Onsen

Onsen Review: Yasuragi Iojima (Nagasaki, Japan)

The Basics

This is one of the two onsens I keep returning to whenever I'm in southern Japan. An absolute favorite despite being located smack in the middle of a resort. The location and a couple of insanely hot onsen tubs and a a few slanted stone plates soaked in hot water makes this an incredibly nice onsen experience, well worth a detour to Iojima island, just outside Nagasaki.

 

Onsen Experience

A few years ago a second onsen option was added, the Shimakaze No Yu. And I have yet to try it. This section covers the other, original onsen option – the Yuyu.

Indoor facilities are quite decent with a nice and relaxed ambiance. Onsen Soaker, a really great onsen blog, has a pretty good description of the range of indoor pools available. A nice and uncommon touch is the section where hot onsen water is pouring down on you from above, not a bad experience at all. Despite not being all that big the place is usually not that crowded, except on weekends.

The onsen is part of a resort spreading out along the coastline of Iojima Island, and when you walk up to the onsen section it does feel slightly closer to your average holiday resort than a proper, old-school onsen location. But once you get inside the onsen it's all back to where things should be in terms of a proper, classic experience.  What really sets this place apart is the outside section. Sliding the glass door open you step out onto a three-part terrace featuring a decent outdoor onsen pool, a slanted set of stone plates to be relaxed upon, and a couple of tiny mini-tubs. Beware though – the slanted plates are only available in one of the two gender separated sections (the male/female sections are swapped every day, I believe).

The slanted stone plates are pretty amazing. Spend some time in the onsen pool, walk over to the set of stones, lay down, eyes towards the sky. And feel the hot water trickling down your back. I find it to be an incredibly relaxing, mesmerizing experience and have sometimes been stuck for hours doing nothing but watching clouds bass by.

The killer feature of this onsen, however, is the set of three tiny tubs. Each barely having enough room for a single person, with hot onsen water constantly floing into it. A regular onsen pool is mighty hot at around 41°C or so (106°F), but the water flowing into these tubs is crazy hot. They used to have a setup where the water in each tub would be, in order of increasing insanity, incredibly hot, mega super hot and downright boiling. But that was changed a few years ago into a customizable temperature setup for each individual tub. The almost-boiling water flows right into the tub and a separate cold water tab allows you to adjust the water temperature to your preference. I typically shut off the cold water tab entirely going all in on the crazy hot water and seriously, this stuff gets my brain into a weird place where the sensation of tranquility an relaxation is absolutely insane. Ordinary onsen temperatures never get me there and... it's nuts. And I love it. 

 

Getting There

If you happen to be in Fukuoka, getting to Nagasaki is a breeze. It's an easy two-ish hour journey with the Kamome Express and makes for good day trip. The train ride is of the slower, relaxed cross-Kyushu variety and allows for plenty of time to ponder what thoughts may cross your mind while enjoying a bento box purchased at Hakata Station before boarding. When in Nagasaki, exit the station, make a right and find your way to the ferry terminal – it's easy to get to once you know where to go. There's a distinct building nearby with a giant yellow ball on top of it. A department store with a Starbucks and a couple of restaurants are right next by too (not a bad place to get a decent meal before catching the ferry).

 

Funky looking ferry terminal

Once you get inside the terminal (pic above), head for the ticket machine (pic below), get yourself a return ticket for Iojima (should be around ¥1,300) and board the next ferry.

Ticket machine

The ferry you'll be using – Cobalt Queen I & II

Having boarded the ferry, go upstairs and out on deck, weather permitting. It's a nice and brief journey and before you know it you'll be on Iojima. Give the appropriate ticket to the staff when disembarking, then do a five minute walk to get to Yasuragi Iojima. Enter the resort premesis, ask for the onsen facilities (the Yuyu one if you want to experience what's been described above) and they will happily point you in the right direction. Take off your shoes, buy a ¥750 onsen ticket using the machine to your left, hand the ticket to the staff and in return you will get a small towel. That's it. Now go nuts with the onsen tubs.

 
 

Links

  • Train info – Kamome Express info and time table
  • Ferry time table (pdf, as of June 2016). The black left-most column has departure times from Nagasaki, the right-most red column has departure times from Iojima back to Nagasaski.
  • Onsen Soaker review
  • The Yasuragi Iojima onsen website with info on both onsen options
 

Acknowledgements

I first found this place through Onsen Soaker. Great review and helpful instructions on how to get there, really appreciate her efforts exploring onsen territory throughout Japan and beyond.

