One of the highlights of our Kyushu trip (fall last year: it took me a while to get round to posting this!) was a decadent stay at spa town Kurokawa Onsen. It is not easy to reach by public transport, but certainly worth the trip!
Kurokawa Onsen is an idyllic spa town in the mountains of the Kumamoto prefecture. There are dozens of onsen (hot springs/spas) of various types. Besides the ryokans and onsen the whole village boasts a relaxed vibe, even if you’re just walking around.
Kurokawa onsen hopping
You can go onsen hopping in Kurokawa: in case of warm weather you could even wear a kimono and wooden slippers to hop from onsen to onsen!
We stayed at Yumerindo Hanadomari, an exquisite ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with a private onsen in our room and breakfast and dinner included. It was rather decadent, but hey, if you can, why not splurge on something special once in a while?
Staff at the ryokan recommended the following three onsen to us:
1- Ikoi Ryokan
We chose this one so my husband and I could go into the bath together. Most onsen will have mixed baths at certain times, or they switch around the timings for when males or females can use a certain bath. Check before you strut down to the bath naked!
At Ikoi Ryokan, we were allowed to go together, though I have to admit I was a bit unsure in case we had misunderstood. Luckily, it was early in the morning and nobody else was there. I can’t show you how beautiful it was, since taking photographs is not allowed. We sat in the steaming hot natural bath with the sun shining through a stunningly beautiful Japanese maple tree, with the beams reflecting on the water. You’ll just have to believe me!
This one is special because it is a spa in a cave. A unique experience! There is one bath for women and one for men. The men’s bath at the time also allowed women, but I stayed in the women’s part for a bit and then went into the main building for a cup of tea; waiting for Titus to come back all rosy and clean. I have to say that all of this bathing makes you quite sleepy. A nap is definitely required after onsen hopping!
At this hot spring I was lucky that the big bath was reserved for ladies at the time of visiting. You can soak in the soothing water in idyllic surroundings until you turn into a prune.
This spa is pictured at the top of this post. Please be aware that taking photos is strictly forbidden in any onsen due to an obvious reason: privacy of its patrons. In this case, there were only two other ladies in the bath with me. When they left, I made sure there was nobody else around and quickly snapped a pic.
- Choose the designated area for your gender: male or female only or mixed. Look around or check to be sure.
- Go into the dressing room and disrobe fully. Put your clothes and personal items in a basket.
- Take a wash cloth with you into the onsen area. A big towel to dry yourself afterwards will likely be provided: leave this one in the dressing room.
- Put your hair up.
- Sit on a little stool. Wash yourself thoroughly with the wash cloth and soap (you can find it there) and rinse with the shower head or fill a bucket with water and throw it over yourself until all soap residue is gone.
- Rinse the wash cloth and put it beside the bath or on your head. It should not come in contact with the hot spring water.
- Get into the water gently.
- Be respectful towards other guests. No staring, splashing or being loud. Smiling is always good!
- Don’t take any selfies or photos.
If you have tattoos, you may not be allowed to enter an onsen at all, since in Japan tattoos are associated with the yakuza (maffia). It may not be a problem in a private or liberal onsen, so check beforehand.
Food in Kurokawa
Breakfast and kaiseki dinner were included in our ryokan package at Yumerindo Hanadomari, so we only ate out for lunch. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal of high quality and eye for detail: very refined and luxurious!
The regional specialty is horse sashimi. I was a bit weary to try it, since I am not so crazy about meat in general, but I gave it a go anyway. Pictured below is horse and chicken sashimi. The horse sashimi was quite tasty. I gave most of the rest of this dish to Titus: he loved it!
Even though Kurokawa is not so easy to get to by public transport (see my post on Aso for details: you’ll need to take a regional bus to get to Kurokawa), the whole experience certainly makes up for the travel time. The friendly atmosphere, the soothing hot baths and the sumptuous food: I would go again in a heartbeat!
More about our Japan travels here.