The beautiful Akigawa Keikoku Valley is located within an hour from Tokyo, and has become one of my favourite places to escape the crowds of Tokyo and be fully immersed in nature. There are a number of onsen in the area with Seotonoyu being my 3rd to explore after Janoyu Onsen Takarasou and Hinohara Onsen Centre. I was pleased to be traveling with my sister on this occasion to introduce the area.
Unfortunately the weather was somewhat gloomy, however there was a surprise to come at the end of the day.
This onsen is quite popular with locals and travellers alike. Located by the Akigawa River, it is quite scenic with plenty of fresh mountain air to fill your lungs and revive your spirit.
The centre itseft is quite large with an extensive parking area, cabin accommodation and a free foothbath out the front. For the first time I also noticed a multilingual noren (Japanese curtain) which is indicative of the increeasing numbers of international visitors.
Upon entering, we were immediately hustled into action with the Japanese “system”. Take off your shoes, place them into a locker, buy your ticket from a vending machine, present your ticket and shoe locker key to the counter and furthermore we were given a time stamped ticket and asked to respect the 3 hour bathing limit!
To be honest I was quite taken aback at first. What? Someone telling me I couldn’t take my time enjoy the bath, have some rest, enjoy a meal and take a leisurely second afternoon bath? It really felt like I was being “processed”!
I was soon to find out that it is such a popular centre, and they need to monitor the number of people coming through relative to the locker and change room space availability. Still, to me it countered my desire to unwind and relax rather than be bound by the clock.
Onsen for amazing skin benefits
Seotonoyu onsen is alkaline and is renowned for its benefits for the skin. As my knowledge and experience with onsen has increased, I have become much more aware of the healing properties of onsen but in some cases it may be hard to notice an immediate impact of the healing trait. At Seoto no yu however, the immediate impact on the skin was undeniable. My skin felt so silky and smooth that it was almost as if I had forgotten to wash the soap off my body prior to entering the bath! My fellow local bathers smiled knowingly and said that it would feel that way for a couple of days, and indeed it was the water, not the soap!
Taking the cold plunge
After a lovely long soak in the rotenburo (outdoor bath), I decided to be game and give the cold bath a try. At 20 degrees celcius, it is 19-22 degrees cooler than the regular baths and most often used after the sauna. It started as a dare to see how game I was to tolerate it, however, I have since learned much more about just how beneficial it is for your health.
During a sauna or a hot bath, blood is forced to the extremities of the body, pores open and sweat pours out. The exposure to the cold water immediately closes the pores and pulls the blood back to the vital organs reinforcing your immunity and natural defences. Needless to say the shock of the water also invigorates you with a burst of energy and added oxygen as you suck in the air in exclamation with he cold and your heart rate certainly gets an instant boost!
It should be noted that the bursts in the cold water are generally short – 10-20 seconds, and obviously medical advice should be heeded if you are unwell or weak in any way.
Hadaka no Tsukiai
This is a beautiful Japanese saying, which literally means “naked communion” or “naked friendship”. No – this does not infer anything “hanky panky”, but it refers to the more open communication that can be discovered, whether it be with total strangers, family, friends or even work colleagues, when the barriers are broken down and the worries and stress of daily life are scrubbed away. Being in a naked state in front of others is totally normal to Japanese, and once international visitors overcome their shyness, they also tend to loosen up and marvel at the incredible relaxation and open their hearts and minds to a whole new perspective while enjoying a Japanese bathing experience.
There must have been something in the water at Seotonoyu as on the day we formed amazing bonds with a few people both Japanese and international. Included was a lady from Morocco who had lived in Japan for over 20 years, and a couple of local Japanese ladies with daughters living in the US. Before we knew it we were all in deep conversation and sharing details about our international families and recent travels!
Such a bond was formed that we were even offered a lift to the local station and were given some great advice about the best cherry blossom viewing areas close by.
A burst of colour to finish the day – Cherry Tree Preservation Forest
After the wonderful introduction, we decided to head to the Cherry Tree Preservation forest which is a part of the Tama Science Garden located approximately 20 minutes drive from Musashi Itsukaichi. Established by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in 1966, the centre preserves cultivated varieties of cherry blossoms handed down from the Edo Era and grafted clones from numerous cherry trees from many areas of Japan.
Due to the diversity of varieties, the blossom period ranges from late February to early May. We were certainly treated on the day to a kaleidoscope of pinks and whites over a natural forest landscape. Despite the slightly gloomy weather, a real treat, and even better, very few people! What a beautiful way to end the day.
From Shinjuku, take the Chuo line to Tachikawa and change to the Ome line to Hajima station. From there, take the JR Itsukaichi line to Musashi Itsukaichi station. Upon arrival at Musashi Itsukaichi, you will see a bus terminal at the front of the station. Take the Nishi Tokyo bus from terminal 1 bound for Kamiyoshi and get off at Akigawa Seotonoyu stop.
If visiting on a weekend, there are often wonderful local tourism volunteers at the station to provide very useful information about the area in both Japanese and English