AOMORI Prefecture is the 2nd northernmost prefecture in Japan.
AOMORI Prefecture is the 2nd northernmost prefecture in Japan following HOKKAIDO Prefecture. It is located south of HOKKAIDO across the sea. Since it is northern Japan, the winter of AOMORI Prefecture is very severe. From mid December onward, snow becomes heavier and a lot of roads get closed, and that makes some ONSEN hotels not accessible by trains nor buses.
Among those ONSEN hotels, some hotels manage to keep operating till the last minutes by clearing snow. One of them is 酸ヶ湯温泉 (SUKAYU ONSEN) which is located at 八甲田山 (HAKKOUDA SAN), AOMORI Prefecture.
Surprising spring quality of SUKAYU ONSEN
This SUKAYU ONSEN is one of the first ONSEN which was registered as 国民保養温泉地 (National Health Hot Springs) in 1954 together with 四万温泉 (SHIMA ONSEN) in GUNMA Prefecture and 日光湯元温泉 (NIKKO YUMOTO ONSEN) in TOCHIGI Prefecture. Since this SUKAYU ONSEN is the officially registered national health hot spring, needless to say, the quality of ONSEN as well as quality of natural environment and accommodations are guaranteed.
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The spring quality of SUKAYU ONSEN is carbon dioxide containing / sulfur / iron / aluminium sulfate spring. As its name “酸ヶ湯 (SUKAYU)” in Japanese means “acidic spring”, this ONSEN is a very strong acidic ONSEN. Its pH is 1.9 surprisingly. For your reference, vinegar is pH3 and citric acid is pH2. Compared with them, you can easily imagine how strong the power of this SUKAYU ONSEN is. It has a very strong effect to peel your skin. Actually, I stayed 2 days here and bathed in ONSEN 3 to 4 times a day (around 10 minutes per time), and then my skins were peeling when I left. It really had a strong peeling effect!!
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“湯治 (TOUJI)”, which used to be very popular among Japanese people in the past to cure their diseases and injuries with the power of ONSEN, is one of the representing Japanese traditional cultures which is gradually disappearing unfortunately. While more and more traditional TOUJI hotels have been shifting to the modern style of ONSEN hotel with luxury service and meals, this SUKAYU ONSEN still has traditional TOUJI accommodations with kitchen for the long staying guests to cook by themselves, which is quite rare at the present day.
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Dare to visit in winter, but how?
The guests can take a free shuttle from AOMORI Station to this SUKAYU ONSEN. It takes only 1 hour and a half. On the way to 八甲田山 (HAKKOUDA SAN), you can enjoy the climate keeps changing from sunny to cloudy, snowstormy, and foggy. I flew to AOMORI right after I had finished a big job in Tokyo, and finally became to realize on this bus that I came to AOMORI. Sometimes this kind of wonderful ONSEN is located deep in the mountains and it takes long to reach there, but such long trip rather plays an important role in your unforgettable trip.
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If you go there by car in winter, you have to be careful. The car has to be with snow chains, and you have to keep accessing the road traffic information.
The signature bath of SUKAYU ONSEN is “ヒバ千人風呂 (HIBA 1000 people Bath)”.
“ヒバ千人風呂 (HIBA 1000 people bath)” is the signature bath of SUKAYU ONSEN. HIBA means AOMORI HIBA which is Japanese endemic species of coniferous tree. Its Japanese name is ヒノキアスナロ (HINOKI ASUNARO / Thujopsis dolabrata) and it is one of the “日本三大美林 (Japan’s three most beautiful trees)” together with 木曽ヒノキ (KISO HINOKI / KISO Cypress) and 秋田スギ (AKITA SUGI / AKITA Cedar). More than 80% of this HIBA is in AOMORI Prefecture, especially 下北半島 (SHIMOKITA Peninsula). HIBA contains a lot of Hinokitiol component which other trees don’t have. Also, HIBA is one of the fragrant woods and it has aroma relaxation effect. Generally, trees are divided into 陽樹 (intolerant tree) and 陰樹 (tolerant tree), and HIBA belongs to 陰樹 (tolerant tree). It is an attractive tree with mysterious power which can keep living more than 300 years with just a few sunlight.
The bathroom of “HIBA 1000 people bath” is all made of HIBA, and it’s huge as if it is capable for 1000 people. This huge bathroom is separated into several areas such as “熱の湯 (NETSU NO YU)”, “冷の湯 (HIE NO YU)”, “四分六分の湯 (SHIBU ROKUBU NO YU)”, and “湯滝 (YUTAKI)”, and all of them are 混浴 (KONYOKU / mixed bath) which men and women bathe in the same bathtub. In addition, 湯浴み着 (YUAMI GI / bathing cloth) is not allowed. Having said that, 8:00 am to 9:00 am and 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm are exclusive time for women only so that women can bathe in there without any worries.
“熱の湯 (NETSU NO YU)” is the bathtub where ONSEN from the source is flowing from the floor, and you can fully feel the blessings of nature. Although “熱 (NETSU)” in Japanese means “heat” or “hot”, this ONSEN is not that hot and it’s actually lukewarm, but if you bathe in here long it rather makes your body warm and it lasts very long even after you’re out of bath.
