Onsen: A New Found Love

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.

Useful Info:

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

Best of 2012

Forgive the silence… would you believe that I ushered in the New Year with colds and fever?  But that didn’t stop me from having friends over for the count down. No.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.


Credits:  Quickpage from JSprague’s 4ever kit, created by Brenda Neuberger

2012 has been good to me.  Even with much less travels this year, I’ve managed a few unforgettable firsts.  Here they are; some I have not even posted but will pre-empt:

1.  The Bus Ride to Vang Vieng


A 4-hour bus ride from Vientaine on a sleeper bus made for petite Laotians.  Worst was the bunks were meant for (yes) 2 petite Laotians.  We’re definitely far from petite.  So imagine the trip.

2.  First time on a Hot Air Balloon


Soaring high in Vang Vieng, watching the town wake up.  You get the best view in town, if you ask me.

3.  The Boat Ride to Y’ami


An idea that came to fruition had us journeying to the northernmost island of the Philippines on a grueling 3-hour boat ride off Itbayat Island in Batanes.  Why?  I ask the same question many times over.  An experience hard to topple.

4.  A Night in Siayan


We had to break the grueling boat ride and stay overnight in an island about 1 hour away from Itbayat (the farthest inhabited island of Batanes) because the waters along the Bashi Channel can be treacherous particularly in the late afternoon.  Getting to the island, beautiful as it is, is an adventure in its self.

5.  Hiking Up to Cape Engaño


Beautiful sight, up there.  That’s all I will say for now.  Watch out for my post – coming soon.

6.  Enjoying an Onsen Bath


While it snowed too.  A totally exhilarating and liberating experience, I dipped in those pools two nights in a row.  Awesomeness.

As for 2013, I’ve got some exciting plans already in the pipeline. I’ve been working hard to get that to fruition over the holidays, truth to tell.  It is going to be an exciting year.  I feel it in the air.  How is your 2013 looking so far?