Before going to 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN)
7th day of my TOUJI trip in northeast Japan. I was at 遠刈田温泉 (TOGATTA ONSEN) waiting for the hotel shuttle for 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN).
I had 2 hours till the hotel shuttle comes to pick me up here. Since it was really cold at this TOGATTA ONSEN, I looked for somewhere like cafe or 日帰り温泉 (One day ONSEN visit) where I could wait.
There are 14 ONSEN hotels at TOGATTA ONSEN
TOGATTA ONSEN opened in 1601, more than 400 years ago, and it had prospered as a post town and 湯治場 (TOUJI BA / TOUJI place) for people who visited here to climb ZAO Mountains. It is also known as one of the 3 biggest producing areas of こけし (KOKESHI), Japanese traditional wooden doll, together with 土湯温泉 (TSUCHIYU ONSEN) in FUKUSHIMA Prefecture and 鳴子温泉 (NARUKO ONSEN) in MIYAGI Prefecture.
This TOGATTA ONSEN has 14 ONSEN hotels and 2 public bath houses. Among these choices, I had decided to visit an ONSEN hotel named 大忠 (DAICHU) because I wanted to bathe in りんご風呂 (Apple bath) which is limited in winter only.
Apple bath at 大忠 (DAICHU)
The spring quality of this apple bath is sodium / calcium / sulfate / chloride spring. The water temperature at source is 65.7°C. Its pH score is 7.0 and it’s hypotonic weak alkaline spring. This spring quality has less stimulation to the skin, good effect to make your skin smooth, and also good effect to moisturize your skin.
The entrance of DAICHU looks very traditional. Once you enter, very nice flavour of TATAMI and Japanese incense gives you peace. This hotel only has 10 rooms and its atmosphere inside is so peaceful with having a well balanced contrast of light and dark.
I entered DAICHU for 日帰り温泉 (HIGAERI ONSEN / One day ONSEN visit without stay). Surprisingly, this DAICHU has 5 bathes though it only has 10 guest rooms.
- 檜風呂 (HINOKI Bath / Japanese cypress bath)
- 庭園大風呂 (Garden large bath)
- 庭園露天風呂 (Garden outdoor bath)
- 貸切風呂 風みどりの湯 (Private bath – KAZE MIDORI NO YU)
- 貸切風呂 紺碧の湯 (Private bath – KONPEKI NO YU)
For the 2 private bathes, entrance fee is required for one day ONSEN visitor.
What is special about this DAICHU is its “Apple Bath”. This is limited in winter only (November to February), and that is why it’s so rare and precious. So many apples harvested at the foot of ZAO Mountain are put in the bathtub. This apple bath is called “Magical Apple Bath” because the body and mind are fully cleansed just like the magic. There are Japanese traditional customs that people often put some seasonal fruits or vegetables in the bath. It is to adapt the seasonality and pray for good health.
I relieved my body from the coldness of snowy winter with smelling the nice flavour of apples and seeing the expressions of each floating apple.
Official website of DAICHU: http://daicyu.com/
An encounter with ENSOU
After releasing physical fatigue and mental stress at wonderful apple bath of DAICHU, I still had time for the hotel shuttle. While walking around TOGATTA town to look for a place to rest, I found a cafe looking like my favorite. Its name is “純喫茶エンソウ (Cafe ENSOU)”. I love this kind of nostalgic cafe so much.
When I entered it, a gentle owner welcomed me and 2 female musicians were about to start their 演奏 (ENSOU), which means to play music. Wow, the name of this cafe “ENSOU” was from “playing music”. Since I was hungry, I ordered ラーメン (RAMEN noodle) as well as coffee. Because I had a hangover that day… It’s also a Japanese culture that you would better eat dish with soup when you have hangover. The RAMEN noodle which this cafe serves is very simple but somehow nostalgic which tastes similar to the one I’d often eaten at childhood.
The songs which these female musicians played were Japanese famous songs about trip. One of the songs was saying “even if it rains, even if you fall, travellers go travelling to encounter your home town somewhere someday”. I was also on my trip. I felt like I travel because I have the place to go back. While I was listening to their beautiful singing voice like gentle breeze with feeling like this, somehow tears were rolling down my face naturally, and I was sending them applause. The owner of this cafe was watching over me gently.
While I kept listening to their music, the hotel shuttle of GAGA ONSEN arrived to pick me up. The cafe owner seemed to know the driver of the shuttle very well. The owner said to me, “I would like you to listen to one more song”. But I hesitated to stay there any longer because I didn’t want to keep driver waited. Then, the owner walked to the driver and asked him to wait till the next song finishes. I also walked out and asked the driver also to join and listen together.
Then, this driver, owner, and I together with some other customers were to listen to one more song. That was really touching to sink deep into my mind, just like ONSEN to sink deep into my body. I didn’t know why but I got teary again. The owner also got teary which he also didn’t know why. The best part of trip is something like this kind of encounter.
I told the musicians that I was so moved and healed, and then I finally got on the hotel shuttle to GAGA ONSEN. I also told my big appreciation to the owner for letting me refresh my mind by something other than ONSEN.
I came back to TOGATTA ONSEN again after GAGA ONSEN
After staying one night at GAGA ONSEN, the hotel shuttle dropped me at TOGATTA ONSEN.
