Arts & culture
Bathing and Kicking Back at Hikage Onsen
With well over one hundred years of history behind it, this sprawling wooden ryokan hot-spring resort in the Odate region of Akita has an unforgettable atmosphere of old Japan, and it is well worth adding to any itinerary of the area.
Hot-spring baths in Japan come in many varieties, including indoor baths, outdoor baths, gender separated baths and private baths where families can enjoy bathing together. Many hot springs are known for their distinctive rich mineral content that has been considered beneficial to one’s health on a few levels for many generations. Hikage Onsen hot-spring resort has all the above and much more!
Situated at the foot of the Shirakami National Park, Hikage Onsen is surrounded by thick forests and rugged mountains on all sides. Many guests liken the approach to the resort to that of a scene from an animated movie from the very popular Studio Ghibli. The winding roads and spectacular scenery carry with them a fairytale-like feel of a magical land, undiscovered and unknown by your average holiday maker to the area. This feeling is only intensified when the ryokan itself comes into sight!
Having benefited from a well thought out renovation in 2015 it is clean, comfortable and very relaxing while managing to retain a feeling of rural Japan from a bygone era.
The main attraction here though, is without a doubt, the hot spring onsen baths! They boast a total of eight baths, organized as such:
Men’s indoor and outdoor, women’s indoor and outdoor, two indoor “family” private baths available for reservation, one outdoor “family” private bath available for reservation and a large outdoor bath that switches gender every other day.
The baths are spread out across the property giving each one a very different feel and atmosphere, the outdoor ones look out over beautiful forests while the indoor ones are covered by thick roofs made of Aomori Hiba wood. The bathing facilities are simple and stripped back to the bare essentials, luxurious they are not, but they are certainly full of atmosphere and very relaxing! The make-up of the water is recognized for its high calcium and mineral content which is said to be very good for your skin and appearance. For generations locals have sworn by the healing powers of the hot-spring waters here for various skin conditions. While we cannot vouch for this ourselves, we can confirm that bathing here left our skin feeling both incredibly clean and smooth!
The accommodation itself is spacious and comfortable. Facilities include a small library which is well stocked with books on a number of topics including the history of both the local area and the rest of Japan (mainly in Japanese), a small two-room museum that also details the history of the area with a great selection of artifacts and original printed black and white photographs from over several decades, and large open lounges for unwinding in. The bedrooms are a subtle mix of traditional Japanese and modern Western style.
As one would expect at a place like this the food on offer is typically traditional Japanese cuisine, including meat, fish and vegetables, most of which is locally sourced, and presented exquisitely to guests – the service and presentation here is very impressive.
The manager Mr. Ishikawa, and his staff are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and keen to make their guests stay as comfortable as possible. Running this place is much more than just a day job for Mr. Ishikawa though, he sees it as a way to help change the opinions of the younger generations in the surrounding area regarding the history and culture of Japan.
He often hosts groups of school children, giving them lessons in how to value and appreciate the historic buildings in and around the Tohoku region. He can see quite clearly that Japan’s combination of an aging population and the tendency for High School graduates to head for the big cities for further study and work has the potential to hit the area hard. He is doing all he can to encourage the next generation of local entrepreneurs to see the value in using the area’s history to help usher in a new wave of industry through tourism.
For more information and reservations, visit the Hikage Onsen website at:
(Source: Japan Travel by NAVITIME)