Located on the banks of a crystal clear river, in the verdant-green wooded hills of central Iwate, Osawa Onsen is more than just an onsen (hot spring). It's a retreat, a therapeutic home away from home, where guests will often stay for months. It is also a snapshot of Japan from a bygone age.
The onsen boasts a long and proud history, stretching back several hundred years. In common with many of Japan's hot springs, samurai, who appreciated the antiseptic quality of the waters, would go there to heal the wounds they had sustained in battle.
The oldest of Osawa's buildings dates back over 200 years. More recent additions were subsequently made eight decades ago, with the third and final structure completed around 1980. Speaking personally my preference is for the 200-year-old section, with its seeming maze of corridors leading off to the various baths, and traditional Japanese sliding doors - shyoji - on either side, giving access to the rooms.
This part of the onsen has three baths. Each bath is totally unique and is an experience in itself. The water temperature is normally comfortably hot, and it is reputed to treat ailments as diverse as arthritis, bad circulation and digestive-tract problems.
The accommodation is simple but comfortable. The rooms are all tatami, with futons to sleep on. The walls are, quite literally, paper-thin. Where available rooms can be rented for an afternoon, allowing guests to take a rest from bathing for a couple of hours or so before continuing with their ablutions.
The restaurant provides good quality Japanese food for lunch and dinner. There is also, however, the option to cook for yourself; if you're considering staying for the long-term, or even only for a day or two, there is a large and very well-equipped communal kitchen, where guests can prepare a feast.
The newer part of Osawa Onsen is an altogether more modern and expensive affair. There are three baths and many other facilities for guests to enjoy. There are also two twin rooms, which have western-style beds. The 80-year-old section features one very pleasant bath and comfortable rooms.
Accommodation needs to be booked in advance, and over holiday periods it can become very busy. The baths are always open to the general public, with only the private family bath needing to be reserved in advance.
Osawa Onsen is truly a jewel in Iwate. It is evocative of so much of what is associated with Japan, and for a relaxing, health-giving break it would be difficult to beat.