Raina's Japan Travel Journal
by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2015/08/17 - Nature and Hot Springs at Naruko Onsen

Today, I joined a two day one night tour offered through Good Luck Trip <Diamond-Big Co.,Ltd> in the Naruko Onsen area in Miyagi Prefecture. It was raining when I left home in the morning, and unfortunately, the rain continued when I arrived at Furukawa Station, the closest shinkansen station into Naruko, to meet our local guides. Due to the bad weather on the first day, our tour got shuffled a little and we spent most of our time indoors on the first day and hoped for better weather the next.

Our first stop was at the Tanaka Sake Brewery, which was a relatively small brewery about 40 minutes from Furukawa Station. The chief brewmaster, or toji, brought us around and introduced the process of making sake while bringing us through the different parts of the brewery. Unfortunately, there wasn't any sake being made when we were there. Sake is typically made between the cooler months of November through to March to reduce the risk of bacteria and viruses while summer is usually the time for bottling and labeling. One of the more interesting sake varieties produced at the Tanaka Brewery is aged with specially produced "sake music" playing in the background for a sweeter and smoother sake. We tried this special sake at dinner later and I found it smooth and easy to drink.

Lunch was at a former residence where there were some cool artifacts like a samurai armour, yoroi, and old paintings. There was a great homely atmosphere at the restaurant with friendly older staff who served and prepared our meal, and told us stories of some customers taking a siesta after lunch, which sounded like a great idea to me at that time. While we didn't have the time for a siesta, we took a leisurely lunch sampling homemade dishes made with local vegetables.

Naruko Onsen is popular for its Kokeshi, Japanese dolls, and there were many signs featuring those dolls. We had a kokeshi painting session lined up after lunch and I was a little apprehensive participating as I was not one to have a good hand for art. But, it was a fun and enjoyable experience and something different to do on holiday.

The rain hadn't abated by mid afternoon and being in an onsen area, a dip in one of the public onsen sounded like a great idea to me. We headed off to Taki no Yu, one of the more popular public baths where the waters were undiluted from the source. Being an old public bath, there wasn't much space to navigate around especially in the bath when it's crowded. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed a soak in the hot milky waters while it poured outside. It may be a little intimidating for those who are not used to getting naked in front of strangers in a small space, but at least the baths are gender separate which may be consolation of sorts.

From the public bath, we headed for our ryokan accomodation and the proprietress, okami, of the ryokan, hosted a tea ceremony for us. The ceremony took place in an annex teahouse in the hills about five minutes drive from the accomodation. Typically a serious and formal affair, this was slightly relaxed and informal as most of us did not know the steps involved in a tea ceremony. Overall, it was very relaxing to partake of the ceremony whilst listening to rain pitter pattering on the roof.

The ryokan where we stayed was a very quaint place that had nine private baths, as well as an annex building for long stays. A dip in one of the baths is said to take twelve years off and of course, I took as many baths as I could. While I didn't acheive negative age, I'm pretty sure some reverse aging magic probably occured as my skin felt really nice after the baths.

The next day, the weather cleared and was mostly sunny. We took the chance to do the outdoors activities which we missed the day before. Our first stop was a two kilometer trail around part of the valley. It was an easy walk taking less than an hour with beautiful scenery of Naruko Gorge below at the beginning and going through lush greenery through the forest. I imagine the walk to be beautiful in the fall with autumn colors.

After our relaxing walk through the gorge, our group headed for a zazen meditation session at the nearby temple. The priest walked us through the process, starting with how to sit, breathe and what to do during meditation. One of the goals of meditation was to feel refreshed and energised at the end of the session. The priest then further expounded about the different types of zazen and how meditation can change our outlook on life and positively affect the people around us. A typical zazen meditation lasts as long as one stick of incense takes to burn, about 45 minutes, but it can be done for as long or short as you can afford.

Lunch was at a beautiful reservation-only restaurant in the hills. We arrived to find the table already laid out with our meal and more on the way. The owner single-handedly manages both the farm and the restaurant and serves only vegetables grown in her backyard. The meal was stunning and easily one of my favourites with fresh vegetables and clean flavours. We managed a quick chat with the owner and found out that the restaurant closes in the winter as the road into the estate gets covered in heavy snow making it almost impassable.

Our last stop for the day was Katanuma Lake, a caldera lake. It seems that the lake shares the same source as the public bath we went to the day before. The waters were a beautiful turquoise when we were there and there were paddle boats to cross the lake with. Three of us got into one boat and flexed our rowing muscles for a quick exploration of the otherside of the lake. For those who prefer not to cross the lake over water, it is also possible to walk around the lake as well. While it was beautiful to see in summer, we saw pictures of lake covered in snow in the winter except for where pockets of hot spring waters flowed, inside the shop by the lake.

