NARUKO ONSEN KYO (MIYAGI Prefecture) is the best place for TOUJI in Eastern Japan.
There are 3,000 ONSEN places in Japan. Among them, more than half have a long history and used to be places for TOUJI where people came to cure their injuries or diseases as well as to heal their fatigue by the natural power of hot spring. However, as time passes, this typical style of traveling in the past has been gradually dying out due to the the advancement of modern medical science, and instead of that, the style of visiting ONSEN as a leisure has been becoming more and more popular.
The style of TOUJI trip in the past was that people stayed long at ONSEN place and led their daily lives as if they were living there, and kept healing their body by ONSEN. In order to keep the accommodation cost reasonable for their long stay, TOUJI YADO (TOUJI Hotels) offered simple and rustic rooms with having everything optional from bed to tea pot. People brought in ONSEN to their daily lives and released out their fatigue by the power of ONSEN. They bought local fresh vegetables and meat at the local market, cooked them by themselves, and shared them with the other guests.
It was totally different from the current style of ONSEN trip which hotels offer luxury meals for breakfast and dinner as well as bed making and room cleaning services.
At the present day, most of the company employees only have 2 days off on the weekends, and on the other hand, during the long holiday season such as Golden Week (in May), OBON (The Buddhist festival in mid August, and most of Japanese people take summer vacation around this time), and New Year Holidays, everywhere is crowded, and more and more ONSEN RYOKAN (ONSEN Hotels) and the other hotels raise the price as the holiday rates. Thus, people end up in traveling outside Japan by using low-cost carrier. As a result that people got used to this kind of new traveling style, unfortunately, many of traditional TOUJI YADO (ONSEN Hotels where provide TOUJI-style stay) have been disappearing.
Even in that situation, this rare TOUJI style still remains strongly at NARUKO ONSEN KYO in MIYAGI Prefecture. NARUKO ONSEN KYO is the general term of the 5 ONSEN places, NARUKO ONSEN, HIGASHI NARUKO ONSEN, KAWATABI ONSEN, NAKAYAMA DAIRA ONSEN, and ONI KOUBE ONSEN. There are unique towns and various hot springs in each of these 5 areas, and you can enjoy multiple ONSEN in this NARUKO ONSEN KYO. Although, other than this NARUKO ONSEN KYO, there are other TOUJI places like HIJIORI ONSEN in YAMAGATA Prefecture and SUKAYU ONSEN in AOMORI Prefecture where has only one hotel and have kept this TOUJI style for a long time, but what is special for NARUKO ONSEN KYO is that they have 9 RYOYO SEN (Medical ONSEN) out of 10 officially registered in Japan, and all of these 9 RYOYO SEN are located just 1 hour distance by car. As one of the ONSEN sommelier, I would like to call this NARUKO ONSEN KYO the grand champion of TOUJI in eastern Japan. If you ask me what the grand champion of western Japan is, I would answer BEPPU ONSEN where is proud of its largest yield of ONSEN in Japan and has 8 RYOYO SEN out of 10.
Why have I decided to stay at RYOKAN ONUMA?
As mentioned above, though many TOUJI hotels have been disappearing one after another, there are still many TOUJI hotels remain where offer “no meal, cook by yourself” style. In addition to this kind of traditional TOUJI style, there are some TOUJI hotels where have shifted their style to “GENDAI TOUJI” (TOUJI at the present day). This is a kind of new movement that traditional TOUJI hotels interpret the meaning of TOUJI into the new way which fits lifestyle and mindset of people living at the present day. This new type of TOUJI hotel offers programs which you can heal yourself both physically and mentally even in the short holidays. That is RYOKAN ONUMA at HIGASHI NARUKO ONSEN, NARUKO ONSEN KYO.
The reason why I started to be curious about TOUJI is because of its KANJI, Chinese characters. “TOU” of TOUJI means hot spring and ONSEN, and “JI” means “Cure”. Although I also thought that it should be hospital where we cure our injuries or diseases at the present day with highly advanced Western medicine, the essence of Oriental medicine is still to improve the natural healing power which all human beings have and to cure injuries and diseases gradually with this natural healing power. It was embarrassing, but I didn’t know it even though I am Japanese living in Japan. Long long time ago when doctors didn’t exist, ONSEN which contains plenty of mineral healed and cured a lot of injuries and diseases of Japanese people. People scraped the dirt and improved their blood circulation with ONSEN which contains carbonate. Also people warmed their body, strengthened their body to make it away from illness, and cured their injuries and diseases with ONSEN which contains sodium and sulfur. Not just curing their body, ONSEN gave people their mental relaxation and satisfaction as well.
People at the present day are having a lot of mental burdens with their work, love, and human relationship which are not visible through X-ray at the hospital. ONSEN releases these mental burdens from you. I have become to understand that this is TOUJI.
Listen to my body, and listen to my heart. I found what I wanted to release through TOUJI was something like this. Through my experience of TOUJI, I also found out that a simple action of bathing in ONSEN could even generate the concentration inside myself which ZEN also teaches. It is just to bathe in ONSEN. Very easy. With this simple action, I felt I became one with the nature, concentrated on inner myself, and my body became lighter after bathing. Different from studying about ONSEN and TOUJI in the classroom, it is something like to peel off my mental and physical films one by one.
Then, I have become more and more interested in the world of TOUJI. Not jut its original purpose of curing injuries and diseases which TOUJI used to have in the past, releasing mental stress and lightening mental burdens which people at the present day are facing could be the new way of present TOUJI which fits the people today better. RYOKAN ONUMA is the place where is realizing and shaping the thought like above. Since I have not visited TOHOKU district (Northeast area of Japan) yet, I was so excited to go and experience it there.
TOUJI and ONSEN at RYOKAN ONUMA, the mecca for TOUJI.
Mr. Shinji Onuma, who is the 5th generation YUMORI (Owner / General manager of ONSEN) at RYOKAN ONUMA, comments in their website as below.
“Currently, the word “Slow Life” has been advocated, but I think the flow of time at the present day goes too fast and it has been becoming too much faster for people to keep up with it any more. Moreover, the current expansion-oriented economy as typified by globalism is generating big distortions at various fields such as global environmental destruction and destruction of local cultures, and our daily lives are facing a lot of problems such as diseases and health disorders caused by multiple pollution, and also serious stressful society.”
“Now is the time to adjust your biological rhythm which has been collapsed, enhance your self immune system, and regain yourself by TOUJI that you spend time slowly at the ONSEN places with plentiful nature. In addition, TOUJI gives you a good opportunity to ask yourself again about the meaning of your happiness and your life through the mental dialogue which you didn’t have enough time to do. Of course, for those who actually have some physical or mental troubles, it is very important to enhance self immune system and cure those troubles by the power of ONSEN blessed with nature. I truly wish that your TOUJI would be more fruitful by touching local climate and cultures including eternal nature of TOUJI BA and the local slow food, and warm heart of the local people welcoming you. TOUJI, which you lead a healing life at special places, is the travel to feel the essence which is being lost. We will keep proposing “TOUJI” which is freer, more casual, and wider for the future, based on the depth of Japanese TOUJI culture in the past.”
To be continued to Part 2.
Related article: What is TOUJI?