It was a bright sunny autumn day, as I headed to the western outskirts of Tokyo in search of beautiful autumn leaves and a relaxing onsen. I caught the Chuo line to Musashi Itsukaichi which is the gateway to the Akigawa Valley, one of my favourite “getaways” without leaving Tokyo. From Musashi Itsukaichi, there are a number of buses which provide easy access to explore the 3 main communities of Akiruno, Hinode and Hinohara. Today I was headed to Hinode to visit Tsuru Tsuru Onsen.
There was a huge line up for the bus, and as I stood in line I caught myself guessing whether I would be lucky enough to get onto the bus especially given they only leave once or twice and hour! Thanks to everyone cooperating including taking their back packs off and putting them at their feet, the driver got us all on. It was well overloaded and shall we say “overly cozy” (!) but everyone was in happy spirits as the bus headed off.
The bus trip to Tsuru Tsuru Onsen took around 20 minutes. Along the way the bus wove gently up the mountain along the beautiful Hirai river. Leaves were beginning to turn and the views filled me with a sense of serenity and anticipation for my day ahead. The majority of the people got off at Shiraiwa no Taki bus stop to go on the popular hike to the Shiraiwa waterfall. As I so often plan though, my goal was to visit the onsen while everyone else is still out hiking to avoid the crowds.
Tsuru Tsuru Onsen
Arriving at Tsuru Tsuru onsen, there were gorgeous autumn colours on the surrounding trees so I took a few moments to wander and soak in the views before heading inside for a bath.
The facilities were quite extensive with a large foyer with a central staircase leading up to the baths. The bathing areas had both internal and external baths and appeared to have been renovated in recent years.
Tsuru Tsuru is Japanese mimetic word for “slippery” or “smooth”. It aptly describes the water at the onsen which is highly alkaline which leaves your skin feeling silky smooth.
After my leisurely, peaceful soak in both the indoor and outdoor baths, I was feeling quite tired and hungry. While I was cooling off with a towel in the change room, I had to grin as I found myself pondering lunch options as they had tempting food pictures and menus on the wall. Very clever marketing, and a different hospitality experience as looking at menus is not something normally done in the nude!
Heading back downstairs I discovered there were 2 options for dining including a large Japanese style tatami seating area, or a western style room with a country chalet like feel. The menu is the same in both places. I headed for the western area and enjoyed a fried chicken meal with miso soup, pickles and rice with a locally made craft beer. Again, it was interesting to note the marketing with a special “Ladies day” plan for 1500 yen including bath entry fee (offered Monday’s only) or a “Men’s day” plan for a beer and 2 yakitori for 500yen (offered on Thursday’s only).
Heading off in search of autumn landscapes
After the early start to the day, it was still only 12:30, so there was plenty of time for me to head off on the bus and explore the opposite side of Musashi Itsukaichi station.
The bus on the way back was almost empty at midday as all of the hikers were still off in the mountains. From the front seat, I enjoyed the bursts of colour from the young maple trees lining the town roads.
After arriving back at Musashi Itsukaichi, I then changed to the bus departing from terminal 1 and headed in the opposite direction to further explore the Akigawa Valley.
The next bus was very crowded again, mainly with day tourists but again everyone was patient letting people on and off, and it was only a 15 minute bus ride to Jyurigi bus stop.
From Jyurigi bus stop, it is only a 5 minute walk to the beautiful Ishibunebashi, a 96 metre long suspension bridge spanning the Akigawa River.
The views from the platform as you approach the bridge are quite beautiful, and it was breathtaking looking at contrasting views of turquoise waters and autumn colours from either side the bridge.
Below is the spectacular view from the other side of the bridge. Many of the Ginko trees were just starting to change colours and were stunning in the mid afternoon light.
A 10 minute walk away from the bridge, there is another very popular onsen, Seotonoyu, which I had already visited. I intentionally avoided a visit that afternoon due to the 3-5pm peak bathing time.
In the mean time though, I had enjoyed a stunning day of colour, crystalline waters and fresh mountain air. Only one hour from Tokyo, it never ceases to amaze me that I can experience this tranquility so close to home, and even better, apart from the buses, I had dodged the masses!
From Shinjuku, take the Chuo line to Musashi Itsukaichi (approximately 1 hour). Take the bus from terminal 3 out the front of the station to the last stop which is “Tsuru Tsuru Onsen ( approximiately 20 minutes). To visit Ishibunebashi in the Akigawa Valley, take the bus from terminal 1 and get off at Jyurigi bus stop (approximately 15 minutes)