Old Places: Ubayu Onsen
It's nice when you can return to the places that once moved you. Places locked in timelessness, like it was yesterday, just the way you remembered it. I had feared, like so many others, that some of the most pristine natural preserves of the rich, the hot spring, would some how be tainted, especially by the hordes of tourist and site seekers, and the dreadful backpackers. That somehow or a another, something as so natural, through the years, could withstand the march of time and yet still maintain its original beauty. Behold, Ubayu Onsen.
The first time the soles of my feet kissed the waters of Ubayu was over six years ago, when the piping was still being lain by engineers and geothermal experts. I came at a time when no one, save a few locals, knew about the place. I even wrote about it in my book. I retraced my footsteps recently; climbing the stone walkway, high up into the atmosphere it seemed. Alone. And soul searching. It truly is really high up, so high that most tourist would rather avoid it. Especially with 17% inclines all the way up a long, narrow, and winding road barely even wide enough to fit just one car through.
Ubayu, that once hidden gem, tucked away high up in a rocky enclave and surrounded by thick greenery and shrubs. This time around there were no naked Japanese women walking about with just one hand towel! Nudity is too unJapanese nowadays, thanks in part to Western influence. My first forays into the onsen experience were filled with naked young Japanese beauties, and if you were around back in the day, then you could attest to this fact. Other than that, everything else was the same. The water was still excellent, the exact same architectural layouts. There were more barriers and reinforcements for more improved water flow. One more thing, There were two FOMA towers. FOMA is a Japanese mobile telecommunications company, so if this is your carrier then you are in luck. The rest of us will not have any signal for our cellphone, so make sure you've got plenty of gas and that you are extra careful about getting up there.
I have some fond memories of this place with friends, but this time I was completely solo, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I forgot to mention. For years, most of the roads leading up here were unpaved, rocky, and dangerous. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the roads were all fully paved and much easier to drive on than previously occasions.
Getting here you can drive, the best way, or, you can take the Shinkansen to Fukushima then change to Touge Station, from there, if you are staying overnight, the hotel bus will pick you up. If it's day-use onsen then you are on your own and you won't want to hike up 9 km. The car is by far the best option. Touge Station looks like this, but if you walk through you will see another part of the station that's been renovated and rebuilt. Hours of operation are from 9 to 3:30.
It's good to know that some things haven't changed. Ubayu is one of them.