Located in the heart of the stunning Kurikoma National Park at the end of a narrow winding road which snakes through the hills of Iwate is Geto Onsen. It’s an unusual, slightly quirky and, above all, beautiful place to have a soak.
The older part of the onsen (hot spring) is refreshingly basic. There are only five baths, and they are housed in buildings that are open, to a greater or lesser extent, to the elements: there are roofs and pillars but no actual walls, which allows one to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of the surrounding countryside.
Geto Onsen is located on the banks of a narrow and shallow river. Its waters are crystal clear and cool. Rising up from the river is a magnificent rock face, in some parts bare while in others covered in dense foliage, which is simply breathtaking, especially in autumn with the leaves changing to a deep red.
With only five baths a way of accommodating males and females had to be arrived at. This has been achieved by establishing different opening times for men and women. One of the baths is, however, mixed, which is now very rare.
The water varies in temperature: some of the baths are comfortably warm while others can be scolding. The water comes direct from underground springs, and it is in no wise altered. After any type of seismic activity the temperature will go up.
Geto also has a number of other facilities catering both to day-trippers and those looking to stay on a longer term. It is not unknown for visitors to come for extended stays to treat a variety of ailments or simply to relax and unwind in one of Japan’s most beautiful nature spots.
There is a restaurant serving basic but delicious Japanese food, a shop selling odds and ends and, of course, vending machines. Unusually there is even a sake vending machine, not such a common sight any more.
Accommodation can also be rented for a few hours—after a long hot soak, why not have a nap?—days or even weeks. The rooms, which are all tatami, are simple but comfortable. A communal cooking space is there for the use of guests, but come prepared as there are not any shops in the area.
For those looking for something slightly more upmarket, there is also the newer ryokan. The ryokan features two very nice baths; a restaurant, where meals are prepared for guests; and a communal room, complete with karaoke. All of the rooms in the newer section are also tatami.
Geto might not be the most luxurious of onsen, it certainly is not the most upmarket, but it has to rate as one of the best hot springs Iwate has to offer.