Shiobara was on my list for a visit during autumn as it is an area renowned for its beautiful autumn colours. It was also a trip down memory lane as I had first visited the area 20 years ago for a work conference. On the day of this visit, the weather was overcast and the locals informed me I was 2 weeks early for the leaves. Nevertheless, I was still determined to enjoy the day and explore a few new areas.
It took close to 4 hours to get to there by train to Nishinasuno, followed by a bus trip to Shiobara. Accommodation was fully booked in Shiobara, so I used Nishinasuno as a base.
Hotel New Shiobara
I decided upon Hotel New Shiobara for my first onsen of the day purely because it was the only day facility open when I arrived. I never quite understand the reasoning for including the word “new” when naming facilities as unfortunately it seemed to be at least 30 years past being new! Regardless, it was nice and quiet, and a welcome opportunity to unwind.
Momiji no yu
Following my morning bath, I wandered 5 minutes down the hill from the hotel and across the river to Momiji no yu. This was part of my trip down memory lane to revisit the site of one of my most invigorating onsen experiences 20 years ago. It is a little outdoor bath providing mixed bathing amongst the maple trees (momiji). I didn’t enter the bath this time as it seemed to be full of older men chatting loudly and there is very little privacy especially for women. I smiled to myself as I reminisced about the late night adventure when after a couple of drinks I was game enough for mixed bathing with a group of friends whereby we alternated between the hot spring, and directly into the cold river water!
After my visit to Momiji no yu I continued wandering through the town, There are a few bridges crossing the river providing picturesque views, and tempting me to come back in another 2 weeks…
Momijidani Suspension Bridge
Approximately 20 minutes by bus from Shiobara, there is a 320 metre suspension bridge offering exapansive views across a gorge.
Again, this is usually a paradise in the maple viewing season. The hints of emerging colours were just enough to tantalize my senses knowing that spectacular vibrant reds, yellows and oranges would soon transform the landscape.
Akatsuki no Yu
I had just enough time to fit in one more onsen for the day. There is an onsen facility located very close to Momijidani bridge, however when I visited, I discovered it was closed for renovation. As I walked away, I was feeling a little disappointed as there was no public transport to any other onsen nearby. Suddenly though, the owner came after me in his car and kindly offered to drive to me Akatsuki no Yu which was about 10 minutes away. I was blown away by this wonderful country hospitality – what an amazingly kind gesture and service. Before dropping me off, he even made sure I could catch a taxi back to the nearest bust stop in order to get back to Nishinasuno.
Akatsuki no yu is in a neighboring rural area with a completely different country landscape.
The facilities were well maintained, and it had a distinctly local community feel to it. In addition to the indoor and outdoor baths, they have a pool.
I really enjoyed my soak in the outdoor bath. Although any expansive rural views were impeded by a partition, the country air was disctinctly clear, and I could almost smell the grass…
After the bath, it was time to head back to the closest JR bust stop via taxi. During the taxi ride, I commented to the driver about the number of corn fields. He mentioned it was all for stock feed as it is a region for dairy farming. The Nasu Shiobara area is indeed well known for its dairy products.
It was certainly another day of contrasts on my onsen journey. From Japanese maples and beautiful gorges, to farm lands and dairy cows all in one day!
Take the JR Utsunomiya line from Shinjuku to Nishinasuno (approximately 2 hours 40 minutes). From there, transfer to the JR bus to Shiobara (40 minutes).