Top 5 hot spring experiences in Misasa Onsen

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Richard Pearce is one of Inside Japan’s most experienced tour leaders. Last week, he introduced us to his adopted home, the lovely hot spring town of Misasa Onsen. This week, he looks at his five favourite Misasa hot spring experiences…

5) Kabu-yu

Kabu-yu, also known as “Moto-yu”, is believed to be the oldest onsen (hot spring) in Misasa. You might even say that it represents the origin of Misasa Onsen itself. For that reason alone I think it’s worth a visit.

Pros: As stated above, it’s historically relevant. At 300 yen, it’s also very cheap. This is a very “real’” and authentic Japanese experience.

Cons: The actual bath itself is VERY hot. Its also a little on the small side so can feel a little cramped. More for those who come for the healing powers of the very hot water and an authentic onsen experience, rather than those who want to relax.

4) Misasa-kan

Misasa-kan has for a long time been a favourite of the foreign community. In fact, it’s the onsen I usually suggest whenever guests come to stay. So why isn’t it higher on my list? I’ll try to explain.

Pros: Misasa-kan’s hot baths are set in an absolutely beautiful building. Just spending time in the common areas is very pleasant and definitely adds to the overall experience. There is a beautiful reception area that overlooks magnificent gardens and also a very nice tatami (traditional straw-mat flooring) area just outside the bathing area. The outside bath is very tastefully designed and quite large.

Cons: Misasa-kan doesn’t have a sauna, steam room or cold water bath and that is ultimately why it doesn’t appear higher on my list. However, it is most definitely a stunningly beautiful onsen experience and one that I highly recommend!

3) Keisenkaku

It was a very tough call between Keisenkaku and Misasa-kan for third place in my list. However, Keisenkaku just edges ahead due to the facilities they have to offer, namely their sauna and cold-water bath.

Pros: Aforementioned sauna and cold bath. If you have had one too many drinks the night before, or just generally feel under the weather, the sauna is a good way to sweat out some of those toxins. The cold bath, for those who have never tried it, is simply a small bath filled with cold tap water that you sit in for a while to rapidly decrease your body temperature. Obviously, this is not good for someone with any health problems! The colder the temperature outside, the colder the temperature of the running water. The outside bath is pleasant and spacious. Another point I like about Keisenkaku is that it’s usually not particularly busy and the few bathers in there generally keep themselves to themselves and just leave each other to relax.

Cons: The sauna gets switched on at 4pm, so be sure to come in the evening!

Misasa Onsen’s hot springs are especially soothing in winter

2) Kawaraburo

Kawaraburo, the free open-air bath next to the Misasa Ohasi Bridge, is for many the symbol of Misasa Onsen. In a sense, it’s the “ultimate” experience. It’s mixed, open-air, has no covered changing areas and no showers or taps!

Pros: Firstly, its free! Its also a fun experience in itself and challenges any inhibitions you might have. If you can find a quiet evening when it empty, or virtually empty, it really is wonderful to just lie back, look at the stars and listen to the calls of the frogs in the nearby river. Also, it can be a lot of fun if you head there with a group of friends after a few beers at a local establishment. I’ve been asked all sorts of random questions, including if I know Princess Diana personally and if they speak English in England. (Though sadly that last one is a fairly common question in Japan).

Cons: The lack of facilities might be seen by some as a bad point, but I really see it as part of its character and charm.

1) Izanro Iwasaki

With some great bathing spots in Misasa, it was quite difficult to decide upon a top 5, let alone number one. However, I’ve gone with Izanro Iwasaki because it’s an all round fantastic onsen experience.

Pros: Everything is good about Izanro Iwasaki! Firstly, the foyer and main building is beautifully decorated and elegant, but the outdoor bath is perhaps its best point. It is incredibly atmospheric and beautiful, with a gently spinning waterwheel at its centre. With my work I would estimate that I’ve used as many as 50 different onsen from northern Hokkaido to southern Kyushu. Izanro Iwasaki is the most aesthetically pleasing of them all.

The radon-water mist room is also a very special feature of this onsen, as it utilizes the healing properties of the local water in a unique and relaxing way.

If you’re interested in getting really off the beaten track in Japan, you might like to consider a trip to Richard’s hometown of Misasa Onsen. Perhaps you’ll even bump into him in the baths! Take a look at Richard’s guide to onsen etiquette here.

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