SEKIZEN KAN AT SHIMA ONSEN – THE OLDEST WOODEN ONSEN HOTEL IN JAPAN

四万温泉 (SHIMA ONSEN) – The ONSEN where cures 40,000 diseases.

 

四万温泉 (SHIMA ONSEN) in GUNMA Prefecture is said to be the ONSEN where cures 40,000 diseases. The Chinese characters of its name “四万 (SHIMA)” means 40,000 in Japanese and there is a story that SHIMA ONSEN had cured 40,000 diseases where the origin of its name came from.

 

SHIMA ONSEN is the first ONSEN listed in the “国民保養温泉地 (National health hot springs)” in Japan, and used to be the place where a lot of TOUJI YADO gathered.

 

Related article: What is TOUJI?

 

“国民保養温泉地 (National health hot springs)” is the ONSEN places designated by Ministry of the Environment based on Article 14 of the Hot Spring Law for the enhancement of visiting ONSEN. The ONSEN places listed here have to be the place where have certain effects by bathing in ONSEN and satisfy the certain conditions as the healthy ONSEN places, and currently approx. 100 ONSEN places are listed. SHIMA ONSEN is the first place listed in 1954. (In addition to SHIMA ONSEN, 酸ヶ湯温泉 (SUKAYU ONSEN) in AOMORI Prefecture and 日光湯元温泉 (NIKKO YUMOTO ONSEN) in TOCHIGI Prefecture are listed at the same time in 1954.)

 

積善館 (SEKIZEN KAN), the representative ONSEN hotel in SHIMA ONSEN, also used to be TOUJI YADO in the past, but has shifted to ONSEN RYOKAN (ONSEN hotel). However, they are still offering their own “TOUJI style” stay which they converted traditional TOUJI style into the one that fits the present day.

 

The world of “千と千尋の神隠し (SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMI KAKUSHI / Spirited Away)”

 

SEKIZEN KAN is the oldest wooden ONSEN hotel in existence in Japan. They started their operation in 1694, and have long history more than 300 years. This hotel is also well known as the setting of Japanese animated film “千と千尋の神隠し (SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMI KAKUSHI / Spirited Away)” directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The beautiful red bridge in front of this hotel, the staircase and the tunnel inside of this hotel are said to be used as motif of the ones appearing in the film. I heard that many visitors stop breathing when crossing this bridge just like done in the film. Of course, I did the same thing, too.

 

 

Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

本館 (HONKAN / Main building) of SEKIZEN KAN is right across this red bridge, and this main building has reasonable rooms where TOUJI visitors can stay long. There are some “single rooms” for one person among these TOUJI rooms, and I stayed at this traditional room. This TOUJI single room is small and very simple. Surprisingly a bed is equipped, and also it has floor heating system by the heat of ONSEN so that I didn’t need the heater.

 

 

In addition to this traditional main building, there are some other buildings. “山荘 (SANSOU)” is a building with a flavour of nostalgic SHOWA Period, and “佳松亭 (KASHOUTEI)” is more luxury taste. You can choose any building to stay among these three depending on your purpose or feeling. If you stay at this SEKIZEN KAN, you will be surely attracted by the calmness and breadth of the atmosphere that this hotel has with its long history and tradition.

 

19th owner guides guests around the traditional building.

 

Almost everyday, the tour inside this traditional hotel guided by 19th owner is taken place from 4:00 pm. He tells guests about the history of SEKIZEN KAN, SHIMA ONSEN, and TOUJI itself with using projector. Also he tells a lot of things about this hotel while guiding around, and of course the story related to the film “Spirited Away” is also one of them.

 

Here and there at this hotel, you can find flavours of its long history through EDO, MEIJI, TAISHO, SHOWA Periods in a lot of things such as lights, roof tiles, sliding doors, hanging scrolls, paper sliding doors, and glass windows which are no longer produced today. Since this hotel has succeeded a lot of heritages of long history in each and every detail which this hotel consists of, the people like us living at the present day can touch those precious tradition even today.

 

 

 

 

 

ONSEN here is a registered tangible cultural property with full of TAISHO ROMAN style.

 

“元禄の湯 (GENROKU NO YU)”, the signature ONSEN of this hotel is a registered tangible cultural property, and it is 温泉掛け流し (ONSEN KAKENAGASHI / free flowing ONSEN from the source) with full of 大正ロマン (TAISHO ROMAN / trend or style that conveys the atmosphere of TAISHO Period). It also has a traditional steam bath.

 

The first time I’d come to know this ONSEN was when I saw it on the cover page of a magazine. Although I think this traditional ONSEN have been featured in a lot of magazines in the past, I have fallen in love with this ONSEN right at the moment I saw it on the magazine. I strongly became to want to bathe in this heritage ONSEN which has 5 bathtubs. Although each of these 5 bathtubs have exactly same spring with same temperature, I heard every visitor coming to this hotel bathes in all of these 5 bathtubs.

