Yumoto Onsen is an undiscovered treasure in Japan, and people visiting the Nikko area should make a point to check it out. The problem is that it's a bit out of the way, making an overnight stay there a reasonable plan. If that sounds good to you, consider kicking up your feet at the Okunikko Kougen Hotel.
Just a few minutes' walk from the Yumoto Onsen Bus Stop, the Okunikko Kougen Hotel exceeded all my expectations. The hotel offers both Western- and Japanese-style rooms. The Japanese-style room I stayed in was large, clean, and comfortable. The main tatami-floored room had a separate sitting area, and the shower and bathrooms were off down a hall that could be closed off, making it feel more like an apartment than a hotel room.
The hotel had several onsen (hot spring baths) that were excellent. The indoor baths were relatively modern, while the outdoor ones provided serene views of the natural surroundings (which were made much prettier by the snow). Like all the hot springs in the area, the water is extremely sulfurous, making the water a greenish-yellow color which had a strong smell, but felt great. The hotels in this area provide customers with a stamp card, allowing them to visit three other hotels' onsen, but based on word from other guests, no one found nicer facilities than here.
My night's stay included dinner and breakfast. Of the three choices for dinner, I went with the marbled kogen beef shabu-shabu, which seemed to be the house specialty. At the time I reserved, I went to the hotel's restaurant, where I found my dinner hot, ready, and being brought out just as I sat down at the table with my name on it. The food was superb. Served in traditional Japanese style (in terms of gorgeous presentation and small quantities of many different things), each dish made you pause and pay attention to it. I'm not a foodie by any means, but this meal made me understand just how good food really can be. It was the best meal I've had in a long, long time.
The best thing, however, was the hotel's service. Every member of the staff was exceedingly friendly and helpful, and seemed truly genuine. The manager circulated around the restaurant during meal times chatting with everyone and seemingly remembering all their names. At check-in, I was warmly greeted with a pile of information about local sights, as well as a copy of the day's newspaper. When I headed out that evening to see a local snow festival, a staff member ran to get the keys of the hotel van and drove me there, even though it was only a few minutes' walk. By the end of my stay, I felt like I had become friends with the entire staff. That will be my most lasting impression.
The Okunikko Kougen Hotel can be reached by Tobu Bus from Nikko, Lake Chuzenji, and many of the other locations in the area. Take a bus bound for Yumoto Onsen and get off at Stop #42. Room prices will vary, but on this trip they were slightly cheaper than their neighboring competitors. Ski equipment was available for rent in the lobby for the nearby slopes.
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