Hanamaki in Iwate is well known for its hot springs (onsen). I don't know exactly how many there are, but from living here for nearly 10 years I would guess over 50 easily. It is divided by areas, Hanamaki hot springs, Ozawa hot springs, Namari hot springs, Kanaya hot springs and many others. Many of those areas include several hotels; also, the facilities vary widely from Western style to ryokans (Japanese-style inn) and even private hot springs.
In this article I will focus on one area that is little known but that I consider a real gem. It is Dai onsen, a little hamlet that currently includes 14 facilities from private—that we had the privilege to use—to ryokans and more Western style hotels. The small town still has its own little post office, a hospital and a shrine with a few houses, but it is mainly hotels and ryokans that are there. I first went to Dai onsen over 20 years ago, when both my wife and I were dressed there for our wedding reception, and even today I have strong ties with my mother in law working there.
A little history: Dai onsen has been used as bathing facilities for over 1200 years, you can see the sign when you enter the village. It has seen many changes over the years and most hotels go through regular upgrades to keep in touch with the times, but it has never lost its quaint and charming atmosphere. Despite its small size you will find a wide variety of accommodations for budget travellers to well pampered service with your own in suite onsen bath. One thing that I like is, while walking around the village, we can often see and smell the hot water overflowing in the drain; the smell is unmistakable, a good sign if you want to experience a real onsen.
Also little known about the area is that there are many hiking trails. I have explored most of them, some of them have incredible vistas along the way. It is even possible to go from Dai onsen over the mountains to Kanaya onsen; as the bird fly it is quite close but hiking takes a little over an hour and there are a few forks along the way. I discovered most of them by accident while I was lost in the fog. I recommend you check before heading out into the mountains, as most trails are not well maintained and even local people don't know much about them. I have almost never seen anyone else while hiking.
Getting there, if you come by car on the highway, get off at Hanamaki interchange, take Route 37 towards Hanamaki onsen, and just before Hanamaki onsen, turn left and go to the end of the road. It is a dead end with a loop you will see several signs, you cannot miss it. If you come by train, get off at Hanamaki station and take a bus or taxi from there, just look for the Dai onsen bus. Enjoy your stay!