Tag Archive: onsen

It’s a long journey to meet them snow monkeys in Jigokudani Park. The Shinkansen ride took 1.5 hours from Tokyo to Nagano where a Snow Monkey Pass can be bought to cover the nearly one-hour bus trip and entrance fee to the park. That’s not bad but you need to walk from the bus stop to the park. Should have ordinarily taken about 30 minutes of walking 2kilometers but the narrow paths are slippery with last night’s snow. Icy by the time we got there and our rubber shoes are no longer good to go. We rented snow boots and finally started walking — for a good hour! No way you can go faster as we eyed the edge of the paths that showed drops I dare not even imagine. Here and there, we dropped to our knees as we slipped and our weights carried us down the paths. At one point, our hands “burned” as we slid hanging by the ropes. It was tempting to give up but having wasted 2.5 hours on a train and bus, we decided to wing it.

Lonely walk towards the park,
Snow all around!

The hot springs serve as haven for these macaques during winter. The heat keeps them warm as they frolic between the mountain slopes and the pond. Never aggressive, but it’s wise to keep a distance. On a few occasions, a couple of macaques squirrelled past me. Every now and then, there’d be “quarrels” among them — I guess claiming their onsen spots — but nothing so dramatic, nor threatening. After a while, you get used to the snarling sounds. It’s just magical just watching them have a good time.

Almost there.
Finally there.

The snow monkeys are having a good life here. An onsen life in the wilds. While we stood watching, Mama Monkey and her babies are soaking warm in the pond. The park sits close to many nearby onsens catering to humans. Same hot springs, I bet, but nothing beats how these snow monkeys are enjoying their own brand of onsen-dipping. The peace and quiet is only broken by camera shutters busily snapping shots, and humans doing what they do worst — being noisy. If these monkeys aren’t quarrelling, they just sit quietly with eyes closed, seemingly meditating. You can say they behave better in onsens than many humans. 🤣

These snow monkeys are having a good life.
Mommy and Baby enjoying the onsen as Papa dozes.

I’m glad we came. It’s best visited in winter when the macaques are drawn to the hot springs. But I should have remembered to wear snow boots to keep me from slipping, and a beanie to keep my head and ears warm. Well, hard lessons learned. For those of you making plans to visit this winter, pay heed. So there.

When we reached Arden Hotel Aso in Minami-Aso, we didn’t have any high expectations. Lying in a village in Kyushu, Japan, the onsen hotel must have been neglected much throughout the pandemic judging by its peeling wall paint along the corridors. But its vast garden was well-kept and the resident rabbits look well-taken care of. The rooms are very clean though, and the food superb. The kitchen crew must have stayed along with the garden staff. This you can tell by the quality of its kaiseki dinners. As for the onsen and hot spring baths, we had the area nearly all to ourselves. A choice of indoor and outdoor onsen, as the mood dictates. Swell!

Arden Hotel Aso
The Garden is perfect for strolls and meditative breaks. Be prepared to meet the resident rabbits!

In winter, it’s agonizing to decide whether to try the outdoor onsen and hot spring baths or to simply check out the indoor onsen. Just walking from the hotel in yukatas to the spas within the complex — a very short walk, actually — can be an ordeal because of the freezing weather. But the indoor onsen is far from being a poor choice. My only complaint is that I could hardly tolerate the hot temps as I dipped in. That is why the outdoor onsen makes so much sense!

No cams allowed inside so these are photos from the hotel website.

We all enjoyed the onsen prior to dinners and breakfasts while we were here. And in the afternoons soon after our day excursions, the gardens provided some perfect breaks for meditation or just me-times. Our spacious rooms looked out to these gardens and the autumn foliage added much to the garden’s charm. In spring and summer, these gardens seem perfect for weddings. I can imagine round tables littering the beautiful rock garden, the food and cocktails served under the maple trees, a string quartet just around the garden rocks and many rabbits jumping around the lawn.

These are the covered corridors towards the outdoor onsen. Used by both humans and rabbits.
Cocktails in spring/summer temps should be good here. This looks out to the garden.

And yes, I mentioned kaiseki dinners. The breakfasts were good too! If one’s skipping the day excursions, staying in for these meals could even be a treat! Our first was topped by Aso beef, a kind of wagyu that may not be of the same quality as your Kobe or Matsusaka beef, but Aso comes from Akaushi cattle raised in this area. You’ve just got to try it!

Aso Beef is this omakase’s highlight!
While the Aso beef shabu shabu is good, I was drawn more to the sea bream carpaccio here. And that tempura is really gooooooood!

Mt. Tsurumi Ropeway

Located on the border of Beppu and Yufu in Oita Prefecture is this volcano towering over the hot spring town of Yufuin. Initially, we planned on hiking Mt. Yufu, but thankfully, our guide had the nerve to discourage us from doing the Mt. Yufu trek. Instead, we chose to ride the aerial lift line towards Mt. Tsurumi.

