“Summer Retreat” at a historical ONSEN inn nestled deep in the forest

KIRIZUMI ONSEN (霧積温泉) in GUNMA Prefecture is the best choice if you want to visit ONSEN in summer. I’ve visited this place in July, in the middle of hot summer. In Tokyo, rainy season had been over, and I was tired at the beginning of hot summer as well as the hustle-and-bustle air in the city. I was looking for ONSEN place deep in the forest where I could escape from the hot weather as well as business of the city, and then finally I encountered this place.

The power of ONSEN and forest

I believe in the power of ONSEN. The rain dropped from the sky is absorbed into the mountains, it’s heated up by the magma, it absorbs the plentiful mineral from the land, and finally it springs out after several years. ONSEN is the medical spring which contains a lot of mineral. Thanks to its warmth and components, human body is healed just by bathing in it. It’s a kind of medical treatment just to rely on the power of nature, and you don’t need to anything special. You don’t need to push yourself too hard to learn about ZEN Meditation which might make your legs numb, nor you don’t need to push yourself too hard to learn about YOGA which you might face difficulty to learn the new way of breathing. It’s just to bathe in it. Just to put your body in it slowly.

I believe that the forest also has the same kind of power. Rustle of trees, birds’ singing, coldness and warmth of soil, rustling of leaves, and humidity with moss. Just going inside the forest changes something in me.

There’s a Japanese documentary movie titled “UMI YAMA AHIDA (うみ やま あひだ)” which features the forest around ISE JINGU (伊勢神宮 / ISE Grand Shrine).

Related article about ISE JINGU (ISE Grand Shrine): The origin of Japan – ISE JINGU (ISE Grand Shrine), MIE Prefecture

According to this movie, the forest always keeps emitting the “Hypersonic Sound” which cannot be heard by human ears. Although human beings cannot hear the sound itself but it’s a healing sound which the surface of body unconsciously absorbs. It also says that it normally takes 30 seconds to absorb it after hearing its sound. If you go inside the forest and stay there for a while, you get to be healed. This is called “SHINRINYOKU (森林浴 / forest bathing)” in Japan. There are so many things in common between forest bathing and bathing in ONSEN.

There are some places in Japan where meet both of them. One of those places is KIRIZUMI ONSEN which is located at the special area inside JOSHINETSU KOGEN National Park (上信越高原国立公園), which lies on the boarder of GUNMA Prefecture and NAGANO Prefecture.

There’s only one inn at this KIRIZUMI ONSEN, which the name is “KINTO KAN (金湯館)”. There used to be some more inns in this ONSEN place in the past, but it has become this one and only inn due to some natural disasters.

“KINTO KAN (金湯館)” at KIRIZUMI ONSEN

It is not that rare to encounter ONSEN springing out inside the national park in Japan, but considering there are 3000 ONSEN places across Japan, the ratio of ONSEN inside the national park is quite low.

Since this inn is inside the forest which the government preserves, it’s totally different from the one in a kind of artificial nature. It’s the preserved nature as it used to be. There’s a certain restriction for constructions so that the access to KIRIZUMI ONSEN is quite limited. It’s 13 kilometers away from the nearest station “YOKOKAWA Station (横川駅)” and there’s no other way to reach there but to take the inn’s shuttle.

In addition, since it’s inside the national park, in some parts you are not allowed to drive your car, and what’s more, the width of the road is so narrow that it’s felt like almost going to fall. Sometimes no signal even on my phone. Such environment rather gave me the excitement that I was adventuring deep inside the unexplored region, which cannot be felt at all in the normal ONSEN town for sightseeing.

This KINTO KAN started operation in 1884, which is MEIJI 17th in Japanese era. During that period, this town was prospered as a summer resort from Tokyo, and a lot of VIPs of the political, business, and literary worlds visited here by horse, palanquin, or rickshaw. For example, VIPs such as KAISHU KATSU (勝海舟 / one of the most famous samurais and politicians during late EDO Shogunate to early MEIJI Period), AKIKO YOSANO (与謝野晶子 / one of the most famous female authors in Japan during early MEIJI Period to early SHOWA Period), and HIROBUMI ITO (伊藤博文 / Japan’s first prime minister) also visited this inn.

It was really surprising to hear that Meiji Constitution (Constitution of the Empire of Japan / 明治憲法 / 大日本帝国憲法) was drafted when HIROBUMI ITO visited this inn with 30 members of his team. The room exactly where he stayed at that time is still used even now.

Was it like today’s “Workation (Work + Vacation)”?

Or, was it like today’s “Teleworking (Work remotely)”?

Actually, ONSEN place is the best place to think about something important and sort out the thoughts with your mind and brain cleared. It’s really amazing that they did it 100 years ago during MEIJI Period.

When I arrived, it was like foggy was piled up as its name “KIRI (霧 / fog)” and “ZUMI (積 / piled up) of “KIRIZUMI ONSEN” literally shows. Although it was the middle of summer, it was such cold that I wanted to layer 2 pieces of cardigan. In addition, the cold mist air around me was just like the French skincare spray “Avene” made of ONSEN. Then, suddenly the hidden inn with red roof appeared from the forest right in front of me, which was so beautiful and mysterious and it took my breath away.

I felt the summer with chilled watermelon in the water trickling from rocks. Watermelon is one of the summer features in Japan. But it was so cold outside that I didn’t feel like eating it… I just enjoyed it to feel the summer.

Inside the inn was really silent. I felt the long history of this inn from its look & feel and a bit tilted floor. And the blanket was given to my room as that night would be very cold. Wasn’t it in July??

ONSEN and dinner

The spring quality of ONSEN here is calcium / sulfate spring. Water temperature at spring source is 40°C. 300 liter of ONSEN keep flowing every minute. It’s colorless, transparent, and gentle ONSEN.

There’s only one small indoor bath separately for each men and women. It was surprising for me that this historical inn which had attracted a lot of VIPs only had only this simple and small indoor bath. But if they enlarged the bathroom or built outdoor bath and drew ONSEN there, the water temperature would be cooled down and they would have to heat it up, so that customers wouldn’t enjoy the genuine ONSEN as it flowed out from the land. Such gentle care for customers have made them keep it small and simple.

I just wanted to keep bathing in this gentle ONSEN. I repeated bathing in and out, and it became the time for dinner.

The dinner they served was rustic homemade dishes, using edible wild plants and river fish which they picked up in the mountain nearby. It’s really simple, but it’s the best to eat such local ingredients.

Generally speaking, ONSEN hotels and Ryokans always serve SASHIMI (raw fish) regardless it’s located near the sea or not. Since distribution is highly developed in Japan, even the hotels and Ryokans located far away from the sea are able to serve fresh SASHIMI to customers. However, this inn dares not do that. This made me fully trust this inn because I believe it’s the best to eat the local fresh ingredients for the recharge.

It is not advisable to bathe in ONSEN 30 minutes before and after the dinner. This is because it may upset your stomach if you improve blood circulation too much right before and after eating.

The same thing can be applied to alcohol. Drinking alcohol enhances your blood circulation, and when it happens at the same time with ONSEN also enhancing it, it will be too much for your body. Thus, please drink moderately.

The best thing is to drink water as your body wants, and keep your body hydrated. Eat slowly, take a rest, and bathe in ONSEN again. Bathing in 2 to 3 minutes, and take a rest. Repeatedly, bathe in 2 to 3 minutes again, and take a rest. Then, you will have a perfect sleep.

Next morning, I bathed in ONSEN again, and waited for the breakfast. I enjoyed the conversation with ma’am of this inn. I was really healed with her gentle face and I hoped that she will live a long life.

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