Onsen (温泉) is the Japanese term for hot springs. There are thousands of natural hot springs scattered in all regions of Japan.
A trip to Japan is not complete without a visit to a hot spring or even better, a stay at an onsen resort.
Every time I visit Japan, I splurge and pamper myself at a different hot spring town for a night or two. There is nothing more invigorating and relaxing than to soak in an onsen to wash away the aches and stress – not to mention all the health benefits and healing power of the mineral-rich baths. Japanese people believe that regular visits to onsens help maintain good health and prevent illnesses. No wonder the life-expectancy in Japan is so high.
One of my favorite hot spring resort is Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings (阿寒湖 鶴雅ウイングス) in Hokkaido, Japan.
6 Reasons Why I Love This Hot Spring Resort:
1- Amazing Service
This resort provides top-notch hospitality. Even before you step out of the car, the staffs standing by the hotel entrance rush to take your luggage.
Ladies in kimonos greet you with a warm smile and direct you to the reception area, where you are provided with a warm towel and hot tea. Hot sake and fresh juice are also available in the lobby for you to enjoy.
After you check in, the nakaisan (the person who will assist you during your stay) gives you a tour of the facilities as she walks you to your room with your luggage.
Once you are settled in your room, you will again be served a welcome tea and a traditional Japanese snack.
You will be asked the time you wish to have dinner served in your room. The nakaisan then leaves you to enjoy the rest of your day.
Depending on the hotel, some give you the option of having dinner (Japanese style – sitting on tatami floor at a low table) in your room or at the dining hall. Breakfast, however, is usually served at the hotel dining room. I personally like having dinner in my room because I can make myself comfortable, stretch my legs out if I need to or even lay down for a bit on the tatami if I am feeling a food coma.
You don’t have to worry about leaving behind the smell of food in your room. When you return from your evening walk or pre-bedtime soak, the room will miraculously be back to just the way it was when you checked in. Your futons will be all laid out for you too.
2- Beautiful Scenery & Culturally-Rich Area
The hotel is located in a quaint little Ainu (ethnic group indigenous to Hokkaido) Cultural Village. Right across from the hotel, the streets are lined by souvenir shops specializing in Ainu handicrafts.
There are two mountains near Lake Akan that compliment the scenery, Mt. Oakan and Mt. Meakan. Imagine yourself sitting in the open-air hot spring enjoying the view of the frozen lake and the snowy mountains in the background.
3-Various Onsen Baths
You can soak in the many indoor and outdoor baths while enjoying the stunning, breath-taking panoramic view of Lake Akan and Mt. Oakandake.
The cozy room that I stayed in overlooks the serene, icy Lake Akan and has its own private open-air bath (rotenburo,露天風呂 )
5- Quality Food
Most hot springs resort include breakfast and dinner. You can enjoy kaiseki ryouri (懐石料理), traditional multi-course Japanese feast. This is my favorite part of the onsen experience. To me, the meal itself is worth the steep room rate.
Apparently some foreign guests I met were pleasantly surprised that such extravagant meals were included with the stay – they had no idea when they made the reservation.
All the fantastically delicious dishes are like what you would get at a Michelin-starred restaurant! I love admiring the different ceramics especially chosen for a specific type of food. I am always amazed at how the food are arranged on the plate like a piece of art.
A typical kaiseki dinner includes : appetizer, soup, sashimi, boiled dish, grilled dish, deep fried dish, steamed dish, vinegar dish, pickles, and desert.
It can take me as long as two hours to finish this luxurious meal – appreciating the chef’s work of art and savoring the taste of every dish.
Even the breakfast is kaiseki style!
You will get hungry after soaking in the hot tub. If you get hungry in the middle of the night, don’t worry, because they even have mid-night snack!
6- Fun Outdoor Activities and Great Indoor Facilities
There is a lot to do inside and outside of the resort all year round. In the Winter time, you can go skiing or snowboarding within a five-minute drive from the hotel, ice skating on the lake, snow shoeing in the mountains, ice fishing and snowmobiling. When the weather gets warm, you can enjoy canoeing, boat rides, swimming on the lake, taking nature walks, mountain climbing. In the Summer time, you can also enjoy fireworks at night.
If you decide to stay indoor, you can look around their souvenir shops, relax and read in one of the tastefully designed lounges, go to the spa, use the saunas, enjoy the cultural shows, or check out the different artwork displayed around the resort.
If you are visiting Japan, I highly recommend you to spend a night or two at a onsen resort to enjoy the hot spring culture and the kaiseki experience. It is a must for me!
Location: Kushiro, Hokkaido
Lake Akan Turuga Wings is located by the magical Lake Akan, nestled in the midst of Akan National Park in Kushiro, Hokkaido.
It is a one and a half hour flight from Tokyo to Kushiro, and five hours by car from Sapporo.
Price: Starts from around $200 per person.
(Rate depends on the time of the year and the type of room. You can get a 25percent discount when booking 28 days/55 days in advance.)
Hotel Website: http://www.tsuruga.com/en/
If you have a favorite hot spring resort, please share it with me.