29 January 2007

Day 4, 18 Dec 06 - Yunishigawa

Breakfast was taken at the common hall. Nothing beats a traditional bowl of miso soup and rice with seaweed to warm the stomach.
Our final destination in Tochigi Prefecture was Yunishigawa Onsen 湯西川温泉, located in a mountainous area 46.4km away (by train and bus) from Nikko Town and supposedly quite secluded unlike Kinugawa 鬼怒川公園 or Kawaji 川治温泉 which are commercialised with many tourist activities.
According to a legend, this hot spring area is said to have been discovered by fleeing Heike warriors some 800 years ago after their defeat in the battle against Genji and legends of the fugitive Heike clan have survived to this day. Although there has been an increase in the number of tourists and modern hotels, the area still abounds with traditional thatched-roof private houses and hot spring inns retaining the essence of a mountain village.
Our ryokan for the night was sought from my ever-reliable Mook magazine - Yunishigawa Hana to Hana 彩り湯かしき 花と華, the name alone sounds so appealing already. Although we were travelling to a relatively unknown area (to the conventional tourist), it turned out to be the best experience of this trip.

After checking out, we caught a bus to Tobu Nikko station, took a train to Shimo-imachi just in time to change to a train bound for Kinugawa (Only had a window of 2 minutes to change the train across a platform. The train schedule in Japan runs like clockwork!). From Shimo-imaichi, it took us 45 mins to reach Yunishigawa Onsen station (Kinugawa and Kawaji are stations in-between). One point to note, our All Nikko Pass covered train fare partially till Shin-Fujiwara only, we had to pay another 500 yen per person to the train conductor.

The moment we stepped out of the station, we got really excited because it was snowing! After 10 minutes (the bus schedule too runs like clockwork!), the bus heading towards Yunishigawa Onsen arrived and we boarded with anticipation. As the bus travelled deeper into the mountains, the snow got thicker. Definitely a rare sight for us who live in all-year sunny Singapore. Bus journey took 35mins and 970 yen per person and we alighted at the bus-stop in front of the ryokan.

As it was still early for check-in (only 1pm), we dropped our luggage at the ryokan and headed towards the village. Temperature was -3 degree celsius! Although it was snowing and butt freezing, we couldn't resist playing with snow until we couldn't stand the cold and had to pop into a neighbourhood provision stall to seek warmth. The owners were really nice to let us sit at the stove heater even though we only bought a bottle of hot tea.

After warming up a little, we headed to the Heike Village which was constructed in 1985 to observe the 800th anniversary of the Tairas’ defeat at the hand of the Minamotos in the Taira-Minamoto War. Paid 500 yen per person for entry. Several private houses in the village were moved here to reproduce and preserve the lifestyle of the fugitive Heike clan for future generations. Traditional everyday utensils and other items like weapons are on display. Walked around for 40mins and headed back to ryokan, just the right time for check-in.

We were first served some hospitality mochi and glutinous rice wine to warm our body while seated at a full glass window lounge overlooking the scenic mountain covered in snow. Then we were shown to our room with breathtaking view of the mountain and a stream beneath us. The room charge with 1 breakfast and 1 dinner was only 9600 yen per person! Definitely a steal we managed to get from their website.

We spared no time to change into yukatas provided and went straight for hot spring. There are 3 hot spring locations within the ryokan, with indoor and outdoor hotsprings. I went for the 'roten ofuro' (outdoor hotspring) and was truly awe-struck. The ofuro overlooked the stream and snow-covered mountain and it was snowing slightly. I don't care if the view is nicer in autumn; to a person who come from a country full of greenery, snow scenery is precious; something I'll remember for a long time. I was like soaking there for 1 full hour until almost dark. Best part, there wasn't anyone else as this was not the peak season.

Our dinner was Japanese Hearthside Dining 平家お狩り場焼. Feature dishes included Teppan-cooked meat, flavourful stews of vegetables, and catch from the rivers skewered and roasted over a Japanese sunken hearth (irori).

After dinner, we strolled around the ryokan, shopped a little, went for massage at a coin-operated massage chair, more soaks in another hot spring and finally decided to snug into the comfortable Futon.

Day 4 thoughts: I'm so touched! I'm the luckiest girl in the world!

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1 comment:

  1. Sounds great! Keep the photos of Japan coming.