Getting ready for my first outdoor “hot spring” bath, I found myself in a room filled with women of all ages, some soaking in the (indoor) pool and others seated on stools going about the bathing rituals.
I found an empty seat. Observing their rituals, I started washing and scrubbing until I felt clean enough to share a pool with them (the onsen etiquette dictates that one must be scrubbed clean before entering any pools). The room was warm but because winter was on its way, the weather has turned cold and windy outside. I hesitated and soaked in the pool while I mustered the courage to brave the cold, windy afternoon.
With only a hand towel in tow, my friend Stella and I walked into unfamiliar territory. Outside the bathing room were several (geothermal) pools spread around a gorgeous Japanese garden. As I felt the gush of wind blow straight into my bones, I went straight into the nearest pool. Unbeknown to us at that time, it was the pool that the source of the spring pours into. Wrong move. The farther away the pools are from the source, the gentler (to the body) it becomes. We settled on alternating between the third and the fourth pool. The heat can be unbearable at first, but once the body acclimatized, it was soothing, palliative even. The diversity of minerals relieves a multitude of ailments, they say. It was the perfect remedy to my sore muscles at least. Despite a 10°C windy evening, I felt warm to the bones from the hot spring. When it snowed on the second night, it was surreal.
Hirayu. It is a town surrounded by mountains and active volcanoes on all sides, a town known for its more than 30 natural source hot springs or what is known in Japan as “onsen”. The oldest and largest of Okuhida’s “onsen towns” is also the region’s transportation hub making it a marvelous base for wandering through nearby areas like Kamikochi, Norikura, Matsumoto, Shin Hotaka and the Hirayu-Otaki waterfalls – famous for its illuminated display of a frozen waterfall during the winter.
Our home for 2 nights, Hirayu No Mori, is conveniently located near the bus terminal.
This hot spring resort, primarily a bathhouse, boasts of beautiful grounds, comfortable rooms
and a restaurant serving central Japanese dishes such as Hida Beef and Hoba Miso.
It has 3 bath facilities (2 segregated and 1 mix gender) and a total of 16 pools altogether.
And for two nights under the stars, I soothed my exhaustion away in several of the pools and soaked up as much of this quintessential Japanese experience to take home with me.
There are several rules of etiquette to keep in mind when visiting a onsen. Click here to know what these are.Hirayu No Mori 763-1 Hirayu Okuhidaosengo, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture Contact: 0578-89-3338