Through my mind’s eye I can see in tunnel vision. I knew I had to go up again this time, to my snow kingdom filled with hot spring spas and tasty little treats. I know I could imbibe with the Gods up there and revel in their many bountiful pleasures. A cold snow country with warm charms is what Tohoku is about for me. After leaving Nikko behind I knew my eyes would be blessed with this view. You see, it didn't snow the whole way up from Tokyo until I got through this last tunnel.
I love how from Tokyo, when the commuter train is full of vacationers, and I can tell where most of the people are headed to, just by guessing their ages. Maybe they are on their way somewhere to some gorgeous holiday that they saw on a T.V. program. Japan is notorious for package holiday tours. There’s a package for everything in this country by travel agencies that promote all the same stuff about where to eat, sleep, and sightsee. As the train pulled up to Nikko Station the train emptied out and the only people left were me and a group of old-timers. All the young people usually head to Tochigi or Nikko to enjoy hot spas and other winter activities. Nobody ever heads to Yunokami Onsen, or so it'd seemed.
From Tokyo I can reach Fukushima in about 6 hours by local rail, my preferred method of travel. It’s also cheaper. Cost me about 3500 yen one-way. We must not take for granted the natural beauty from the train window because there’s so much to be taken in just by eyesight alone. I believe we need to feel the outlay of the land from every direction: the air, the sea, the mountains, the rivers, and valleys. The liquid essence of rice love.
On this journey I decided on a whim to head out to Fukushima; it’s been a few years since I was there last. I boarded the Tobu Line / Skytree and grabbed a seat on the starboard side so that I could see Tokyo Skytree through my window. As the train snaked its way through Sumida the Tokyo skyline was visible from all round me on a beautiful sunny day. The beauty of Tobu Line is that you start from the very center of Tokyo and end up somewhere in a countryside hot spring town. I enjoy how the landscape changes through my window, especially during autumn and winter seasons. After passing the Skytree the city began to take on a different form for me. Buildings became smaller and less modern looking. Eventually all I could see were miles and miles of snow clad rice patties and mountain ranges as far as my eyes could see. It was an absolutely gorgeous winter day.
I even marched through the winter chill across frozen bridges and tundra to tucked away hot spas like at this spa in the picture. I have always felt a special affinity to the rugged backwood of Japan, I love to go up just for the hot spas most of the time. I bathed and bathed; drank and drank copious amounts of delicious local rice brews. I ate sumptuously and slept like a baby, only to repeat it all again the next day. I love this lifestyle. After arriving in Yunokami Onsen I decided to walk around to some of the free baths; there’s a foot bath adjacent to the station. As you continue down the icy roads you can take in the winter views of mountains and streams.
There was intermittent snowfalls through out the afternoon. Sometimes the sun would peak out from a cloud and shine down on me, and then twenty minutes later a hail of snowfall would powder everything around me. This continued all day.
|Tatenoyu Yunokami Onsen Fukushima|
After leaving the quiet comforts of Tatenoyu behind, I headed over to another spa with excellent views of snow and trees. I made my way over to Shin-yu spa for a quick dip. The key to the backwoods of Japan is learning how to enjoy day-use spa baths. I always make it my first priority to visit at least three baths a day when out traveling around. This hot spring bath for me was epic, and I loved the view from the stone bath.
I loved how the warm energy flowed out from this rock inclosure. The water was a perfect 45 Degrees centigrade, just hot enough to make you go “aahhh—-ooohh!”
What sets Yunokami Onsen apart from so many other hot spring towns is the quality of the water both tap and onsen. Most travelers pass up the opportunity to explore the town on foot, and miss out on the little hidden gems nestle deep in some mountain gorge somewhere. You know, the stuff that never makes it on the travel brochures. As a certified onsen sommelier I do not approve of drinking alcohol of any kind when bathing in a hot spa. However, I enjoyed several ice cold beers and sake while bathing and loved the liquid essence of both spa and sake. I was in heaven. Combined! The liver needs soaking too.
Of course afterwards, more beer was necessary to cool my insides, so I headed over to a local diner for some hot ramen and ice cold beer. The veggies were grown up in the mountains wild, and the ramen was made to perfection