“Is it left over right or the other way round?” I wondered as I wrapped my yukata tightly around my body. It has been a few years since I last visited an onsen (hot spring).

Barefoot in our yukatas with towels in hand, we made our way to the basement of Ryounkaku Tokachidake. Then we parted ways – AB turned left to the men’s onsen and I to the right.

Once in the dressing room, the yukata came off, followed by undergarments. All folded and put away in a basket, one of several neatly lined up in a shelf.

The moment I pushed open the door to the bath, a strong smell enveloped me. Reminded me of rust. Is the onsen falling apart?

I soon realised that there must have been the high iron content in the water. Nonetheless the onsen looked tired and in need of some refreshing.

Taking my place in front of one of the unoccupied mirrors and stools, I turned the tap to let the water run. I like it hot, though not scalding. Shampoo, soap, scrub. There was a lot of foam.

As I washed myself, I pondered the etiquette of Japanese onsen. There was a contemplative silence in the onsen, occasionally interrupted by the elated babble of a rosy-cheeked young child with her mother.

Raised the bucket of water over my head for one final rinse. Pulled my wet hair into a loose bun as I watched the bubbles on the ground drift into unknown darkness.

Time to soak in the bath. Rising from the plastic stool, I gingerly climbed into the murky brown waters. I slid into a comfortable position by an edge with hot water up to my chest. Taking a deep breath of the thick air, I leaned back with my eyes closed.

“Plop”. A fat drop of water landed on my face, rousing me from my brief reverie. The ceiling was covered in condensation. I love the soothing harmony of “plop”s and “plip”s, sending little ripples across the steaming surface.

I rose and pulled open the door leading to the outdoor onsen. The refreshing alpine air nudged my mind awake, languid from the warm humidity.

The sun was just starting to set, bathing the mountains in a resplendent pinkish orange glow. I was the only person in the outdoor onsen. It felt as if the magnificent and ephemeral scene, 1,280 metres above sea level, was for my sole enjoyment. Lucky me.

When I returned inside, there were more people getting washed up at the shower area. A neat row of naked women seated with their backs towards me.

I prefer to not rinse off when I am done at an onsen. So I re-entered the dressing room, leaving the minerals to linger on my skin. Maybe they will continue to do some magic, whatever that may be.

Ryounkaku Tokachidake Onsen 十勝岳温泉 凌雲閣

Address: 071-0579 Hokkaido, Kami-furano, Tokachidake Onsen, Japan / 〒071-0579 北海道空知郡上富良野町
Website: http://ryounkakuonsen.wix.com/ryounkaku; if you do not read Japanese, try here on Booking.com to reserve a room
Phone: +81 (0)167394111, English-speaking staff Tue-Sun, 1000-1600
Accessibility: By car or 50 minutes by bus from Kamifurano station
Mapcode: 901 872 291

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7 replies on “Vignettes of Japan #2: Hot mountain magic

  1. That is such a stunning photograph! It’s so great that onsen season is coming – one of my favourite reasons for loving Japan in the winter. Your blog is so beautiful, by the way! So happy I stumbled upon it.

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