Kuroyu may not exactly be a secret, but you can be forgiven for feeling as though you’re an intrepid and pioneering explorer as you wind up the mountainside through thick green forest and tumbling streams. Tucked right at the end of the cluster of hot spring resorts collectively known as Nyuto Onsen, Kuroyu is a delightfully ramshackle ryokan with thatched wooden buildings and a collection of simple yet charming baths. There’s even mixed gender bathing available - which is something of a rarity - if you feel like shedding your inhibitions. The hot springs here have been in use since 1674, and as you slip into the silky white water, it’s easy to understand their timeless appeal.
An overnight stay in the ryokan, with two meals included, will set you back at least ¥12,000. However, for travellers on a budget there’s the option of a self-catering plan for the bargain price of around ¥4,000 per person. Bring your own ingredients and cook a tasty dinner in the fully-equipped kitchen, then take a glass of sake out to the baths (accessible twenty four hours a day) and soak the night away under the stars. Rooms are simple and you’ll have to lay out your own futon (bedding is provided), but this has to be one of the best-value ways to get most of the perks of a ryokan experience without breaking the bank.
Kuroyu is open between the end of April to the end of November. Visit kuroyu.com (Japanese) for more details.
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I spent three years living in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET Programme, not knowing what to expect but with images of Tokyo, geisha and Mount Fuji in my mind. I was placed in Yamagata prefecture in a small rural town that I couldn't find in any guidebook. I learnt to snowboard, climbed mountains, tried my hand at ikebana and kyuudo and koto, dressed up as a samurai, karaoked til the early hours, become obsessed with onsen, and had countless other adventures and experiences. For a relatively small country, Japan has so much to offer, and I love nothing better than exploring - particularly heading off the beaten track and into the beautiful countryside. I set myself a personal challenge to visit each of the 47 prefectures, which gave me a great excuse to do a lot of travelling. Although I've now ticked them all off, there's still so much I want to see. Japan will always be my second home and and I'm looking forward to discovering and learning more for a long time to come.