By Chris Gould
Tobu Dobutusu Koen Station on the Isesaki Line is best known as the stop for the zoo and amusement park there. But a short distance from the other side of the station is a hidden gem of a spa. A shuttle bus ride through the old post town of Sugito whisks you past period mansions and farm fields to the elegant and refreshing hot spring resort, Uta no Yu.
At reception, you receive a barcode wristband, token, and towel set for the feature baths. An additional fee is required for admission to the ganbanyoku, the stone bath area. In front of the change rooms, hand over the token to receive a jacket and shorts set. You can choose from various colors and sizes, too.
What sets this hot spring spa apart from others is the gardens. Large windows from the hallways look onto the courtyard garden. Past the change rooms and the washing area, another garden awaits you. Along the paths between the main pool and the other smaller baths are trees and flowering bushes such as hydrangea. A grove of trees and bamboo stands just beyond the high garden fence, providing a refreshing view of blue sky and green leaves, and perhaps the soothing sound of the wind rustling the bamboo.
The outdoor and indoor baths provide a variety of temperatures and depths. The water is not reheated or added to, but flows from the source to the pools as is. The reclining baths and the deeper, hotter pools are shaded by pavilions and screens, but you can also stretch out in the sunshine. Chairs and decks provide a comfortable place to relax and take a break from the hot pools. Inside, the silk bath with its milky water and the cold pool are a great contrast to the heat and high mineral content of the main pools.
Outside the baths, Uta no Yu has lots of other refreshing treats. Two restaurants, one buffet style and the other full service specializing in soba noodles, satisfy big and small appetites. Various skin and massage treatments are also available. You can take a break in the lounges, sleeping areas, and outdoor foot bath while gazing at the seasonal flowers and greenery.
A shuttle bus is available from the east exit of Tobudobutsukoen Station.
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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.