 

Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

The spring quality is sodium / calcium / chloride / sulfate spring. It is very good to bathe in for keeping your skin moisturized and beautiful, and good to drink for keeping your stomach and intestines healthy. You can drink ONSEN here (called “飲泉 (INSEN / drinking ONSEN)) while not many ONSEN are allowed to drink recently.

 

* 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN) in MIYAGI Prefecture, 湯平温泉 (YUDAIRA ONSEN) in OITA Prefecture, and 冷川温泉 (HIEKAWA ONSEN) in SHIZUOKA Prefecture have the same spring quality. GAGA ONSEN in MIYAGI Prefecture, YUDAIRA ONSEN in OITA Prefecture, and this SHIMA ONSEN in GUNMA Prefecture are called “Japan’s 3 best ONSEN for gastrointestinal diseases)”

 

Related articles about HIEKAWA ONSEN in SHIZUOKA Prefecture.

SUPER NATURALISTIC TOUJI YADO – Part 1

SUPER NATURALISTIC TOUJI YADO – Part 2

 

This heritage “GENROKU NO YU” is located at the main building, and the place for drinking ONSEN is right next to it. Other than that, other buildings “SANSOU” and “KASHOUTEI” also have marvelous ONSEN as well as private open air bath.

 

SANSOU
Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

SANSOU
Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

SANSOU
Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

KASHOUTEI
Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

KASHOUTEI
Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

KASHOUTEI
Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

落合通り (OCHIAI Street) in front of SEKIZEN KAN

 

There is a street named “OCHIAI Street” in front of the main building of SEKIZEN KAN, and this street has variety of small shops, SOBA noodle restaurants, liquor shops, and gift shops. I came out to have lunch here.

 

Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

I entered a SOBA noodle restaurant “中島屋 (NAKAJIMA YA)”. I found an autograph of Etsuo Noguchi on the wall who was the head of 日本温泉遺産を守る会 (NIHON ONSEN ISAN WO MAMORU KAI / Association to protect ONSEN heritage in Japan) as well as a journalist who worked on ONSEN. I felt happy to know that he also came to this restaurant. His autograph says “Good spring, good taste, and good encounter”.

 

I ordered TEMPURA SOBA as well as Japanese SAKE and pickles. It is Japanese “粋 (IKI / cool or stylish way)” to enjoy salty pickles and SAKE first while you are waiting for SOBA to be served, and once it’s served, enjoy TEMPURA and SAKE, then taste SOBA at last.

 

 

 

After talked with owner lady of this restaurant, she lent me a bicycle. She told me that there’s 薬師寺 (YAKUSHI JI Temple) which worships the deity of ONSEN at the upper hill of OCHIAI Street. YAKUSHI JI literally means to worship 薬 (medicine), but the medicine here doesn’t mean “medicines” in Western Medicine but 施浴 (SEYOKU / bath at a temple provided for the poor and sick people) and 薬草 (YAKUSO / medicinal herb) which had delivered with Buddhism. In Buddhism, bathing has been encouraged to prevent diseases and be healthy and happy. Therefore, with the introduction of Buddhism, many temples have built the bathes and not only the monks bathed in it, but also they encouraged ordinary people also to bathe in it to make them healthy and happy. This SEYOKU was brought to Japan in 700’s and the oldest bath in Japan still exists at 法華寺 (HOKKE JI Temple) in NARA Prefecture. In this sense, YAKUSHI JI Temples, which exist all over Japan, have very close connection with ONSEN, and the deity of ONSEN is worshipped there to pray for the people’s health. This is why many of YAKUSHI JI Temples in Japan are located close to ONSEN. I visit YAKUSHI JI Temple whenever I visit ONSEN. There I always pray that this blessings of nature would never dwindle and I would be able to keep encountering good ONSEN.

 

The YAKUSHI JI Temple here at SHIMA ONSEN is registered as an important cultural property and it has a great thatched roof.

 

 

 

 

Access to 積善館 (SEKIZEN KAN)

 

SEKIZEN KAN offers a package with direct bus from Tokyo Station which takes you there in 3 hours and half, and it must be definitely the best and the most convenient choice for you. If you go there by train, it takes less than 3 hours.

 

This time I stayed at the main building to experience TOUJI style, but I would like to stay at the other buildings (SANNOU and KASHOUTEI) as well which have other tastes and styles.

 

You can book your room below link.

四万温泉 積善館 (SEKIZEN KAN at SHIMA ONSEN)

http://www.sekizenkan.co.jp/en/

 

Source: Official website of SEKIZEN KAN

 

 

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