Now I came back to TOGATTA ONSEN again! Of course I headed to ENSOU again. When I opened the entrance door with saying “Thank you very much for yesterday!”, that gentle owner welcomed me again with a big smile. He seemed surprised that I came back, and suddenly he gave me a letter which surprised me.
The letter was for me from that 2 female musicians who sang heartwarming songs yesterday. They wrote this letter for me even though I might have not received it if I didn’t come back again. I got teary again with seeing their message, and the owner also got teary with seeing me. Both of us seemed sentimental.
After that, I had a good time to chat with the owner. He told me that those 2 female musicians usually performed as a solo around this area, but they met each other after a long time and performed together as a special unit at the previous day. I happened to know that this owner was the leading person who working hard to revitalize this town.
After the chatting with him, I became to want to try some more ONSEN at this TOGATTA ONSEN. Since I had many luggages, the owner allowed me to leave my luggages at this cafe while I tripped around here. I almost got teary again with his kindness. Before going out, I ordered “ENSOU UDON noodle”, the signature dish of this ENSOU cafe. It was really nice with a bit spicy egg soup.
Tour to ONSEN, and God
As written in the beginning, this town has 2 公共浴場 (public bath houses). 公共浴場 (Public bath house) is the place providing ONSEN for local people but also welcomes visitors as well here. Depending on the districts, some public bath houses open for only local people.
神の湯 (KAMI NO YU)
One of the 2 public bath houses at TOGATTA ONSEN town. A lot of local people and visitors gather here from morning. It provides 温泉掛け流し (ONSEN KAKENAGASHI / Free flowing ONSEN directly springing out from the source), and both the bathrooms for men and women have hot bath and lukewarm bath. The water temperature at source is 68°C and the water is added to cool it down to the appropriate temperature to bathe in. It also has foot bath outside which is free of charge.
壽の湯 (KOTOBUKI NO YU)
One of the 2 public bath houses at TOGATTA ONSEN town. The water temperature at source is 68°C as same as KAMI NO YU and some water is added to cool it down, but it’s a little hotter than KAMI NO YU. A lot of local people and visitors gather from morning. The building is an architecture by 宮大工 (MIYA DAIKU / Carpenters specializing in temples and shrines) and it is what the historical and traditional bath house in EDO Period was reproduced.
I tried KOTOBUKI NO YU because I wanted to see the historical and traditional bath house in EDO Period, and also I wanted hotter ONSEN in this snowy day.
湯神神社 (YUGAMI JINJA / YUGAMI Shrine)
湯神神社 (YUGAMI JINJA / YUGAMI Shrine) is located right behind the KAMI NO YU. This shrine is to worship the God protecting the ONSEN source. Right, this is why this public bath house was named 神の湯 (KAMI NO YU / God’s ONSEN). People have worshiped this god to pray that this ONSEN springing out here would never stop.
As I walked up on the hill, I reached TORII (The sacred gateway of shrine) followed by the shrine building. In addition to this YUGAMI Shrine which protects ONSEN, there is also 愛宕神社 (ATAGO JINJA / ATAGO Shrine) which worships God of fire. From ancient times, ONSEN has been regarded as God’s spring, medical spring, and spiritual spring. The existence of God and ONSEN naturally springing out have been regarded so close for the people. This really expresses the spirituality of Japanese people.
Then, my TOUJI trip in northeast Japan came to the end
Finally, my TOUJI trip in northeast Japan for 6 nights 7 days came to the end. Totally different from myself 7 days ago who was really exhausted mentally and physically by hard job, I have released all the stress and fatigue and fully refreshed. It was not like cutting them at one-go, but more like releasing them one by one gradually and cleansing inner myself. Surrounded by the great nature which you would never encounter in Tokyo, I became combined with the nature by bathing in it. I didn’t know that, by giving myself up to the nature, I could regain myself like this, and reset myself and improve my own natural healing power from minus to plus like this. I’m sure this is the Japanese traditional medical treatment method, called 湯治 (TOUJI), which so many Japanese people have done from ancient times, and I’m sure this can really work even at the present day.
I would strongly recommend all of you to try TOUJI trip once, before falling into a vicious cycle which you cannot take a holiday and cannot recover from fatigue. It would be perfect if you can allocate 1 week for this trip, but even short trip with 2 nights 3 days would be also effective. In order to be human, in order to be animal, and in order to be yourself, let’s be with nature.
When I came back to my home in Tokyo, I got a call from the owner of ENSOU. “Have you reached home safely?” This is really an ideal and the best hospitality I’ve ever experienced. I was really lucky and happy that I experienced this kind of heartwarming encounter. It was not only ONSEN which made me warm.
Read articles of this TOUJI trip:
- Introduction: My TOUJI Trip to Northeast Japan in snowy winter
- Day 1-2: 酸ヶ湯温泉 (SUKAYU ONSEN) where traditional and new style of TOUJI mix
- Day 3: ONSEN where you can be immortal!?
- Day 4: Standing ONSEN – FUJISAN RYOKAN at NAMARI ONSEN
- Day 5: Beauty of silence at historical ONSEN hotel, YUNUSHI ICHIJO
- Day 6: White world with nothing but snowy mountain, ONSEN, and myself – 峩々温泉 (GAGA ONSEN)