From Katanuma Lake, we headed back to Furukawa Station and ended our tour of Naruko Onsen area. It was a short but fun trip, and some of the highlights for me included the baths at both the public bath and at the ryokan where we stayed, vegetable lunch on the second day, walking through the serene forested valley at Naruko Gorge and rowing across Katanuma Lake.

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List of Posts:
2024/05/10 - Yebisu beer brewery reopened in Tokyo
2024/04/24 - A new 'corner store' opened in Harajuku in April
2024/02/05 - teamLab Borderless newly opened in central Tokyo
2023/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2023
2023/11/20 - Japan's new tallest building opens in Tokyo
2023/10/25 - Japan Mobility Show 2023
2023/10/02 - Toranomon Hills completed in central Tokyo
2023/06/14 - Harry Potter Studio Tour Tokyo Opens June 16, 2023
2023/03/02 - Haruka airport trains to stop at Osaka Station from March 18
2021/05/05 - Suggested 5-day itinerary for the Kansai Wide Area Pass
2020/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2020
2020/06/26 - Ariake Garden, a newly opened shopping complex in Tokyo
2020/06/26 - New shopping complex With Harajuku opens in Harajuku
2020/06/26 - Tokyo Mizumachi, a new pedestrian route near Asakusa
2020/06/25 - Travel restarting: Tokyo
2019/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2019
2019/12/03 - Shopping at Shibuya Fukuras and Parco
2019/10/23 - 46th Tokyo Motor Show
2019/03/20 - Moominvalley Park opens near Tokyo
2018/12/31 - 2018 Travel Highlights
2018/10/25 - Business as usual at Tsukiji Outer Market
2018/08/19 - Hello Kitty Shinkansen
2018/05/16 - Cruising Tokyo's waterways
2018/04/17 - Wisteria blossoms in Ashikaga Flower Park
2018/01/18 - Shinanomachi, the Backcountry of Nagano

2017/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2017
2017/10/25 - The 45th Tokyo Motor Show
2017/10/11 - Dipping into the three onsen towns of Yamanaka, Yamashiro and Katayamazu
2017/07/24 - Remote Riches in Toyama
2017/07/03 - Spiritual Chichibu
2017/05/02 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2017/04/14 - Sneak Peek from Ginza Six
2017/03/21 - A bit of everything in Fukui
2017/03/13 - Nikko Toshogu Uncovered
2017/02/15 - Subculture in Ikebukuro
2017/02/07 - Travel to the Goto Islands
2017/02/06 - Nagasaki Lantern Festival

2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/12/19 - Winter Illuminations in Tokyo
2016/10/24 - The way of old on the Kunisaki Peninsula
2016/10/11 - Following the Tadami Line in Oku Aizu
2016/08/27 - Fool's Dance at Koenji Awa Odori
2016/08/16 - The three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan
2016/06/20 - Train travel into the Ise-Shima region
2016/04/03 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2016/03/08 - The hunt for Namahage on the Oga Peninsula
2016/03/02 - Sake Sangria
2016/02/20 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
2016/01/26 - Tour de Reinan: Obama, Oi and Takahama
2016/01/25 - Tour de Reinan: Tsuruga, Mihama and Wakasa

2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/10 - 48 hours in Tokushima
2015/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Kankakei
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2015/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/10 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Koyasan
2015/11/08 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2015/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Dazaifu
2015/10/28 - The 44th Tokyo Motor Show
2015/10/21 - Hirado, where East meets West
2015/10/20 - Kujukushima Islands and Winter Illumination at Huis Ten Bosch
2015/10/19 - Navigating the Christian sites in Nagasaki
2015/10/18 - Cosplay at Haco Stadium Tokyo
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2015/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2015/09/24 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2015/09/16 - Nakanojo Biennale 2015
2015/08/19 - Traditional culture and hot springs of the Aizu Region
2015/08/17 - Nature and Hot Springs at Naruko Onsen
2015/08/04 - Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale 2015
2015/04/30 - Sapporo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/29 - Hakodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/23 - Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/22 - Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/21 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/16 - Sendai Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/09 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/08 - Fukushima Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/06 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/02 - Nara Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/01 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/31 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/27 - Fukuoka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/26 - Kumamoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/25 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Sendai
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Tokyo
2014/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kanazawa
2014/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2014/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2014/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/10/31 - Autumn Color Report: Karuizawa
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2014/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2014/10/01 - Autumn Color Report: Oze National Park
2014/09/29 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/06/19 - Toranomon Hills opens in Tokyo
2014/04/24 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/23 - Morioka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/22 - Aizu-Wakamatsu Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/16 - Matsumoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/15 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/14 - Yoshino Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/13 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/12 - Kanazawa Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/10 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/06 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/05 - Hiroshima Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/04 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/02 - Nagoya Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/31 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/26 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/04 - Early Tokyo Blossom Report