When I read about how the town of Kurokawa onsen offers an onsen-hopping meguri pass – a little, hand-carved wooden disk you wear around your neck that grants you access to 3 onsens of choice – I thought to myself “I have to see this place!” It is one thing to visit an onsen or sento (bath house), but a whole onsen town? That is just something spectacular and basically my wildest, onsen dream-come-true.
Turn a corner and see a foot bath. Then a vent with a sign that says “face mist” that you can stick your head into for, well, just that. Some of the ryokans (traditional inns) are historic and from a time when Samurais would come to bathe in these healing springs.
It would probably be a long trip to get to Kurokawa from a major airport, but we arrived after spending time in Yufuin, another lovely onsen town – a 2 hour bus ride away, winding through lovely mountain scenery. But if you like onsen hopping, Kurokawa is well worth the travel time to visit. Seems like locals come during the weekends but we spent two nights mid-week to celebrate my 40th birthday and so glad we did. It was quiet, peaceful, deeply rejuvenating and relaxing.
We stayed at Ryokan Yumotoso which is right in the center of town. Our room overlooked the river and we could hear it rushing all night. They do not email in English, but their front desk spoke English and the Kurokawa Onsen tourist office helped us to communicate with our Ryokan and even helped us book a seat on the bus. They were very helpful and friendly. http://www.kurokawaonsen.or.jp/eng_new/
Each Ryokan has its own onsen. The food is usually included in a package price and the food was outstanding. Most of the ryokan onsens are in walking distance of each other so the ryokans offer guests a cotton yukata, sandals and a bath towel to walk from onsen to onsen in. A really fun opportunity and quite comfortable to walk around in. Ryokan Yumotoso: http://www.yumotoso.jp
If you are here for a day trip you can rent a yukata near the tourist info booth. But you should stay the night- or maybe two nights if you really love onsens – like we did.
In town are some nice little craft shops and cafes, but a highlight is the temple in the middle of town. There is a very positive vibration in this temple, must be from all the relaxed, happy and grateful souls who pass through to enjoy the healing waters.
We went everyday to make an offering of incense, candles and a cup of sake to the onsen Buddhas. People leave their stamped meguri passes hanging on the temple as an offering of thanks as well. Since there were two of us we kept one as a souvenir and left one.
It’s important to note some of the more rustic and naturally scenic onsens are on the outskirts of town and if you want to see them it helps to plan out your day a little on the map.
It is difficult to get outside the town, it seems taxis were hard to find and there’s no local bus. But we used the Yamamizuki onsen shuttle bus to get further out of town. They offer rides from the center of town to their onsen, but will drop you off or pick you up at other stops along their route if you ask kindly.
Here are our top picks for onsens in Kurokawa out of what we tried:
1: Yamamizuki – Five stars!!!! Not only did they offer a free shuttle but their onsen is outstanding. One of the few that are right on a river. Both mens and womens side had the luxury of riverside indoor and outdoor baths facing converging streams with waterfalls in view from the tub. Absolute heaven. One of the best onsens we’ve seen yet. Yet another big plus is that they run a cozy cafe with food, snacks and a multitude of beverages to choose from, great coffee too. Only basic amenities provided. You can lock up your valuables at the cafe. Bath house only has a cubby to store clothes. We loved it so much we went twice! http://www.yamamizuki.com/english/english.html
Kurakawasou – is walking distance from center. No view of the river but really spacious and lovely indoor / outdoor baths. There was just something special about this place. Dark wood, high ceiling bath house with large, indoor and outdoor baths. The water here is a milky blue hue. One smaller bath overlooking a rocky cliff and a large, spacious rocky rotenburo. Gorgeous, colorful autumn foliage against the blue water made it quite magical. I was also touched by the stone turtle sculpture in the rotenburo – that’s my spirit animal. Loved it and Daniel said the men’s side was equally beautiful. A plus! http://www.kurokawaso.com/english/english.html
Hozantei – this one is hard to get to and about 40 min from the center of town. We were lucky to get the Yamamizuki shuttle to drop us off close to it, but you still have to walk a bit uphill to get there. Maybe because of this fact it was very quiet and they let us have a private tub hanging over a small stream all to ourselves for a half hour. Large rustic hot stone rotenburo bath with a warm bath and a third cold pool. Worth it for the quiet natural setting. http://www.hozantei.com/en/
Iyashinosato Kiyashiki – this place is also outside town center. It’s pretty old and rustic. Unfortunately it does not incorporate the river because it’s up on a cliffside. The main feature is that it’s gender separated but if you walk under the waterfall and through a small cavern you get to a larger mixed bath rotenburo – which means men and women can bathe there together naked. Baths are smaller than we thought they would be from photos.
Yamabiko – they have two very different pools for men and women which switch. Make sure it’s your gender day because one of the baths is small and underwhelming. It happened to be men’s day and I wound up with the small tub. I actually snuck into the men’s tub after seeing no one was in there except Daniel and was so angry – the men’s tub was gorgeous, spacious and beautiful. Argggh. I was kindly asked to return to the ladies pool of course. So you may want to check. If you wind up with the small tub I’d say check out one of the other onsens above.
Other baths we did not get to visit but heard were interesting:
Okunoyu – out of town center but overlooking a river.
Yamanoyado Shinmeikan – on the main river in the center of town, heard they have cave baths.
Satonoyu Waraku – outskirts of town, also has cave baths.
And there are numerous others so you can probably visit many times and check out new ones each time. We hope to visit Kurokawa again to see them all.