In the small town of Sakai, on the eastern side of the Tone River, is a michi no eki, or road station, and a shopping complex surrounded by farms. You might not give it a second glance from the road, but behind the modern façade of the department store and pachinko parlor is an onsen wonderland, Goroko no Yu.
Just inside the doors, past the Don Quijote discount store, guests are greeted by two massive Nio statues at the foot of the staircase. Reception is on the second floor. Admission to the bath includes a bath towel, face towel, and a top and bottom shorts set. The change rooms are spacious, with lockers big enough to accommodate shopping bags, and well appointed dressing rooms.
The baths are on the first floor. Goroko no Yu water is fed by a sodium chloride strong salt hot spring. The water appears a murky brown color much like the kuroyu, or black water hot springs, in the greater Tokyo area. While you are bathing you may notice brown flecks settle out of the bath onto the tiles. This is not dirt, but fine particles from plant sediment suspended in the hot spring water and they attest to the ancient source of the water. The dark, sodium-rich water rises from the spring at 50 degrees, but the pools are cooler, between 38 and 42 degrees, just right for appreciating the mineral-laden water which is said to relieve muscle pain, joint stiffness, and fatigue.
Between soaks, there are so many things to enjoy at the bath complex. There are two restaurants with classic dishes such as soba and ramen at reasonable prices, a foot bath in the main hall, karaoke rooms, and many aesthetic and massage treatments.
But the highlight of this bath resort is the theater for popular dramas. There are daytime and evening performances of comedies and samurai dramas in elaborate kimono. Admission to the theater is included with your bath.
Guests can also stay overnight at the lodging above the baths. Western and tatami rooms are available.
Catch the free shuttle bus from Kawama Station on the Tobu Urban Park Line, or Koga Station on the Tohoku Main Line, at 10 am or 5 pm. Call ahead for reservations.
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You will see many of my stories on Japan Travel are about places and events outside of big city centers and tourist destinations. While I highly recommend the big name sights and experiences, I encourage visitors to see and feel the atmosphere off the beaten path, too.