The Journey Of Visiting Hot Springs – Enjoying Snow View Secret Spa (Part 2)

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The Journey Of Visiting Hot Springs – Enjoying Snow View Secret Spa (Part 2)

A night’s stay in a 10-mat Japanese-style room costs 12,600 yen (S$199.44), inclusive of two meals. The hotel has three fountainheads and its mixed-open air bath is built beside the river. After soaking in the scenic spa, feast on char, mountain vegetables and seafood for dinner. A total of 11 dishes is served. A popular dish here is eel wrapped in eggplant which is then deep fried. Plus, cod roe – best eaten in winter – is served as tempura. The crunchy outer skin and creamy cod roe are a perfect match.

The next day, after a delicious 10-dish breakfast, which includes homemade yose-tofu, do some sightseeing. Matsukawa boasts Japan’s first geothermal power plant. There is a place which makes use of the steam to produce dyed goods. So head to a dye works, where you can try dyeing using a mixture of steam and decolourant. For example, you can try dyeing a scarf, and take it with you as a memento of your trip. Return to your inn and indulge in a scenic morning bath before checking out.

Next up is a secret spa in Agamachi, near the border of Fukushima. Travel by Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Niigata. Then, take the Banetsu West Line to Tsugawa Station, located in the mountains. Make your way to the pier by taxi, and get on the Japanese-style Okuaga Sightseeing Boat. The boat, which has Japanese-style tatami seats, takes you on a tour around Agano River. Enjoy the picturesque winter view of the pine trees, snow-covered ravine and a prefectural nature park during the boat trip. Later, go to a place where local purification deity Shoki Daimyojin is enshrined, choose your wishes on some charms of Shoki and float the charms – made of Japanese paper - on the Agano River. After the boat ride, take a 15-minute walk to a day tripping bath called Kanose Onsen Akayu. Opened in 1990, it features red water because of its high iron content. The hot spring water gushes out ceaselessly at a temperature of 60 degrees. Admire the view of the snow and pine grove as you bathe. For lunch, head to a restaurant called Hanamizuki on the second floor. It is known for its delicious yam hot pot. Japanese yam is a specialty of Agamachi. The Japanese yam hot pot is available from December to March. The yam is grated and soaked in water to remove its bitter taste. Other items you could try include pork with sweet soy sauce broth, which is topped with Japanese yam; and chicken with salted broth.

Go back to Tsugawa Station and take a 35-minute bus ride to your inn for the night – Mikagura Onsen Asunaro-so. Alight at the bus stop near the inn. You could either walk to the inn from here or make use of the hotel’s pick-up service. The wooden bungalow-like inn is located along the river. The inn’s 12-mat Japanese-style Sakura room, for example, boasts a gorgeous snow view and features a kotatsu. It costs 8,650 yen (S$136.97) per night, inclusive of two meals. Later, soak in the inn’s beautiful open-air bath, while enjoying the spectacular snow view and listening to the soothing sounds of the river. For dinner, enjoy 13 dishes featuring mainly local ingredients. There is char grilled by the hearth, seasonal yellowtail served with botan shrimp, horse meat, Chinese yam roll, yose-nabe filled with Niigata’s delicacies, fish ball made of snow crab, and mushroom and vegetable tempura. The next morning, end your trip to Okuaga by taking a refreshing morning bath surrounded by snow views.

For our next trip, travel by Nagano Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano Station. Our destination this time is a snow view secret spa which was founded 240 years ago. It features an open-air rock bath with a superb view of a ravine. From Nagano Station, get on the Nagano Electric Railway and travel to Suzaka Station. From here, take a bus to the spa town of Yamada Onsen, which is in mountains. After travelling along a ravine for 20 minutes, you will reach Yamada Onsen of Shinshu Takayama. This hot-spring resort has about 10 spas. If you wish to do some sightseeing first, two spots worth visiting are Takaibashi and the Yadaki Observatory. Takaibashi features a red bridge built over Matsukawa Ravine. The trees covered with snow liven up the landscape, offering a beautiful contrast of white and red. To reach Yadaki Observatory, you will have to climb with the help of a handrail. Do be careful as the path is quite slippery. Later, marvel at the sight of the eight-level waterfall which is 180m high.

In Shinshu, soba is a must-try item. So for lunch, go to a 157-year-old soba restaurant. Local buckwheat flour is used to make handmade soba the traditional way. If you order ten-zarisoba, it comes with tempura made of local vegetables. You could also try hot tempura soba which is chewy and aromatic. The restaurant also sells a speciality of the area – nozawana. Pickled nozawana is served with tea. After lunch, head to tonight's inn Fukeikan, which was founded in 1764. It faces Matsukawa Ravine and all the guest rooms come with a beautiful winter view of the ravine. The accommodation cost per night is 13,650 yen (S$216.15), including two meals. The spa here used to be well-known among visitors for its healing properties, and the open-air bath built along the ravine is still very popular. Do note that you will be required to wear a coat and non-skid boots before going to the open-air bath. You have to walk down 150 steps to the spa and it is quite slippery. Soak in the warm and relaxing rock bath while enjoying the snow view.

For dinner, the chef asks guests what they would like to eat and grills the items over a hearth. You could try seafood caught from the Sea of Japan such as snow crab; local vegetables; dried persimmon; Shinshu salmon; boiled yellowtail and radish; and char shabu-shabu. There is also a local dish called hinnobe-nabe, the main ingredient of which is suiton. "Hinnobe" means "stretch" locally and many love its chewy taste. The next morning, visit another scenic open-air bath at the ravine and end your trip on a truly blissful note.

THIS WEEK'S TIPS:

  • While visiting Okuaga, choose your wishes on Shoki charms and float them in the Agano River
  • Soba is a must-try item when going to Shinshu
  • Two popular sightseeing spots in Yamada Onsen are Takaibashi and Yadaki Observatory

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