By Terrie Lloyd
One of the most popular ways for Japanese people to relax during the holidays is to go to an onsen. Onsen are spa resorts featuring hot springs irrigated by natural water, usually originating from a volcanic source. They are well known for having therapeutic benefits. The word onsen itself stands for the hot springs, however it is commonly used to refer to the whole complex and facilities surrounding the bath.
Because of its rich volcanic landscape, it is easy to find onsen spots all over Japan and even close to main cities. A popular onsen spot near Tokyo is the Nikko area in Tochigi prefecture, such as the Kinugawa onsen. Located two hours away from Tokyo, it is easily accessible by bus or train with JR or Tobu line, and fares start from 1,550¥ if you take a Tobu rapid train from Asakusa. You will arrive in less than three hours and it departs every one hour to two hours on weekdays. It's the perfect opportunity to try an onsen if you are on a budget. However, if you're in a hurry, an express 1 hour train will cost you twice as much.
Kinugawa Onsen station is close to Nikko's main attractions and is known for a wide range of Hotels and Ryokan along Kinugawa river. Kinugawa Park Hotels is a popular destination and offers a great combination of hot springs along with delicious Japanese food, breathtaking views, exciting facilities, comfortable rooms and immaculate service.
When you arrive, you'll immediately be greeted by the staff and brought to your room by your assistant, dressed in a traditional outfit. You can either book a Japanese-style or an Western-style room. Your assistant will then make you some tea and leave you to rest or to enjoy the hot springs.You will find a Yukata in the closet, ready to be worn for the hot bath. In Kinugawa Park Hotels, just like in any Japanese bath, you cannot enter with a swimsuit and you can't bring anything in with you, except a face towel. Therefore, the best way to enjoy the onsen is to get naked, put on your Yukata, and take it off in the onsen's lobby, where you'll be able to leave your belongings into a small box. Once in the bathing area, you'll have to thoroughly wash yourself before entering the water. Your face towel isn't supposed to touch it, and you'll notice that most Japanese people will put it on their heads to keep it with them while avoiding water contact. The heat of the water varies according to the bath you chose and your proximity to the main water conduct. Usually, it is very warm and you can't stay more than 20 minutes. Fortunately, the outdoor bath is less steamy, and walking from one bath to another is enough to recover from the heat.
The onsen facilities are beautiful and diverse. There are two sets of hot springs that are either open to men or women according to the schedule. The first set is composed of a big, beautifully tiled indoor bath with Japanese mosaics on the wall. It looks very luxurious and you have a panoramic view on the river from the windows. The outdoor section is the biggest and offers two large baths, a wooden boat hull suspended on the hill and a natural-looking pond surrounded by rocks. You can get a view of the river from this set if you peek through the bamboo fence. This set is my favorite as it's very peaceful, the surroundings look traditional and are made of only natural material such as rocks and wood. This one is open to ladies during the day then to men at night.
The second set is composed of two inner baths, a wooden barrel tub and a smaller tiled bath. The outdoor bath is also a pond separated into two main sections for more privacy. This set is open to men during the day and to ladies at night. On your way out, you'll be able to wash yourself, dry and treat your hair, ready for some sightseeing or enjoying the local cuisine.
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