White world with nothing but snowy mountain, ONSEN, and myself – 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN)

On the 6th day of my TOUJI trip in northeast Japan, I headed to 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN), MIYAGI Prefecture, where is located right opposite side of 湯主一條 (YUNUSHI ICHIJO) across 蔵王山 (ZAO Mountain). It took 40 minutes by car from YUNUSHI ICHIJO. 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN) is one and only ONSEN hotel located at the center of 蔵王国立公園 (ZAO National Park), and started their operation in 1875 during MEIJI Period. They established their position as TOUJI YADO during SHOWA Period, and currently they are suggesting the modern way of TOUJI as well as long stay under the concept of “Peace for those who walk in, happiness for those who walk out”. I was so curious about this hotel because of their concept, their modern way of TOUJI, commitment of the quality of their spring and foods. Now let’s go there.

 

Related article: My TOUJI Trip to Northeast Japan in snowy winter

Related article: Beauty of silence at historical ONSEN hotel, YUNUSHI ICHIJO

 

How to access 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN)

 

I took a bus of 宮城交通 (MIYAGI Transportation) at 白石蔵王駅 (SHIROISHI ZAO Station) and got off at 宮城蔵王ロイヤルホテル (MIYAGI ZAO Royal Hotel), the final stop. It took only 30 minutes. From here, I took the hotel shuttle of GAGA ONSEN. Please make sure that you need a reservation for this hotel shuttle.

 

The place around this MIYAGI ZAO Royal Hotel is called 遠刈田温泉 (TOGATTA ONSEN). This is the place with full of high-quality ONSEN here and there thanks to the natural blessings from ZAO Mountain.

 

Very heavy snow!!

 

 

This GAGA ONSEN is located at high land at the north side of ZAO Mountain. Totally different from 白石市 (SHIROISHI City) where YUNUSHI ICHIJO is located which is only 40 minutes away from here, this GAGA ONSEN has completely different climate and weather was getting worse and worse as I went up the mountain, as if I was going back to heavy snowy environment in AOMORI Prefecture. It was just snow, snow, and snow. I realized the attractiveness of northeast Japan as it’s vertically long and has that much variety in climate.

 

This ONSEN is located right at the center of the National Park. The hotel shuttle kept going inside the nature. Since there’s only one hotel here, the wheel track on the snowy and silent road must be the one made for the guests for this hotel only.

 

Where I reached was where even mobile phone was not reachable.

 

Finally I reached the hotel which existed alone quite silently. This is it, GAGA ONSEN. Even my mobile phone was not reachable. “Out of service” somehow released me from something and I was feeling freedom. The place where was fully covered with snow made me feel like I was surrounded by completely white world. I finally came to the place where nothing existed. It was as if I had thrown everything I had, I was cleaned up, I released something, or I was about to repaint myself. I was with those kinds of feeling. However, on the other hand, only hot ONSEN kept springing out there and I felt the warmth and appreciation for this blessings of nature.

 

 

TOUJI experience at GAGA ONSEN

 

The spring quality of GAGA ONSEN is sodium / calcium / hydrogen carbonate / sulfate spring. It is also well known as one of the “Japan’s 3 best ONSEN for gastrointestinal diseases”. 飲泉 (INSEN / drinking ONSEN) is also possible here. Since I had been traveling for 1 week and my stomach was tired, It was the best for me as well.

 

 

This GAGA ONSEN is one of the “日本秘湯を守る会 (Japan Association of Scluded Hot Spring Inns)”. Currently there are 165 ONSEN hotels registered at this association. You can see some other ONSEN hotels listed in this association at the past posts.

 

Related article: RYOKAN ONUMA – A MECCA FOR TOUJI – Part 1

Related article: RYOKAN ONUMA – A MECCA FOR TOUJI – Part 2

 

 

GAGA ONSEN has 2 types of bathes; hot ONSEN and lukewarm ONSEN. When you bathe in the hot ONSEN, the hotel recommends you to lie down at the edge of bathtub and pour hot water onto your stomach 100 times before bathing in it. While ladling hot water with bamboo mug and pouring it onto my stomach gently again and again, my body became warm even though I had not bathe in bathtub yet. When I finished doing it 100 times, I got even sleepy. It was as if I was doing meditation with lying down.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s an outdoor bath as well, and the heavy snow which I’d seen earlier was sitting there bravely but peacefully and calmly. I bathed in the outdoor bath to cool down my warm body with viewing sunset.

