Snow, Yams and a Dragon at Nyuto Onsen
By Lynda Deaver
My trusty travel friend and I were trying to come up with ideas for a winter trip. We’d already settled on going to a snowy onsen somewhere far, far away from Tokyo. In the middle of our conversation, a box of bath powder caught my eye. The bath powders would, in theory, turn your bath into one of several famous onsen. I picked out a packet at random.
It read: Nyuto Onsen, Akita Prefecture.
Our eyes locked. Not only would our trip have an amusing origin as a bath powder lottery, but it would also be to a place that literally meant “Nipple Hot Spring.”
About one month and one JR tour reservation later, we found ourselves on a shinkansen to the snow-covered peaks of the fittingly named Mount Nyuto-zan and, of course, the milky waters of Nyuto Onsen.
1. Go Onsen-Hopping
As expected, the Nyuto Onsen Village has plenty of hot springs, each with its own properties and healing powers. To make onsen-hopping easier for the carless among us, the Nyuto Onsen Village operates a bus called the Yumeguri-go, which visits all seven hot springs in the Nyuto Onsen area: Tsuruno-yu Onsen, Taeno-yu Onsen, Ogama Onsen, Ganiba Onsen, Magoroku Onsen, Resort Village Nyuto Onsen, and Kyro-yu Onsen (closed in winter).Photo by Kwong Yee Cheng
If you plan to visit more than two onsen and are an overnight visitor, you should consider getting the Yumeguri-cho, a 1,550-yen booklet that gives you unlimited rides on the Yumeguri-go and entrance to each of the seven onsen in the village.
Keep in mind that you have to make a reservation for a seat on the Yumeguri-go at the nearest hotel reception desk at least 1 hour before departure time. See the Tazawako Tourist Association leaflet (only in Japanese) for more information.
2. Mingle in the Mixed Onsen
One of the draws of Nyuto Onsen is the abundance of konyoku (mixed) onsen. Men and women can relax together in the mixed hot springs at Nyuto Onsen, although, admittedly, when I was there, only men hung out in the konyoku areas. Not all of the onsen have cloudy waters, so bring a towel.
3. Go Snowshoeing
One of the highlights of our trip was the snowshoeing. From the guide’s harrowing bear stories to the tiny insects scurrying across the snow, trekking up a mountain on top of two to three meters of snow was like nothing I’d done before.
Kyukamura, an onsen-ryokan in the Nyuto Onsen Village, offers a 1-hour snowshoeing tour to all Nyuto Onsen Village visitors every day in winter from 10:30 am. No reservation is required, just arrive at the Kyukamura 15 minutes ahead of time. Overnighters at any of the ryokan in the Nyuto Onsen Village only have to pay a 150-yen insurance fee, and day-trippers have to pay a 500-yen snowshoe rental fee as well as the insurance fee.
The snowshoeing tour is only given in Japanese, but the guide is very welcoming knows the gorgeous landscape well.
4. Eat Yama-no-Imo Nabe
One of Nyuto Onsen’s most famous foods is yama-no-imo nabe, which is a Japanese yam hot pot created with yams grown around in Tazawako, Akita. You’ll also want to try other local specialties, such as inaniwa udon, irori-grilled iwana (char/trout), and kiritanpo nabe.Photo by Owen Lin
5. Visit the Legendary Tatsuko at Lake Tazawa
In Lake Tazawa, near the Nyuto Onsen Village, you can see a golden-bronze statue of a young girl. According to the Semboku City website, this girl, Tatsuko, was said to have prayed to Kannon for eternal youth and beauty. However, after drinking from a holy fountain as instructed by the goddess, Tatsuko was turned into a dragon, guardian of Lake Tazawa.
You can see the statue of Tatsuko from the bus when going past the Katajiri bus stop. Visitors interested in hiking around or boating in the lake have several options, as pointed out in the JNTO Tazawako guide.
Have you had the chance to visit Nyuto Onsen?