It was Saturday the 6th of Dec. when I discovered this onsen hotel and within seconds after discovering it I decided to go the very next morning – Sunday.
Normally, the quickest way I decide on where to stay would be on how good the quality of the onsen is. Here at the New Kamimoku it was the onsen that made me decide so quickly. The type of onsen water used here is called (ぼうしょう泉 or Boshyo-Izumi) sodium sulfate natural spring water and it’s chlorine free. This type of water is especially beneficial for sore muscles and general fatigue. Much of the water from this part of Japan is sodium sulfate rich, which I’m sure many skiers can appreciate for it’s curative effects on the body. On the day I took this picture, it was in the late evening, and I remember the air was crisp and very cold.
Jomo-Kogen is the type of place you go to in order to get away from the more touristy spots like the famous ski resort towns like Shiozawa and the more famous one called Echigo-Yuzawa, which many young Tokyoites flock to on the weekends. A lot of them are loud and raucous and have no manners at all. The only time I stop through Echigo-Yuzawa is when I’m eating at my favorite tempura shop across the way called Fukuan, or when I’m shopping for sake. This time around I did stop by Echigo-Yuzawa station to picked up two very good sake.
A little about Jomo-Kogen(上毛高原駅), this town is situated on the boarder of Niigata in Gunma prefecture near Minakami. There’s nothing here. It’s a sparsely populated rural town on the outskirts of everything it seems. The buses are infrequent, about every hour or so one comes.
Taxis are hard to come by, too. You almost never see a taxi unless you are at the station. JR operates two rail lines here, the Shinkansen and the local Tokaido which connects via Takasaki. (N.B. You can save a little more money on your commute here via the Takasaki station). If you are using the shinkansen, only the limited express stops at Jomo-Kogen, not the express!
( This is the local line connecting Kamimoku Station via Takasaki. I didn’t ride this line. I rode the shinkansen [above pic] This orange and green train is a much cheaper route to take if you decide to come to this area).
I came by shinkansen from the Tokyo station because I wanted to enjoy a nice eki bento(駅弁）
( Takasaki Eki Bento[高崎弁当]. This is not the Daruma bento of Nagano!!).
When I finally arrived at the Jomo Kogen station that morning at around 9am I took a deep breath. The cool crisp clean winter air was so refreshing and revitalizing. I was reinvigorated and ready to start my journey. This whole area was very quiet, almost spooky. Never stood in a station this quiet before. If you stood long enough you could hear dew drops fall from somewhere on the roof top. That’s how quiet it was.
After exiting the ticket gate I went over to the ticket window to purchase my return ticket home for the next day. 5,582 yen(?) one way….After I paid, my wallet felt a little lighter than usual, so I took out all of my yen and counted everything just to make sure I had enough money. I barely had enough to cover the hotel room for that night(12,050 in wallet. The hotel room was 11,500 yen).
Blood pressure went up quickly at that moment because I know from past experiences that there are almost never any ATM machines this far out, especially in Gunma. I hurried over to the information booth to find out if there were any ATM machines nearby. The guy told me exactly what I didn’t want to hear, NO! Another notch on the blood pressure meter went up recalling memories of a time when I got stranded at midnight in another part of Tohoku in the middle of winter at around midnight with no cash dispenser in sight. The one I eventually found closed at 5pm! Imagine that, an ATM in a convenience store closing at 5pm.
Anyway, back to Jomo-Kogen. So, I found a taxi and asked him if he knew of any ATMs nearby and he said yes. I jumped in and we headed down a winding road past some old houses and a green grocers. I immediately spotted a Post Office ATM, so I quickly told the driver to pull over, this ATM will do just fine. I was able to withdraw some money and return to the station. My hotel check-in time was at 3, so I had a few hours to kill. Echigo-Yuzawa station is only one stop away from Jomo-Kogen so I purchased a ticket to go there and buy some sake for tonight. (3,800 round trip).
After reaching Echigo-Yuzawa I purchased two new and very delicious sake, plus I had time for a nice lunch and a quick onsen hop. Echigo-Yuzawa station has an onsen built into it and its adjacent to the station’s sake museum and souvenir shop. Sake is poured into the onsen daily which gives the onsen a very unique smell.
I finished up everything I needed to do in about an hour and headed back to Jomo-Kogen. I hailed a taxi which took me directly to my hotel in less than 15 minutes. As we neared the hotel I must’ve counted at least 5 ATMs on the way. There was even an ATM built exclusively right next to the hotel! I felt like I was in some sort of twilight zone movie. All through-out the city there were hardly any super markets, post offices, libraries, and hospitals, YET they had an abundance of ATM machines dotted all along the road – no banks, just machines.
In all my travels in Japan all across Tohoku and Kansai, even in West Japan down through Kyushu I have never seen a rural town with so many ATM machines. And to make matters even more strange, there was a jizake shop across the street. It’s like my destination was etched in some kind of timeless stone of destiny, like everything I needed was anticipated by some kind of divine providence. I acted impatiently and didn’t trust fate and so I panicked thinking there was nothing here when in fact everything I needed was already here and waiting for me, it seemed. Next to this ATM is the hotel I stayed.
After check-in, and getting myself situated, I drank a hot cup of brown tea and ate the complimentary manju on my table where the bag is in the picture ( manju is sweet red bean paste filled confectionary). The room they gave me as a single occupant was huge. The balcony was also very large and the flowers there were a nice touch. From my balcony I had nice wide views of the landscape and river
The staff, everybody was very friendly and warm. I had no problems during and after check-in at all. The only thing I didn’t like about the hotel was its music. They played Christmas carol like elevator music with the little bell sounds you hear from the tiny little wind up ferris wheel thingies you give children. The sound of it gave the mood in the air a sentimental value which I didn’t want to hear especially since I was there alone this time. Ironically, the lady next door to me was also alone, but she was in her 90s, back hunched over as she walked. I think her husband died and now she was a lonely widow who tried to relive a moment in time when they both shared a nice dinner and an onsen in this same hotel together. In the elevator she had a plate full of fruit that she had brought up from the dinner hall. We both exchanged a greeting and a farewell. Such a strange brief meeting.
You know, this is the reality we all have to face someday. Getting old, lonely and then death. I remember standing on my balcony while setting up my camera for some long exposure shots and looking over at her window from time to time. Her curtains were closed shut but you could see that the light was still on. The lights remained on into the wee hours of the night, past midnight. When the lights finally went out I wonder if she did as well…it was just too quiet over there and she was advanced in age and could barely walk. My own Soul is 90 years old. I felt I lost something that day.
When dinner time came I headed down that same elevator and sat down at my table. The dining room had a post modern Japanese feel to it.
Dinner was absolutely lovely. All winter dishes.
River fish, and wild vegetables, shrimp and shell fish.
Sashimi plate with yellow tail and salmon
Raw horse meat with ginger
light soup with green onions and flower shaped fish cakes.
I was so full. I was barely able to finish my crab plate.
I headed back to my room and finished setting up my camera and took these.
On the left you can see the streak of a train going passed. The commuter trains were running until midnight. The next morning I started my day off proper, since I really didn’t have a chance to enjoy the new sake I had purchased the day before.
The sake of choice and one of monde selections top grade pick is called Shiboritate(first press or squeezed) called Hakuryu with a white dragon on the front of the bottle. This is a winter brew that’s fruity and dry. There are a couple of versions of this sake, however, this one uses new rice and it’s a Ginjo Shinshu Nama Genshu Shiboritate, a highly polished and squeeze sake, draft style. You get rich and fruity flavors with this one. Alc. 19, and the SMV is plus 2.
To be continued………