SHIRAHONE ONSEN (白骨温泉), located in NAGANO Prefecture, was named as the ingredients of its ONSEN (hot spring) which had stuck to bathtubs looked like white bones. Its gentle spring which has milky white color contains a lot of carbonate components and smell of sulfur which ONSEN originally has. Carbonate components make your blood vessels widen, and improve your blood circulation. Sulfur spring (硫黄泉) gives you good effects on your skin. The spring here, mid to weak acidity, is so smooth like silk, and so good for the skin of anyone from small children to the elderly.
The most famous ONSEN place in this SHIRAHONE ONSEN is “AWA NO YU (泡の湯)”. Its huge outdoor bath is really amazing. Although it’s a mixed bath (KONYOKU / 混浴) where men and women bathe in the same bathtub, you don’t need to worry about it because YUAMIGI (湯浴み着 / bathing clothes) is prepared and you can wear it while bathing. You can enjoy as if you are in the swimming pool. In addition, since the spring here is milky white and opaque, it’s not visible once you bathe in it. So don’t need to be shy at all.
I visited here with two friends of mine. We spent almost half day here by repeating chatting and bathing. Although it was raining, since we kept being at the outdoor bath, we kept seeing climate kept changing from sunny to cloudy, windy, rainy, and then sunny again. Climate keeps changing. When we are in the city, we don’t even recognize such a fundamental thing of the nature. Here, we kept being in the nature, and with the nature. I felt like this.
The ONSEN surrounded by rugged rocks is also surrounded by cherry blossoms, maple trees, and many other trees which decorate the four seasons. In winter, this region becomes full of snow. This is the place where you can feel and enjoy beautiful scenery of every season.
The ONSEN was kept poured from the sky through wooden pipe. Since water temperature at spring source here is 39°C so that it’s cooled a bit soon after it’s poured. I soaked in the bath deeply up to my chin, and somehow enjoyed watching the rain splashing on the hot spring.
*Source of cover photo and above photos: the official site of AWA NO YU (泡の湯)
NAGANO Prefecture is high above the sea level. Here, its altitude is 1400 meters high. I heard that once you are above 1000m altitude, human brain recognizes it’s abnormal and makes your body improve the absorption power of nutrition. Therefore, if you retreat yourself at the highlands, that effect is far better. Japan has a lot of ONSEN and people used to retreat and heal themselves by utilizing this kind of highlands and places full of nature. This is TOUJI (湯治 / hot spring cure). Making a good use of nature, and use it to care your mind and body. That is the real natural healing power.
Since it’s at the highland, cherry blossoms and canola flowers, which have been already over in Tokyo, are now in full bloom. I didn’t know that one of the most famous local specialties “NOZAWANA (野沢菜)”, a popular pickles in NAGANO Prefecture, is made from canola flowers which is fully blooming here. Panoramic landscape, horizontal rice fields and farms, clear sky, and cloud. It’s magical that my mind was somehow cleansed just by encountering these scenery which cannot be seen in Tokyo.
For lunch, we ate SHINSHU SOBA noodle (信州蕎麦), needless to say. That’s what you must not miss when you come to NAGANO Prefecture. There’s a special way to eat SOBA in SHINSHU. It’s called “TOUJI SOBA”, and it’s to put SOBA into the small bamboo basket, dip and warm it in the soup which is strong DASHI flavor, and eat it. The name “TOUJI SOBA” comes from its action to throw (TOUJI / 投じる) SOBA into the basket. Oh, it’s not related to TOUJI (湯治 / hot spring cure) I like, but I really liked this TOUJI SOBA as well. Putting edible wild plants, edible fungus, chicken, and wild boar meat in the soup as well, and it was really fantastic!!
Just for your information, there’s another AWA NO YU in YAMAGAT Prefecture as well which the name is same but different.