“冷の湯 (HIE NO YU)” is a cold spring and it’s good to have it before and after you bathe in hot ONSEN.
“四分六分の湯 (SHIBU ROKUBU NO YU)” is hotter than 熱の湯 (NETSU NO YU), but the warmth of body doesn’t last longer than that. “四分六分 (SHIBU ROKUBU)” in Japanese means “40% to 60%” and this name comes from the thought that this ONSEN makes you warm upto 40% to 60%, which is not too hot and not too cold and actually it’s perfect. Since its water temperature is high, it raises the temperature of skin surface.
“湯滝 (YUTAKI)” is the waterfall which cascading from high wall. It is a strong shower and feeling good just like a massage.
In addition to this “HIBA 1000 people bath”, there is “玉の湯 (TAMA NO YU)” which is smaller bathrooms separately for men and women. Although the spring source of “玉の湯 (TAMA NO YU)” is different from the one of “HIBA 1000 people bath”, it has similar spring quality which is acidic sulfur spring with its white color. Although it is a smaller bathroom, it is actually spacious enough. This “玉の湯 (TAMA NO YU)” is also all made of HIBA, and showers are also equipped.
How to spend at SUKAYU
While there are a lot of guests coming from far like me, there are also local elderly people who enjoy the traditional TOUJI style stay. This is a traditional TOUJI YADO just as it used to be and it’s still active even at the present day. I felt like as if I traveled into the past at this historical TOUJI YADO where a lot of people have been gathering to cure.
The accommodations for TOUJI stay are still active and you can cook by yourself. Usually in the ONSEN hotels which have both hotel rooms and TOUJI rooms, hotel rooms are generally better than TOUJI rooms because TOUJI rooms are for the long stay guests and the room charge is less. However, this SUKAYU ONSEN is the opposite way. TOUJI rooms here are all renovated and they are very clean and beautiful. I’m always staying at TOUJI room and I felt kind of happy to see that some guests staying at hotel rooms shifted to TOUJI rooms.
I stayed at a TOUJI room here for 2 nights. During my stay, I had a lot of chances to chat with some elderly guests in the kitchen. It was just like a training camp across generations. The time I spent here was something like that.
There is a community space right next to TOUJI rooms, and you can spend your time slowly here, such as reading books and drinking tea etc. Since it was snowstorm during 2 days of my stay, I couldn’t go outside and just stayed inside with reading books and bathing in ONSEN. There are golden fishes in the community space, and seemed like they also came to know me because I spent most of the time there. With seeing the cold snow outside with drinking hot tea, I went to bathe in ONSEN everytime my body got cold. It was as if I was peeling off the fatigue one by one or releasing it.
About the meal
If you stay at a TOUJI room, you can cook as you like at the kitchen. There is a shop where you can buy some foods to cook. Or you can pre-order some foods to cook beforehand if you stay long.
Since I only stayed here for 2 nights, I didn’t cook by myself and ordered dinner and breakfast to be served. While the meals ONSEN hotel serves usually are so luxury and too much amount, the meal served here is simple and something you don’t get tired of.
It is not luxury but using a lot of local specialty foods, and it is something similar to your daily meals. Although it is not luxury, I think it is the best hospitality as a TOUJI YADO which is basically for long stay guests.
Moreover, I had stayed at some other ONSEN hotels before visiting here and actually I had got tired of luxury meals. Then the simple hot pot dishes which was served here was the best dish for me.
When I stay there next time, I would like to cook by myself, let’s say vongole bianco and salad with mozzarella cheese together with white wine, and I want to share it to elderly guests and enjoy chatting with them.
New style of TOUJI
The traditional TOUJI, which people used to visit to cure their diseases and injuries, is gradually disappearing at the present day. However, there might be a way that a new style of TOUJI, which you spend your time slowly in the nature by reading books, chatting with other guests, cooking by yourself at the shared kitchen, writing articles, and working remotely, could be one of the new ways of enjoying your leisure time. Staying at TOUJI YADO as if you are living there is really good and comfortable.
I walked around this TOUJI YADO. One of the posters on the wall told me that 棟方志功 (SHIKOU MUNAKATA), a famous Japanese woodblock artist, used to love this SUKAYU ONSEN and he spent long time for TOUJI here with working on his woodblock works. Also, 三浦敬三 (KEIZO MIURA), a professional skier and the permanent honorary advisor of “混浴を守る会 (Association to protect the mixed bath)”, as well as his son 三浦雄一郎 (YUICHIRO MIURA), a famous professional skier and alpinist, also loved this SUKAYU ONSEN very much. Bathing in this historical ONSEN with thinking of those people also loved this ONSEN, I felt like somehow connected to the past, tradition, and history.
If you stay 2 nights, the 1st day and the 3rd day will be traveling, but you have nothing to do on the 2nd day. I think this 2nd day doing nothing is quite important to reset your body and mind. That is why I have decided to stay at least more than 2 nights at one place in order to fully release the fatigue. Doing nothing and spending time from morning to night is almost similar as you are living there. Although the scenery and atmosphere is completely different from your real daily life, spending whole day just like your daily life will lead you to release your body and mind. I would say that this is the new style of TOUJI.
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