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Bound for Ikarigaseki, Aomori Prefecture

Post was written at 5:45 December7,  on location
Bound for Ikarigaseki, Aomori Prefecture.

Shin-Aomori, Hirosaki, Owani Onsen, Ikarigaseki, 

As the train sped deeper up into northern honshu (mainland) there were visible signs of winter dotting the vast expanse of farmland and rice fields.    It's wonderful watching the scenery change from the comfort of your train window, especially from Tokyo.        From Sendai to Morioka, snow began to powder the tundra,  blanketing the many rolling hills and hamlets along the way.    Soon afterwards, I could see the first snow plough being pushed along by a lone obasaan ( elderly lady ) who watched as we sped by her tiny little plot of land.     


The hotel where I stayed is called the Atsumashi in a little onsen town called Ikarigaseki.   It's one stop between Owani Onsen and Odate, two towns I have been to some time ago, each with great hot spas.     Owani Onsen  have more luxurious deluxe spa hotels than Ikarigaseki and are more modern, which is why I didn't return this time around.   I needed to go somewhere  almost nobody goes to, a place with great water, quiet, and a bit out of the way.   So I chose Atsumashi.

Arriving at Ikarigaseki Station, I immediately took a fancy to the old lady behind the ticket window.   She had five snaggleteeth!   She was so snaggletoothed she couldn't even speak, like she had a mouth full of marbles and about to choke on one.    She was trying to explain to me through the little hole in the window about my ticket.  On purpose I told her I couldn't hear her so that she could come closer to the window and shout it out at me until the window fogged up.    I didn't understand a word she said, I just looked at her with this endearing smile of love on my face and said "wakanai" ( I don't understand ).   Loved it.   

The place is 14 minutes walking distance from the station and is quite easy to find.   The iPhone map has never failed me, not once - pinpoint accuracy.    I only needed to look at it once, the rest of the way was pretty straightforward.   Arriving at the hotel I was immediately greeted and escorted to the front desk where I signed in and was shown to my room.    The room was spacious, clean, and a bit dated.   I love the woody timeless beauty of an old Japanese style room with tatami and sliding paper doors.     The front desk people were warm and friendly.  

I had options.   I could get the cheapest room which was roughly around 4000 yen ( $47.00) * two meals, or I could choose a room that's 
9800 yen ( $100.00) * two meals.    The only difference between either of the two was the cheaper one had no toilet; you had to use the communal toilets in the hallway.    The other one had a toilet/washlet, bath and shower room.    I always choose a room with toilet.   There's nothing worse than having to wake up at 2am on a freezing winter night just to use it.   You cannot beat the comforts of having a warm toilet seat.    Another thing I look for is how long each onsen stays open.   Generally speaking, most hotels stop running the spas at around 11pm, and then resume the next day at 6am.    Personally, this is not my style.   I must have the onsen available all night, and it has to be a real hot spring source.   This is what I look for.

Atsumashi runs their spa all night, plus the food is just what you'd expect from a traditional Japanese ryokan.   Small portion sizes, warm customer service, and more.    Although I enjoyed the place, I wouldn't recommend this hotel for the person who's looking for luxurious accommodation.   This is not the place for that.   People who can appreciate staying in something without carpeted floors and king sized beds would like this place.    If you like the smell of tatami and wood - Japanese Hiba - then you'll love this place.   There's nothing quite like the smell of warmed tatami and Hiba when sitting down in a thoroughly heated room at a low table while having tea.

On the weekdays you can expect few people, which is what I like, plus it feels much more exclusive.     The only real reason why I came here was for their great hot spa.   Hiba bath.    Aomori is famous for Japanese Hiba, which has been used for centuries as an herbal medicine.   I really enjoyed the cool winter temps. plus the hot steamy goodness of this mineral rich spa.    The mist was thick and smelled so good.    Around midnight I bought  four 500 ml of Asahi Beer out to the hiba bath and soaked and drank them all down, slowly.    I took in everything; the snow, the chilly breeze, the gorgeous starry night sky, the hiba and thick steam.   It was great.

One  way to really enjoy Japan is to appreciate its natural bounty and hot spas.   

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