 

Revisions

  • Last update: July 28, 2017
  • Originally posted: July 16, 2013

Onsen Review: Hotel Tsubakino, Yudanaka, Japan

The Basics

An excellent onsen and ryokan hotel combo, Hotel Tsubakino in Yudanaka is a great pick within easy reach from Tokyo – you won't need more than two and a half hours worth of train travel to get there. Yudanaka itself is a tiny, friendly and relaxed town adding to the experience. And the nearby Snow Monkey Park is a great bonus.

 

Onsen Experience

Hotel Tsubakino have their onsen on the top floor, overlooking the nearby valley and surrounding mountains. Pretty great scenery. The dressing room sports the usual setup with baskets for clothing and personal items along with a few basic but descent grooming stations with all the amenities you'd expect. Towels are not available – you're supposed to bring one from your room. When entering the onsen itself you'll find yourself in the indoor pool area with washing stations lined up along the wall to your right, with the opposite wall made up entirely of windows, giving you a nice view of the surrounding scenery. 

Another door over at the far right-hand side of the indoor pool leads to one of the two awesome features of this onsen – the outdoor section. First off are two one-person tubs lined with a nice, dreamy, deep blue coating. The water in these tubs seems to be quite a bit warmer than the usual onsen level. Not too far from the Yasuragi Iojima experience outside Nagasaki, in fact. And I love it. The hotter the better. A larger, wooden, regular onsen pool is right next to the tubs. The views are fairly unobstructed towards the valley and all in all, the setup is really, really nice. 

The second thing Hotel Tsubakino has going for it is the separate, private onsen. You sign up in advance, choose an available time slot and get 50 minutes of allocated, private time and a fridge with two small bottles of bubbly. Great if you happen to be of opposite sexes and want to share the onsen experience. You should definitely try it. I forgot to grab a few pics but here's a picture of the private onsen from the hotel's own Picasa album.

 

The Hotel

Despite being the size of a smaller hotel, Tsubakino feels more like a slightly larger ryokan with nice, informal and friendly service (no surprises there, this being Japan). I would definitely recommend you to opt for a Japanse-style room. It's a rather odd but incredibly nice experience sleeping on the soft, elevated floor. And those sheets are the best ones I've ever had. Period. Once settled underneath all the fluffiness, neither of us wanted to get up. The blanket underneath the table is an electric one to make sure you stay warm and cozy while enjoying your meal.

With some heads-up the hotel will serve you breakfast and dinner but there are a couple of decent options nearby too and we ended up getting most of our meas outside the hotel. And a 24/7 convenience store, Lawson, is a mere two-minute walk away.

 

Nearby

Yudanaka itself is a nice, small town and going for a walk late at night is a wonderfully tranquil experience. And then there's the Snow Monkey Park with onsen-bathing monkeys. Definitely worth a visit.

 

Getting There

Assuming you want to use the excellent Japanese train services, the first step is getting to Nagano Station. The Hokuriku Shinkansen runs frequently from Tokyo station and the journey runs about an hour and forty minutes. And it's easy to find train routes from other parts of Japan, too. A local line, the Nagano Dentetsu, then streches into the mountains from Nagano, ending in Yudanaka. It's not run by JR so any rail pass you may have won't be useful on the Nagano - Yudanaka leg, sadly, but tickets are incredibly cheap and you buy them from simple ticket machines at the station.

Once you find yourself at Nagano Station, look for the Zenkoji exit. The Nagano Dentetsu line has its own station nearby but you have to venture outside to get to it. Make a right after the Zenkoji exit and head down the stairs, then look for the subway-style entrance to the Dentetsu line station (shown on the map below). The Yudanaka Shibu Onsen website has a pretty good explanation of how to get to Nagano and on to Yudanaka.

 

Dentetsu Express services use 45 minutes or so to reach Yudanaka while regular services stopping at every station bumps it up to about 70 minutes. When you arrive at Yudanaka station, someone may cheerfully walk up to you and offer help. And, since this is Japan, there's absolutely no reason to worry – these people are volunteers from the local English conversation class, eager to help you find your way around Yudanaka while practicing their language skills. Should any of them be around, simply ask for directions to Tsubakino and they'll get you an analog map and point you in the right direction. It's a short, simple three-minute walk. Below, the location of Hotel Tsubakaino is shown along with Yudanaka station.

