- 3 min read

Sora to Mori Onsen

A huge relaxation facility in Matsuyama

Sora to Mori in the southern part of Matsuyama is a new sort of onsen. It’s a cross between a boutique hotel in Bali, and an old-style leisure facility for the undifferentiated Japanese masses. It’s also wildly popular, and very enjoyable.

Sora to Mori means ‘sky and forests’, which might lead you to think that it’s in an isolated, rural setting. Well it isn’t. It stands beside a busy suburban road, tucked against a wooded hillside with a Shinto shrine on it. From the windows at the back of the facility, you can see a strip of sky and some trees, which no doubt inspired the name.

The building is actually quite beautiful. It’s big, black and angular, with a lot of plate glass, surrounding little areas of greenery and water features. It draws you in. As soon as you enter, you have to take off your shoes. There’s a big lobby like a hotel where you pay for the bath. Once inside, you quickly notice a lot of people going about not only shoeless but barefoot, in comfy unisex pajamas of an indeterminate earth color. They look like novice monks in an ashram or some other sort of religious community. It’s very egalitarian. I was surprised to see some foreign English teachers there, looking very much at home in their ashram gear.

There’s a long walk to the baths, passing some very pleasant-looking restaurants and café areas, with subtle lighting and Asian-flavored arts and crafts. The main baths are fairly conventional, with an indoor pool and a variety of outdoor pools. But they’re very stylish, with beautiful wood and stonework. When you actually get into the water, you immediately notice that it’s oily to the touch. Wallowing naked outside in hot water generally feels good. It feels even better if the water is slippery, with a texture like lotion. It’s wonderful to splash it on your face and arms, and experience the mineral content of the water directly.

Within the baths is one of the biggest sauna rooms I’ve ever seen. Another key attraction of Sora to Mori is its ganbanyoku or ‘stone baths’. These are slabs of heated rock that you lie on and slowly bake yourself. This is such an attractive proposition that you have to wait your turn to try it, on a weekend at least.

There are other facilities such as a room full of big bed-like platforms with blankets where you can push up some zzzz’s if you feel like it. There’s also a room filled with the sort of chairs you see in the Business Class of airlines, and you can sit and watch a video or read one of the comics from the extensive library.

Priced at 1,050 yen for adults, Sora to Mori is meant to be a place where you spend some quality time, forget the cares of the world and really veg out, for the good of your body and soul. It’s a pretty good place to do that.

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