Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryuu Hotel
Near the attractive Oirase Stream in the Lake Towada area is Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryuu Hotel. For those traveling to Tohoku in the winter, this onsen resort is a must. Hoshino Resort’s outdoor bath is the world’s first hot spring surrounded by a frozen waterfall. When temperatures are low enough, the waterfall is frozen solid — forming a mystical sight of icy blue structures that are illuminated when night falls. While the frozen waterfall display is man-made, bathers can also enjoy the natural view of Oirase Stream from both the indoor and outdoor onsens. The frozen waterfall onsen is available for hotel guests only from December to March.
Directions: 90-minute shuttle bus from JR Hachinohe Station / JR Aomori Station upon reservation.
Tsuta Onsen Ryokan is a quiet inn situated within the Shirakami Mountains World Heritage Site in Towada, Aomori. The 1000-year old hot spring feeds water directly to the ryokan baths, whose bathtubs rest directly atop the water source — creating natural hot spring bubbles that rise from the bottom. The baths are made out of Japanese beechwood — the same buna trees whose forest surround the facility. Relax by taking a bath at Tsuta Onsen after a long day of exploring the nearby Oirase Stream and Lake Towada. Tsuta Onsen’s baths are available for both day-trippers and overnight guests to enjoy.
Directions: 110-minute bus ride from JR Aomori / JR Shin-Aomori Station to Tsuta Onsen stop via JR Bus Mizuumi-go. Reserve via Trip Advisor.
Nyuto Onsen town is affectionately named after the neighbouring Nyuto mountains in Towada Hachimantai National Park, Akita. Nyuto Onsen literally translates to “nipple hot spring”, referencing the suggestive shape of Mount Nyuto. Suggestive names aside, the onsen town hosts seven beautiful onsen ryokans. If you stay at any of the village’s ryokans, you can purchase a Yumeguri Pass which allows you to bathe in each of the seven hot springs once (with a validity of one whole year). Holders of the pass can utilise the free shuttle bus that allows visitors to easily access each onsen ryokan. Nyuto Onsen is especially famed for its magical winter views best enjoyed from one of the outdoor baths, several of which support mixed-gender bathing.
Directions: 50-minute bus ride from Tazawako Station towards Nyuto Onsen, with various stops at the different ryokans. Several ryokans also offer shuttle bus service upon reservation for guests.
The star of Nyuto Onsen, Tsurunoyu Onsen is the oldest onsen ryokan within the village. Established back in the 1600s, Tsurunoyu used to be patronized by ruling lords of the Akita region and only opened to the public during the Genroku era (1688–1704). Now, Tsurunoyu’s legendary open-air mixed bath is popular among both locals and tourists alike. Visiting the onsen during wintertime is sure to be an unforgettable experience — basking in the crisp mountain air while watching snow fall gently to the ground. Look out for the Honjin building with the traditional thatched roof at the entrance, which used to serve as a guardhouse for escort samurai. Tsurunoyu also has multiple gender-segregated indoor baths, as well as an outdoor female-only open-air bath with a spectacular view of Mount Nyuto.
Directions: 50-minute bus ride from Tazawako Station to Arupa Komakusa bus stop via Ugo-Kotsu bus. Tsurunoyu Onsen Ryokan will send a car to pick up guests upon prior reservation.
Many foreign tourists overlook the concept of the Japanese hot springs as something that is unfamiliar and not for them. We hope that through learning about some of Tohoku’s best hidden hot spring spots, we can encourage more people to take a break from their travels and try one of Japan’s best-loved pastimes.