I’m not a big fan of public nudity, especially when it’s me stripping down to my birthday suit.
The idea of dropping my duds, wading into a pond of steaming hot water to sit with a swag of strangers, and soaking until my fingers prune is never high on my holiday itinerary when spending time in the Land of the Rising Sun.
But the Japanese are crazy bananas for the custom and spend long hours skinny dipping in the thermal pools that dot the country’s 6000 islands to recharge after an arduous day or deal with the symptoms of more serious medical conditions.
So the chance to stay in the ryokan-style accommodations of a famous mountain onsen is the perfect holiday destination for many Japanese – and an increasing number of Aussie travellers – with Sukayu Onsen Resort home to 134 traditional rooms and thermal springs that have been soothing aches and pains for 300 years.
The onsen and ryokan rooms sit under the same roof, inside wooden buildings that are the oldest in Aomori Prefecture, and the guest chambers range from modest studio suites with shared facilities to vast multi-room villas soaked in the sunshine on fine days.
Tatami mats line the floors and in the evening housekeepers sweep silently through the complex to turn living rooms into cozy nocturnal spaces by positioning comfy sleeping mattresses covered by plump doonas and turn on the heating to remove the highland chill from the air.
The address sits in a secluded corner of the picturesque Towada-Hachimantai National Park – 25km from Aomori City in Honshu’s far north, with local buses shuttling travellers from the settlement’s train station to a stop right outside the resort – making it a haven for hikers who linger across the warmer months.
The historic compound is surrounded by mountains that turn vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow when autumn arrives and a stone’s throw from the Hakkoda ski fields that are famous for metres of dry powder snow that tumble down during winter.
The thermal spring produces “sour water’’ that’s highly acidic and while the main pool is known as “the bathtub of 1000 people’’, because of its vast size, it can really only accommodate 300 bathers at a time and is so popular it’s rarely empty.
There was a time when men and women soaked together but today there are separate spaces for each sex, with modest screens offering some privacy while getting into the water, and the locals have even made an allowance for modest female foreigners by letting visitors wear special smocks when submerged.
Tip – Aomori Prefecture is a fertile food bowl growing all sorts of produce and those visiting at Sukayu Onsen Resort should try the sweet and succulent corn on the cob prepared by the local cooks manning a stall by the property’s main entrance.
What would you like to do in Japan?
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