I arrived at Sawatari Onsen in the early evening after a day of exploring Shima Onsen. It was another very pretty bus trip, 20 minutes from Nakanojo, through the farming villages up to yet another mountainous retreat. Fortunately the rain had stopped, and although cloudy, it gave the moutains quite a mystical feel providing a beautiful backdrop to the small rural town.
Sawatari Onsen Miyataya Ryokan
I had some fun finding my accommodation. Although right next to the bus stop, there were 2 places with a very similar name! I picked the wrong one, but met a lovely inn keeper and son, who soon pointed me in the right direction!
Miyataya Ryokan was quite old and looked a little different than I expected when I made the booking online. Following my checkin, the walk along the long corridors covered with old green carpet didn’t fill me with with much confidence about the lodging for the night. My room, however, was lovely and included the traditional Japanese ryokan touch of my name written in calligraphy at the entrance. My futon was already laid out waiting for me and I had a very relaxing view of the lush green mountainside. Just what I needed after a long day!
Indoor and outdoor bathing areas
Although I had already had a very busy day bathing, there is always time for one more bath! This time though, I knew that I could relax in my yukata afterward and wind down for the evening in my beatiful room.
The baths, like the ryokan, were quite dated, but the outdoor bath did have a beautiful peaceful view. Shima Onsen is renowned for beautifying the skin, so I was up for those benefits! After soaking for a few minutes outside however, I was reminded that summer had arrived as a mozzie came buzzing around me….time for me to get inside!
Following my bath I visited a lovely local soba restaurant next to the ryokan and enjoyed a bowl of tempura soba before calling it a night.
Breakfast with bling!
After a good night’s rest, I headed for breakfast. Although I had not booked a meal package with my accommodation, I was offered the option of breakfast for an extra fee of 700 yen. I am glad I took the option as it turned out to be an amazing experience and incredible value!
Firstly, I had been expecting a common area for eating, but each staying guest had their own private room! Again, my name was beautifully written at the entrance to the room and then internal room featured stunning artwork and Japanese shoji screens with a vase of freshly cut hydrangeas.
The breakfast was quite traditional with the usual rice, fish, salad, mountain vegetables, pickles, egg and soup. I loved the design of the seaweed packaging featuring the mountain scenery and the hot spring mark with the 3 wavy marks of steam.
Following breakfast I checked out and considered my plans for the day. Due to the isolated rural area, and the fact I was travelling by bus, I needed to work around very limited transportation options. A a result, I had 40 minutes to wander through a beautiful mountain tracks around the town and then headed back into Nakanojo to spend a few hours prior to my train trip back to Tokyo.
If you happen to visit Sawatari Onsen by car, I would definitely recommend exploring the local farming villages and mountain roads as it is a very pretty area.
Tsumuji: Cafe’s, culture and footbaths
Continuing the onsen theme, I discovered a great cultural centre near Nakanojo station that showcases the work of local artists, traditional crafts, cafes and quite a sophisticated communal footbath. Following my lunch, it was a joy to relax out of the heat taking in the views of the beautiful garden outside, with soft background music. The water is brought in from Shima, and is free for all to enjoy while visiting the centre.
History and Culture
My trip ended with a visit to the neighbouring Nakanojo Museum of Folk and HIstory. The museum is an important cultural asset as it is housed in the old Agatsuma Daisan School originally built in 1885. Here I learned that the town of Sawatari Onsen had been wiped out by fire in 1945 and it was not until 1959 that the town was revived again. In addition, the exhibits echoed the richness of culture in the area, and highlighted the stories of samurai, ninja, artists, writers and doctors and their historical ties to Nakanojo and surrounding onsen towns.
There was one last cultural suprise waiting for me. As I arrived at Nakanojo station, the platform was decorated with many wind chimes and Tanabata decorations made by the local primary school students, all who had written their hopes and dreams on the streamers. Such a lovely community touch. I know I will be back to explore further.
From Ueno station, take the Kusatsu Limited Express train to Nakanojo (2 hours 5 minutes) and transfer to the public bus bound for Sawatari Onsen (approximately 25 minutes).