By Sandra Isaka
The risk, or perhaps more aptly, the plunge, involved in stripping off not only your outer layers but also your inhibitions, is something that often discourages people away from the idea of a mixed-gender onsen.
Amidst the stunning surroundings of overhanging trees, a bubbling river, and wooden old-style bridges at Takaragawa, however, the natural instinct is to be just so: natural, naked, and perfectly at peace.
You can, of course, choose to wear a towel, and it’s common for women to keep one wrapped around themselves for the entire duration of bathing.
There are few places in Japan’s crowded, built-up cities where you can really let your mind slip away from it all, but Takaragawa Onsen is one of them. It is here that you can leave the usual everyday stresses of normal life behind you.
Body hang ups are long forgotten as you see elderly Japanese people proudly, without hint of concern, strip off and stride freely and comfortably into the warm embracing pools of natural hot water. Here, unlike many onsens you may visit, there are no lists of rules on how-to for a first timer; it’s quite simple, set aside your clothes and insecurities and dive in.
There are three large outdoor springs to choose from, varying in depth and heat, as well as a separate women-only outdoor bath. The traditional style hotel also offers indoor bathing, and for those staying overnight the pools are accessible 24 hours a day. At 3am on a blustering, wintery night, with snow piled high on the mountain face and with your body immersed in a pool of nourishingly hot water, there is no better way to see out the harsh Japanese winter months.
A night at the ryokan (traditional Japanese style hotel) will also see you fed like a king on an array of dishes; from fish which you have to cook yourself on a tiny grill, to sashimi and even a delectable bear soup.
For those day-tripping, make sure you stop by at the restaurant on your way out. The dam-dam curry, which is shaped like a dam with the rice holding back the rich curry, is not to be missed. Along with the ice cold glasses of milk from the vending machine, there is no better post-onsen treat.
Takaragawa may be seen as something of a time warp in that when you step through the door, time becomes something distant and irrelevant. It offers more of a retreat than a tourist hotspot. For adventure seekers heading out to Minakami for snowboarding, rafting, paragliding or any number of the activities on offer in the area, I would say that a night’s stay at Takaragawa will soothe any aching bones, muscles or tired minds you may have acquired throughout the day. Let yourself get back to basics in this relaxed, unimposing, inviting and ultimately otherworldly haven of Japanese natural beauty.
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