The Tohoku region is known for its beautiful mountains, delicious rice, snowfall and hot springs. What better way to enjoy all of the above than at a ryokan (Japanese inn) that can provide access to these Tohoku treasures?
Within the onsen, or hot spring, realm is a rare and dying breed of bath — konyoku. Konyoku onsen are mixed gender baths that have been around for hundreds of years. As time went on and cultures mixed in Japan, new laws have made it harder for these ancient establishments to continue their traditions. What was considered normal in Japan was considered lewd and inappropriate. Therefore, Japan changed her ways to better fit the conservative palate of the international society. Whether you are bathing with your significant other or a group of friends, keep a part of Japan’s old culture alive by visiting one of the Tohoku region’s many konyoku onsen.
1. Aoni Onsen
青荷温泉本館を出てすぐの健六の湯。総ヒバ造りのお風呂と窓が多く開放的で明るい雰囲気が個人的にどストライク！(*ﾟ∀ﾟ*) とっても気持ちいいっ！夜入ったにもかかわらず、早朝さらに入湯。ラッキーなことに貸切状態だったので、のんびり入らせて頂きました。外に出ると大釜のようなお風呂と露天風呂がありました。お湯はぬるめでしたが、記念に入ってみました。看板もツボ！( ´∀｀) #散策 #東北 #青森 #黒石 #青荷温泉 #ランプの宿 #健六の湯 #レトロ #ランプ #温泉 #秘境 #宿 #露天風呂 #ヒバ #旅 #行くぜ東北 #春の東北 #japan #tohoku #aomori #kuroishi #aonionsen #onsen #hotsprings #travel #vacation #ramp #retro #landscape #inn
Longing for a magical, off the grid getaway? Aoni Onsen, also known as Lamp no Yado, is the place for you. As the name suggests, this ryokan uses oil lamps to light up the building and kerosene to keep the rooms cozy during the chilly seasons. In fact, very little electricity is used at all. The mixed outdoor bath is cozy and rejuvenating while the tranquil woods surrounding it have their own mentally clarifying properties.
- Admission: ¥520 day pass, ryokan option available (highly recommend)
- Access: 43 minutes by car from Kanon Railway Kuroishi station
- Address: 1-7 Okiura Takinoue Aonisawa, Kuroishi-shi, Aomori Prefecture
2. Numajiri Onsen
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After a four-kilometer hike through the mountains in Fukushima, you will stumble upon a natural onsen in its purest form. There is no establishment and the bath itself is just a river with hot water spouting from the activity of the earth’s geothermal insides. Visitors must be careful, for part of the river is sometimes closed due to high levels of toxic gases produced from the hot springs. Though bathing suits are allowed in this bath, going fully nude is recommended due to the high acidic levels of the water that are said to be nourishing to the skin. In fact, the pH level of the water at Numajiri Onsen is 1.9, which is the same as lemon juice.
- Admission: Free
- Access: 26 minutes by car from Inawashiro station
- Address: Inawashiro Oaza Kogai, Yama-gun, Fukushima Prefecture
3. Semi Onsen
Semi Onsen provides visitors with a luxurious ryokan experience filled with beautiful food, rooms and an outdoor mixed bath. One perk that comes with Semi Onsen is that there is an English version of the website and its filled with thorough explanations. The best part is this location is just a 2 1/2 hour shinkansen ride away from Tokyo where the ryokan staff will pick you up on arrival and drive you the remaining 30 minutes to the establishment. This is a perfect getaway from the busy neon lights of Tokyo.
- Admission: ¥500 day pass, ryokan stay available (highly recommend)
- Access: 30 minutes by car from Kitakami Station
- Address: 1-28-2 Uesaki Shindoshida, Waga-cho, Kitakami-shi, Iwate Prefecture
A ryokan with over 300 years of history, Sukayu is the snowiest inhabited place on earth (according to Wikipedia) and a must-visit destination for those who want to experience the Japan of old. Sukayu isn’t only known for being the oldest hot spring in the Hakkoda region, its all beech wood, indoor mixed bath brings travelers and adventurers from all over the world. Named the senjin buro, or bath of a thousand bathers, this unisex hot spring is very large and iconic in the realm of konyoku onsen.
- Admission: ¥1,000 day pass, ryokan option available
- Access: 80 minutes by bus from JR Aomori station to Sakayu Onsen Mae stop
- Address: 50 Sukayusawa Arakawayama Kokuyurin Arakawa-minami, Aomori-shi, Aomori Prefecture
5. Taenoyu Onsen
Taenoyu is a rustic ryokan located in Nyuto Onsen, where a cluster of Japanese inns are nestled in the mountains of Akita Prefecture. The outdoor mixed bath has a milky caramel appearance that leaves your skin feeling cleansed and refreshed. Enjoy the beautiful view of the river that flows right beside you as soak along with your friends or partner.
- Admission: ¥800 day pass, ryokan option available
- Access: 28 minute car ride from Tazawako station
- Address: 2-1 Tazawako Obonai Aza Komagatake, Senboku-shi, Akita Prefecture
6. Todoroki Ryokan
With a large bath that can fit close to 20 people, Todoroki Ryokan is great for a romantic getaway or for groups of friends. The mixed outdoor onsen has crystal clear water with a view of a large garden sprawled before you. Todoroki Ryokan has only seven rooms, which creates a cozy, intimate atmosphere.
- Admission: ¥500 day pass, ryokan option available
- Access: 14 minutes by car from Naruko Onsen station
- Address: Narukoonsen Onikobe, Osaki-Shi, Miyagi Prefecture
7. Toshichionsen Saiunsou
What’s better than one konyoku bath? Five of them! Saiunsou is located in Towada-Hachimantai National Park, which is famous for its diverse ecosystems and volcanic activity. Due to this, Saiunsou has many baths — 11 all together — with beautiful views all year long. A unique characteristic of this location is that some of the baths have silky mud floors with bubbles floating up caused by the volcanic activity.
- Admission: ¥600 day pass, ryokan option available
- Access: 50 minutes by car from Matsuo-Hachimantai station
- Address: Matsuoyoriki, Hachimantai, Iwate Prefecture
8. Tsuru no Yu
Legend says that a wounded crane healed itself with the water from Tsuru no Yu thousands of years ago. Today, Tsuru no Yu has a beautiful ryokan that attracts visitors from all over the world to soak in its legendary waters. This popular ryokan is in high demand, making it imperative to make ryokan reservation months in advance during the busy holiday seasons. However, day passes are available if you only want to get a taste of the mixed bathing.
- Admission: ¥500 for a three-hour pass, ryokan option available
- Access: 30 minutes by car from Tazawako Station
- Address: Sendatsuzawa Kokuyurin, Tazawako Tazawa, Senboku-shi, Akita Prefecture
9. Ubayu Onsen
Ubayu onsen is an ancient establishment, a family business that has been around for 450 years and 17 generations. With history and tradition seeping through its walls, steeping in its light turquoise water is the final touch for a feel of “old Japan.” The water in this bath isn’t very hot, which makes it easy to soak for hours.
- Admission: ¥600 day pass, ryokan option available
- Access: 39 minutes by car from Toge station
- Address: 1 Osawa Yosui, Yonezawa-shi, Yamagata Prefecture
Whether you visit to soak in hot, mineral waters surrounded by the region’s heavy snows or escape the city heat for a more secluded, quiet summer getaway, be sure to stop by one of these konyoku onsen before they slip away into the pages of history. The magical onsen of Tohoku await.
Do you know of any mixed-bathing onsen in Japan outside the Tohoku region? Let us know in the comments!