If you love onsen and are ever travelling to Kyushu, Kurokawa Onsen is a must visit! As with so many of my hot spring visits, I discovered such tranquil natural beauty in the Japanese countryside. This town would be gorgeous at any time of the year, but I was incredibly lucky to catch the autumn leaves. Furthermore, I avoided the crowds with the mid-week timing of my visit.
Upon arrival, my first point of call was the visitor information centre to get my bearings and plan my day ahead. I soon discovered the Kurokawa Onsen Hopping Pass which offers great value to visit any 3 of the 24 participating onsens for only 1300 yen.
With too many onsen to choose from, I asked for local advice and Yamamizuki was one of the three recommended.
Unlike most of the other onsen in Kurokawa, Yamamizuki is located just out of the main town centre. It is about 25 minutes walking distance or alternatively there are also shuttle buses available. My timing coincided nicely with the shuttle schedule so it wasn’t long before I was enjoying the short drive along the beautiful windy country roads up to Yamamizuki. Upon arrival, I knew I was going to be in for a treat as it was a beautiful traditional onsen ryokan in a secluded rural setting.
To reach the bathing facilities for day visitors, I was guided toward a lovely walk which went behind the ryokan toward the river.
As I wandered toward the bath through the garden it was quite a soothing, almost meditative experience that melted away my tiredness from my recent travel. I couldn’t help reflect on the synergies with preparing the spirit for a Japanese tea ceremony as you walk through gardens and humbly bow your head as you enter the tea house prior to the ceremony. Such is the attention to detail in Japan which adds such a special dimension to experiences.
Speaking of bowing your head, I soon came across vibrantly coloured noren, indicating the official entrance to the bathing facilities. I veered to the right for the day visitor bathhouse.
Shortly after I arrived at a traditional building that was a reception and café area for the bathhouse.
The staff who welcomed me were very friendly and guided me toward my muchly anticipated bath. As soon as I entered the change areas I could feel there were more special experiences ahead and what’s more, I had the whole place to myself. I was so lucky to freely take in all of the beautiful facilities as I had been given special permission to take photos.
After a pre-bath wash, I normally head straight to the outdoor bath, but upon seeing the traditional wooden architecture surrounding the indoor bath I took a moment to soak this in.
I then headed outside and saw one of the most beautiful riverside baths that I have experienced in Japan. The warm relaxing benefits of the hot spring water were amplified so much by the surrounding nature. All I could do was soak and sigh….ahhh!
After a long leisurely soak, I meandered back along the path to the reception area to rest. Upon thanking the wonderful staff for their warm hospitality, I decided to explore the neighbouring property, Miyama Sansou.
Miyama Sansou is laid out as a mini village consisting of a number of independent villas. These are quite exclusive facilities all with their own private bathing areas.
I was pleased to discover there was a dining area open to the public, so I continued down the path and found a perfect environment to further relax and unwind.
I couldn’t believe my luck with the timing of the maple leaves. Upon reaching the restaurant, before I even sat down at the table, I had to take a picture of the red glow coming through the windows and reflecting on the table top.
With my senses already heightened, the beauty and taste of my lunch was further amplified. A nice cold local craft beer was the perfect accompaniment after a hot bath!
After a leisurely meal, and feeling so grateful for my special experiences, I continued along the path and took in the surrounding rice fields that had been harvested.
Both Yamamizuki and Miyama Sansou really were such beautiful properties which had been so tastefully developed in this remote rural setting. My lasting memory before I hopped back on the shuttle bus into town were the brilliant maple leaves framing the Tanoharu river.
Yamamizuki remains one of my favourite onsen memories and I will definitely be returning to stay overnight one day!
Kurokawa Onsen is easily accessible by bus or rental car from a number of regional areas in Kyushu. If traveling to Kyushu by air, the closet airport is Kumamoto. From Kumamoto airport it is a 46 minute bus trip. Alternatively, it is a 2 hour 20 minute bus trip from Fukuoka airport.