What’s the one thing you must do when you go to Japan? Visit Mount Fuji? Eat great sushi? Enjoy amazing ramen? For me, it’s going to an amazing hot spring (onsen).
“Off The Beaten Path” is a series that explores some of the lesser known yet amazing places in Japan. So far, we’ve explored Nakasu (中洲), the hidden foodie mecca of Japan, Matsumoto（松本), the tranquil castle town in the Japanese alps, and Kiso-ji（木曽谷), the ancient highway that was used by the samurais. In this post, we explore a traditional onsen village nestled in the volcanic mountains of Kyushu: Kurokawa (黒川).
Kurokawa Onsen is situated in the volcanic mountain ranges of Kyushu and is truly a hidden village. Visitors can surround themselves with nature, relax in the historic hot springs, and forget about their worries.
Map of Kurokawa
Kurokawa onsen has long been a renowned hot spring town. Since the feudal ages, the town has served as a getaway for samurais and lords to relax and mend their wounds. Their hot springs were often called “Kuzuyu,” which means “water which heals wounds.”
Takefue Ryokan at Kurokawa
Takefue Ryokan's private bath and rooms
Hallway at Ryokan Takefue
Ryokan Sanga in Kurokawa
To this day, the town has kept the traditional atmosphere alive. You won’t find large multi-story hotels, tour buses, or neon billboards. What you will find is a quaint town dominated by traditional wooden buildings, stone paths, and small old-fashioned stores. Walking through the town wearing a yukata and wooden geta sandals is a magical and a peaceful experience.
© William Cho
Kurokawa Onsen stands out even in Japan for their picturesque ‘rotenburo’ or “outdoor hot springs.” The baths are all operated by traditional ryokans (inns). The inns and onsens are beautiful and unique: some are nestled in a grotto, some are in small caves, some are beside waterfalls, and some are alongside the river which runs through the town.
The river that passed through middle of town
© Kevin Tan
With so many hot springs in this little town, don’t you wish you could take a dip in as many as possible? Well you can, with the ‘Tegata’ or wooden bath passes. You can buy an all-day bath pass for ¥1300 at the town center which provides you admissions to baths at up to three different ryokans.
Tegata hanging along a local temple © Ricardobtg
Beer cooled with natural spring water © Cipit
Footbbath © Lazyfri13th
Natural hot spring boiled eggs © Lazyfri13th
A visit to an onsen village would not be complete without staying at a Japanese ryokan. The inns in Kurokawa, like the town, are traditional and have no more than 20 rooms. You can’t go wrong with any of the inns, as they all have amazing hospitality, delicious multi-course meals, and access to their onsens.
Sashimi from Takefue Ryokan
Traditional Japanese snacks from a local shop
© William Cho
But personally, we recommend Yamamizuki. It’s located at the edge of the town and has seven hot springs; two of which are considered to be the most beautiful even in Kurokawa. These two outdoor onsens are right on the edge of the river overlooking a small waterfall. It’s extremely peaceful and relaxing to just sit in the cozy warm water and overlook the natural scenery. Oh, and their food is made from local ingredients and are some of the best we’ve had at any ryokan.
Entrance to Yamamizuki
Quaint little entrance to Yamamizuki
Inside the lobby
Room at Yamamizuki
One of the seven baths at Yamamizuki
Onsen right next to the river and water fall
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When most visit Japan, they may head first to the trendy Harajuku district of Tokyo or perhaps take a pilgrimage to the famous active volcano, Mount Fuji. But if you want to go off the beaten path, head north to the enchanting, rural island of Hokkaido.
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