Akita Prefecture Nyuto-Onsen Tsurunoyu

Exceptional open-air bath

White hot spring water fills the hollows of the natural terrain, steaming. The scenery created by this slightly bluish, opaque water at the foot of a mountain covered in snow or shrouded in greenery will melt the hearts of visitors, untangling their snarled nerves. Guests come to realize that there is value to something here with which simple luxury cannot compete. The landscape, the quality of the spring, the atmosphere of the inn, the food, the sake and the secluded property: all are outstanding.

Hito refers to a rustic hot spring deep in the mountains. One of the natural blessings of a volcanic country is the existence of hot springs released by drilling deep into the ground, but there are many that emerge directly from the earth’s surface. Meeting or exceeding the expectations of visitors who consciously choose to go deep into the mountains to bask in nature’s blessings is Tsurunoyu in Nyuto Onsen Villages near Akita Prefecture’s Lake Tazawa. Perhaps due to the murkiness of the water, obscuring every soaking body part, people readily enter the all-gender bath, cheerfully, even boisterously, enjoying one another’s company and conversation and forgetting all about the time.

Proprietor Kazushi Sato first became involved with this inn in 1981. At the time, it was a hot spring resort without an open-air bath, but he recognized a charm to the place that could very well attract visitors. Through multiple remodeling sessions, and the relocation of traditional farmhouses here, he has transformed it into a lodge. In an effort to remodel an area for enjoying an utaseyu (cascading bath), Sato demolished the original hut, and in moving one rock just a little, released a gusher of extremely hot water. One of the conditions of high-quality onsen is a free-flowing wellspring. This discovery thus heralded the birth of a perfect example of an open-air bath; this is precisely what is meant by an onsen emerging directly from the earth’s surface.

The distinctive feature of the inn’s cuisine is the yama no imo nabe (hot pot with taro root). It’s a derivative of Akita Prefecture’s famed kiritanpo nabe (pounded, skewered rice dumplings in hot pot), in which taro root is substituted for the rice dumplings. Because the taro dissolves and clouds the base broth, here they use not clear soup but miso. In the beginning, chicken was the meat used in this dish, but richly textured boneless pork ribs produce a perfect balance with the miso, rather than being overpowered. While the pot bubbles away, suspended on a jizaigi (pot hook) over the charcoal fire in the irori (sunken hearth), you can enjoy sipping Akita’s renowned sake. Meanwhile, ayu and iwana (sweetfish and char) grill slowly on skewers perfectly positioned in the hearth.

In summer greenery grows with abandon, and in winter, the inn is wrapped in two meters or so of snow. It seems that from the fullness of nature this inn has unwittingly received one blessing after another. Once a year, during the winter season with its deep snow, I make it a rule to visit here with friends with whom I feel at home. While having a long soak in the lukewarm open-air bath, we let go of everything, conversing about focusing on living positively and proactively. It’s a truly invaluable pleasant time for us to enjoy ourselves, leaving the world behind.

18 July 2019

Location: 50 Kokuyurin Sendatsuizawa, Tazawa Aza Senboku-shi, Akita (Map)

Website: http://www.tsurunoyu.com/english.html