 

 

In addition, there’s 天空の湯 (TENKU NO YU / Sky view ONSEN) outside which can be rent for your private use. Although I couldn’t stay there long as the water temperature became a bit lukewarm in this snowy day, the sky view from here was superb and the sculpture of 大黒様 (DAIKOKUSAMA / DAIKOKU God) was very cute.

 

 

 

 

There’s also an outdoor mixed bath. Mixed bath is the bath where men and women bathe in the same bathtub, and it’s prohibited to build any more new mixed bath in Japan today. That means, whatever the mixed bathes existing in Japan even now are the place which have been preserved and have long history. Some of you might feel some hesitation for mixed bath, but I can say that the mixed bathes which have been preserved, not been closed, are the places where the guests have kept good manner and also the hotel sides manage them very well. Of course I don’t deny that some hotels had to close the mixed bath without any choice because of the bad manner of the guests, but it definitely is one of the traditional Japanese heritage which some hotels successfully manage to sustain it even today. This traditional culture in Japan is supported by both management efforts and manner of each guest.

 

There’s also a stone sauna, and it gives you a detox effect by becoming warm from inside and sweating a lot. By sweating a lot and drinking ONSEN, I felt like I replaced the water inside me.

 

A lounge with fireplace

 

The reception area can be used as a lounge as well. I enjoyed reading a book calmly sitting right in front of the fireplace which gave me gentle crackling sound of firewood. This lounge is the only place where you can access the outer world through wifi.

 

Since the 6th generation owner of this GAGA ONSEN has a small kid, kids room is also wonderful. Although it’s located at this deep in the mountains, various generations were gathering here and it made me feel the comfort of being a part of the community through TOUJI stay.

 

Yes, the Chinese character of “峩 (GA)” as in “峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN)” consists of “我 (I myself)” under “山 (mountain)”. I’m here under this huge respectful nature. The stay at this hotel reminded me of this thing. When I come back here again in the future, I will definitely stay longer so that I will be able to feel it much deeper.

 

I was just listening to the crackling sound of firewood with thinking like this.

 

 

 

 

 

Western style breakfast at your choice

 

Usually, most of ONSEN hotels including traditional ONSEN RYOKAN and TOUJI YADO serve only Japanese style breakfast. I thought this hotel would also serve only Japanese style breakfast, as this hotel is TOUJI YADO. However, surprisingly this hotel serves Western style breakfast as well and you can choose either one. Since this morning was the 7th day of my TOUJI trip, I was kind of bored with Japanese style breakfast. This was one of the things which made me so happy and refresh.

 

At the dining room where is full of “at-home” atmosphere, you can enjoy Western style breakfast including Eggs Benedict which uses the ham & bacon of “森のソーセージレストラン ベルツ (Restaurant Baeltz)”, a very popular sausage restaurant in the forest located at 遠刈田温泉 (TOGATTA ONSEN). This Eggs Benedict which they have been serving more than 10 years is a specialty of GAGA ONSEN, and its freshly baked muffin and hand-made mayonnaise are amazing. The marriage of 温泉卵 (ONSEN TAMAGO / Eggs boiled with ONSEN hot water) and hand-made juicy ham by Restaurant Baeltz is definitely spectacular.

 

 

Check-out time is 10:30. Usually most of the ONSEN hotels set their check-out time at 10:00, but recently some luxury ONSEN hotels started to set it at 10:30, 11:00, or even noon, just like the world standard. Since this GAGA ONSEN doesn’t clear 布団 (FUTON / Japanese traditional bedding) till check-out, you can enjoy ONSEN again after breakfast and take a nap after that.

 

Eat well, sleep well, and bathe in ONSEN well. That’s the Japanese traditional health management method.

 

Official website of 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN): http://gagaonsen.com/index.html

 

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