Beppu Ropeway is just a hop and a skip from the Beppu Onsen Resort (Umi Jigoku Springs) where we had our foot bath. All around, we glimpsed steam vents. And up on the cable car, we were awed by the autumn foliage rolling under the lift as the car climbed up Mt. Tsurumi. The hike offers 2 options — one either starts the trek from the lower ropeway station, or ride all the way up and then walk the last few meters to reach the summit. We were an assortment of travel buddies whose sense of adventure spans a wide range. 😊 And so we opted to climb easy, or so I thought 🙄

The youngest member of our hiking party ran up the steps while the rest gingerly climbed one step at a time. I was gasping for air and broke my climb with frequent oxygen breaks. The summit may not be that high at 1,375 meters but my lungs don’t know that. Huffing, we made it and we lingered for many posterity shots. The panoramic view at the summit takes (a few more) breaths away, even as temps dipped to 0 Celsius. Brrrrrr……We were only too happy to take the same cable car down to the station and then enjoy our foot bath in the steamy, hot springs of Beppu. That, plus an onsen adventure before bedtime and our day’s complete!

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The “hells” of Beppu offer a unique experience. Its hot springs generate so much steam you can cook just about anything. Clams, scallops, fish, shrimps, octopus, pork, eggs, sausages, corn, sweet potatoes, cabbage. First you buy your stuff to cook in the store. The man in the open kitchen made sure we saw our bought stuff laid out in the steaming pots and baskets, and advised us to claim our tables and wait 15 minutes. As he dropped the pots, hot steam jetted out ferociously and blurred my eyeglasses. I’d never make it as a cook. Not even as steamer!

Hell’s Kitchen. Very eco-friendly. But we all wished the man fished out our lunch sooner than 15 minutes. The octopus meat wasn’t so tender anymore. And the shrimps were overcooked. Rather, oversteamed. But we enjoyed our pork slices with steamed cabbage, which tasted rather sweet. Even sweeter were the corn and sweet (say that again?) potatoes. The fish was ok, so with the sausages. But the clams and scallops were rubbery. Again, oversteamed!

Well, we still managed to enjoy our lunch. Can’t resist this unique onsen cooking here in Beppu. You’d find steam vents all over the place. We were lucky to beat the lunch crowd as we came early. Heard it can be crowded. The food is just average but one must think of this as an experience rather than as an honest-to-goodness dining.

If visiting Beppu, don’t skip this experience. But be sure to tell the “steamer-chef” to steam your seafood stuff for only 7-10 minutes. I think that should do it. And yes, don’t miss the sweet corn and potatoes. Then, sit back, relax and have a beer while waiting for lunch.

Happy steaming, Happy eating!

(PS. Thanks, Iyay for letting me use your photo)

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Beppu is a resort city in the Oita Prefecture. Found in the southern island of Kyushu, Japan, it boasts of as many as 4,000 onsens or hot springs set between the volcanic mountains and the lovely Beppu Bay. You know you are in Beppu as soon as you see those steam vents all over the city. Quite amazing and rather unreal to find in a city.

We arrived autumn time. The (hot) springs area in Umi Jigoku was teeming with steam vents looking even more surreal because of the autumn foliage. Unfortunately, we came on a long weekend. This Thanksgiving weekend sent throngs of locals out of their urban abodes heading for the luxury of sand baths, mud baths, foot baths, onsen, hot spring baths to be found in Beppu.

We couldn’t wait for 2 hours for the sand baths. Besides, it’s freezing cold (as low as ZERO degree in Mt. Tsurumi Summit at 1,375 meters high) and we weren’t confident we’d enjoy lying down “buried” under the hot sands for only 15 minutes, then up and go. Too much trouble. Instead, we opted for the foot baths. Still too hot for our legs and feet, but t’was fun doing this with the group before a hefty kaiseki in our hotel’s restaurant. A lonnnnng dinner, with the ubiquitous Japanese cooking utensils and dishes spread out on our long table. The plating typically teases, but the taste never ever disappoints!

We were filled to the brim with all the sumptuous food. The miso soup had an unusual, savory taste. The pickles you’d care to eat with your rice. The thin meat slices paired well with the broth with morsels of fish balls, shrimps, etc. The saba (costing ¥5,000 per mackerel) was so fresh. The tempura batter sweetish and crisp. Even the matcha gelatine-like dessert tasted sooo good.

That last photo above was sourced from our hotel’s site.

So, no worries. We didn’t snap photos inside the hotel’s onsen. Did we try it? Naturally. Beppu boasts of the best onsen experience. And so, we ended our long day on a “hot” note.

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