 

Links

Onsen Review: Shiroyama Kanko Hotel (Kagoshima, Japan)

The Basics

The Shiroyama Kanko Hotel onsen is a long time favorite of mine. Views of downtown Kagoshima and nearby Sakurajima volcano island are stunning and mesmerizing, be it daytime or late at night and getting there is easy. Everything is a bit more upscale than your average onsen – all in all, a pretty awesome and semi-urban onsen experience.

 

Onsen Experience

Sitting firmly right on top of a hill in the middle of Kagoshima, the Shiroyama Kanko Hotel is of the upscale variety, not too far from your average asian Grand Hyatt experience. The staff speaks fairly decent English and will happily guide you from the main lobby down to the spa frontdesk. The premises are a bit confusing at first with a maze of corridors and multiple levels and I've gotten myself lost more than once. Turns out the simplest way to get to the onsen part is to head down the stairs to your right after having entetered the lobby through the main enterance. When you get to the floor below, make a hard left (there's a wedding dress store to your right), then pass the wedding makeup saloon and you'll be all set.

The spa and oncen frontdesk accepts most major credit cards. Should you want to come back another time (and there is absolutely no reason not to), ask to get their loyalty card. It requires no more than a minute's worth of filling out a form and will get you a decent discount from then on. The regular entrance fee is about ¥1,350. Once the payment part has been sorted out, you will be given a robe to use when not in the mood for bathing along with a locker key and a shoe storage identification tag, the function of which I never really understood but hey, why not. Towels, both big and small, are available in the locker room along with a wide selection of grooming products and a vending machine filled with drinks.

Most of the spa has a nice, modern feel to it having gone through a major renovation not too long ago. A separate relaxing area features a bunch of incredibly comfortable, almost bed-like chairs. After a good onsen bath I usually get a soda from the vending machine, settle down in one of those chairs and kick back with a book along with some nice blend of korean pop music. Lovely.

Entering the bathing area feels a bit like walking into a hangar compared to most other onsens, and the spacious facilities do help a lot with keeping the atmosphere calm despite the place getting crowded at times. Indoor pools are large and pretty vanilla, what you really want to do is go outside and experience is the open air pool. It's wide, spacious and will get you an unobstructed view of downtown Kagoshima, the Kagoshima Bay and nearby Sakurajima Island. The pictures don't come anywhere close to relaying what the actual experince is like. It's amazing. In daylight, the vulcano on Sakurajima is visible right across the bay and you may end up catching an eruption, they happen all the time and can be quite spectacular if you're lucky.

At night the vulcano fades away into darkness while downtown Kagoshima lights up, producing a stunning, tranquil view that makes me incredibly relaxed every single time. I've noticed that a lot of my fellow onsen visitors late at night do exactly what I do – move to the front of the outside pool, arms on the edge, holding absolutely still while watching the cityscape in quiet. Contemplating life. Those moments alone are worth an entire trip across the hemisphere.

The Shiroyama Kanko Hotel has a handful of restaurants on-site at the other end of the building. I've tried the teppanyaki and sushi options and they are both great. I would absolutely recommend getting one of their set menus, allowing for a smooth transition from dessert into onsen land. And on a side note their wedding business seems to be going great, every now and then you run straight into outdoor wedding photo shoots.

They run a decent breakfast service too with great views. In fact, it's an insanely nice experience walking up the hill before sunrise, dig into breakfast and walk outside when the sun pops up above the mountains. And then move down below for some onsen magic.

 

Getting There

If you arrive at the Kagoshima-Chuo station with any Shinkansen or local JR train, it's a short cab ride to get to the Shiroyama Kanko hotel. If the driver asks what entrance you want to be dropped off at, indicate that you want the main entrance, not the restaurant entrance. Walking up the hill from the station takes a while but it's doable if you want the exercise and have plenty of time.

 

Should you be in downtown Kagoshima near the Tenmonkan area, there's a small path (steep, with stairs) leading up from street level to a parking lot near the hotel's main entrance. And speaking of Tenmonkan, a nice place to stay in Kagoshima is Richmond Hotel Tenmonkan. It has all the facilities you need and the location along Tenmonkan Dori is great. The stairs up to the Shiroyama Kanko Hotel are a 5-10 minute walk away, indicated on the map below.

 
 

Links