Another weekend, another onsen. This time I ventured north of Tokyo as the big talk of the nation was the typhoon approaching from the south. If I calculated correctly, I would still be able to enjoy a day away, without the risk of transportation delays and getting drenched or blown away. My destination was Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture, a 45 minute trip on the Tsukuba Express from Akihabara.
As I arrived at Tsukuba, my memories of Tsukuba flooded back to 1985 when I visited for the International Science Exposition. The city certainly still had that “expo feel” and has since continued to be a major centre for research in science, technology and aerospace. Consequently there are also plenty of universities. I found it lacked a bit of local character for my taste, so I was happy to get on the shuttle bus for a further 40 minutes and head to Tsukubasan for a day of hiking and onsen.
Arriving at Tsubasan-guchi (entrance to Mt Tsukuba) bus stop, There is a huge torii (gate marking the entrance to a sacred Shrine area). You see a lot of these in Japan, but the size of this one is pretty impressive!
Looking back across the road in the opposite direction from the torii , there was a magnificent rural view over the Kanto plains. The tourist brochure I had received dubbed the area as the “kitchen of the Kanto” as it is a main producer for fish, meat and other agricultural products which sustain the Tokyo metropolitan area.
I wandered through the torii and up the hill toward the shrine and 10 minutes later found my onsen destination of Tsukubasan Endoya.
This onsen ryokan has a history of more than 380 years, with the current owner being 10th generation. As I entered foyer, I could feel the historical charm with its traditional architecture and welcoming feel. I was happy to find that they offered an onsen & lunch package so I could take my time to soak up the atmosphere. It was pretty quiet as it was before all of the guests checked in, and I had by passsed the other day trippers usually flocking in after their hike. As usual, I did the reverse! Straight to unwind in the bath!
The bath area was very traditional and a little old, but plenty of character. The spring water is apparently from the deepest underground point in Ibaraki, with a high 10.18 pH making it great for beautiful skin. It is therefore known as “bijin no yu” or “beauty hot spring”
The narrow little door in the corner caught my immediate attention. As soon as I had washed down I headed out the door and discovered a beautiful outdoor rotenburo. The lighting on the bath to the outdoor area was subdued and relaxing, whilst the surface of the onsen reflected the glorious relaxing greens of nature.
Nature up close and personal!
I sighed with content as I slid my body into the silky smooth water. All of my stresses melted away and I relaxed in peace and quiet, enjoying the beautiful reflections and surrounding nature. As I looked across the surface of the water, I saw something floating toward me……it was a frog!!!! Mmmm – he was either very relaxed with a long pause between his frog kicks, or he had accidentally jumped into a pond a little too warm for his liking….As I took a closer look, unfortunately I discovered it was the latter. I gently pushed him away to rest in peace on the furthest side of the bath. After that, my bath wasn’t quite the same, but it did remind me that I was indeed bathing in nature!
Lunch packages can be great at onsen ryokans. Here at Endoya, I got the best service. They asked me how long I would like in the bath, so they could calculate the service time of the beautiful kamameshi (rice cooked in an iron pot). Here was the beautiful meal awaiting me after my bath….
The table overlooked the same trees that I had just enjoyed in the bath. There was a choice of local meats – chicken, beef or pork – no frog thankfully.
An afternoon hike
Following my bath and lovely meal, I was ready to visit Tsukubasan shrine, and take the cable car ride up the mountain to enjoy a hike.
Tsukubasan shrine has a history of over 3000 years and is highly respected. Looking back from the entrance way, there was a magnificent view over the surrounding areas, and it is worth taking a look around the grounds of the shrine if you have the time.
Up behind the shrine is the entrance to the cable car. The steps were very steep, and I was soon reminded of the natural logic of having a bath after the hike! I bought a round trip ticket to go up via cable car and down via the rope way at the other side of the mountain which would give me a nice balance of exercise as well as enjoying the scenic views. Serious hikers bypass the automated options and go directly to the hiking trail options.
Views from the peaks
After getting off the cable car, there are two mini hiking options to the peaks of “Nantaisan” and “Nyotaisan”, with stunning views along the way. There were quite a few people on the route as it is pretty popular. Some areas of the tracks are pretty steep and rocky so you definitely need good footwear, and I heard plenty of people saying they were glad the typhoon hadn’t arrived yet as it would not be a good place to try to hike in the rain! Overall it was around an hour of hiking to the 2 peaks between the cable car and the rope way trips.
Along the trail to Nantaisan:
View from Nantaisan peak (871 metres):
View from Nyotaisan (877 metres)
All in all a great day trip. I do recommend the onsen after the hike though!
From Akihabara, take the Tsukuba Express train to Tsukuba Station (45 minutes) followed by a shuttle bus to Tsukubasanguchi. (40 minutes)