A Seat In The Lobby
- 4 min read

The Onsen at The Vale Niseko

A Kakenagashi hot spring

After my Yukoro onsen experience left me wanting something a little more traditional and little more luxurious, I decided to splurge and soak up the Zen waters of The Vale, Niseko onsen. Located on the main road in Hirafu Village, a two-minute walk from Seico mart, this up-scale hotel/vacation rental property offers private in room hot springs for guests, as well as a public bath area for non-guests.

I entered The Vale and was greeted by a woman at the front desk who spoke fluent English. She told me about the amenities offered; indoor and outdoor onsen, and heated outdoor swimming pool. She requested that, if I were to go into the swimming pool, to please wear a swimsuit. Hers was a good suggestion, considering the restaurant faces the swimming pool, giving diners a full view of the happenings in the pool. I assumed from the stern tone in her voice that some guests have taken the liberty to go au natural in the swimming pool, resulting in some disgruntled diners.

After the run-down she held me up at gunpoint, and, with a smile demanded I give her 1000 yen…Ouch, this better be worth it.

So, on my way I went to the women’s change room, trough the doors…wait…what…where is the door? That’s right, no door. The only thing separating the women’s change room from the hotel lobby is a turn around a corner. Kinda weird, but maybe the door would have messed up the feng shui. The designer was quoted as using traditional Japanese “wabi sabi” with simplicity in mind. Simplicity indeed: That is only explanation I could think of for such a miniature change area.

In to the onsen…

I entered the Zen pool area, and finally felt like the luxury experience was coming together. The whole room was filled with slate, timber, glass, and steam. Although The Vale claims to infuse essential oils in the onsen area, I did not catch the faintest whiff pine, sandalwood, lavender, or jasmine. None the less, the shower are was equipped with cedar stools and matching wash bowls, and just seeing the cedar I could imagine its woodsy scent.

The pool was a bit cooler then all of the other onsens I have visited, but this was nice because it allowed me to stay in the healing waters for longer. This particular hot spring is referred to as Kakenagashi. This means that the thermal water is not filtered from the source by any man made devices or recirculated back into the pools. The Kakenagashi cycle of natural filtration takes 160 years for the water to filter down from Mt. Yotei (an inactive volcano) allowing the mineral rich volcanic rock to impregnate the flowing waters. The main components of this carbonated hot spring are Natrium, Magnesium, and Calcium.

After my long soak, I took a cold shower in preparation for sauna time - another reason I was drawn to The Vale. I anxiously approached the sauna, opened the door and plopped down on the cedar-planked bench. In my haste, I forgot to place a towel down to sit upon…big mistake. The wood was so hot that I burnt my cheeks. So, I removed the towel from my head and sat upon it. After about one minute, I could feel the blood pumping strongly through my body. I glanced up at the thermometer and was shocked to see the reading of 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Too hot for my blood, but there were a couple of Aussie ladies who were enjoying the Outbackesque temperature.

I planned on doing some leisurely laps, so I suited up and searched for the entrance to the pool. Unable to locate it, I asked a fellow bather. She told me I had to go through the lobby to access the pool. To me, walking through a luxury hotel in the middle of winter in a bikini is a faux pas, so I reassembled my wardrobe and called it a day.

All in all my experience was neither luxurious or Zen, I would say it was average at best.

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