all night, like it’s often the case in an Onsen Ryokan. Dry yourself.
- Put on your Yukata.
- Drink a lot of water.
After that, we have a guided tour of the history of this amazing building. He speaks only Japanese, obviously, I can’t get a single thing, so I’m just taking loads of (blurry) pictures (because of the low lights).
When it’s time for dinner, I’m like OhMyGodThere’sEnoughOnThisTableToFeed40People! In front of me are many different little delicate and traditional Japanese dishes. Every single dish tastes like heaven. I want to try and taste everything but it’s impossible, there’s too much. I talk about our Christmas dinner back in France to Noriko, Tomoaki and Masashi. I try to teach them one of my favourite expressions after such a big meal: ‘I’m going to roll down to my house’.
TAKING A STROLL IN THE YAMANOUCHI VILLAGE
In order to digest all this excellent food, we take a stroll in Shibu Onsen. The streets are superbly lit and all the people around are wearing Yukata: this town is definitely a town dedicated to Onsen’s tourists!
We stroll, we try to shoot some cans with a rifle, and it turns out that I’m not that bad (don’t know if that’s good news!). It like the fair, and Masashi and I won some Dragon Ball Z canteens!
ONE NIGHT BATHING IN THE ONSEN
And finally, the night at the Onsen can get started. Of course, not a lot of customers are actually spending all night bathing, but I think that’s the perfect timing to try all the nine different Onsen of this Ryokan!
Every Onsen is separated between Men and Women. I learn how to read the appropriate Kanji, so I won’t be mistaken: 女 is for the women and 男 for the men. One Onsen is outside, two others are public and all the six others left are private Onsen. Which means that you can lock the door and enjoy a bath ON YOUR OWN.
Finally, I get to try five Onsen out of nine, and when I actually start to fall asleep (or is it that I might have been very close to faint…) I decide to go to sleep and enjoy the comfy/cosy/fluffy futons.
I’ll be back bathing the next morning just before the huge indecent breakfast. Noriko will now call me the Onsen Master!
LET’S GO THERE!:
Kanaguya, 2202 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture