Originally written for the Kitakami Times: http://www.iwate-ilc.jp/eng/ktimes/ways-to-enjoy-the-water-at-sukawa-onsen/
There are many hot springs in the area spanning across prefectures and I hope you have the chance to experience them all, but for this article I’d like to focus on the different ways to experience the special water in the Sukawa area of southern Iwate. The hot springs at Sukawa well up huge amounts of water – 6000L every minute!
There are two lodgings at Sukawa Onsen; one being the Sukawa Kogen Onsen Hotel (Iwate’s border) and the other, Kurikoma Sanso (Akita’s border). You may utilize their hot springs even if you aren’t staying at the lodgings. Both hot springs have incredible views and share unique water properties.
Sukawa Onsen has been popular since the Edo times, and attracted many for their therapeutic properties. Fishermen would come to heal their tired bodies from months at sea, the sick would come in hopes to cure themselves – many would stay for months to access the hot springs every day. Sukawa Onsen is known to aid with skin diseases, blood circulation, gastrointestinal diseases and gynecological diseases.
Although the most common types of hot springs in Japan are neutral (pH 6 to 7.5) to weak alkaline (pH 7.5 to 8.5), Sukawa Onsen is highly acidic with a pH of 2.2 and contains iron(II), sulfur-sodium and calcium chloride. The hot spring is antibacterial, therefore helps with variety of skin problems including eczema. The chloride in the spring allows the body to sweat but still retain heat. Sulfuric acid stimulate the process that oxygenates the blood. Calcium calms the body. The temperature is on the hotter side, and you may experience a slight tingling of the skin due to the acidity (although it’s a bath, it smells like egg…so don’t expect to come out smelling rosy).
From the hot spring, you can see Dainichiiwa, a prominent rock formation. In autumn, the rock is decorated with spectacular red, yellow and green foliage – a beautiful contrast with the bright blue of the hot spring.
What to bring
– Two towels (one to wash yourself and one to dry yourself)
– Cash for the entrance fee
*make sure to take off any jewelry
Sukawa Kougen Onsen has basic amenities such as a shower, shampoo/hair conditioner and hair dryers.
(General hot spring rules: shower before entering the bath. You may bring a towel into the general showering area to cover yourself and wash yourself, but you must bathe naked – don’t bring the towel into the bath with you. You can either fold and put the towel on your head or leave it on the edge of the bath)
Sukawa Onsen Map
足湯 (FOOT BATH, OR “ASHIYU”)
If you don’t feel like hopping into the hot spring, how about dipping your feet in some hot Sukawa water (~50℃)! As it’s at the foot of Mount Kurikoma, Sukawa Course hiking trail, I like to save this part for when I finish the hike – give your feet a good wash and feel your toxins melt away.
ふかし湯 (STEAM HOT SPRING, OR “FUKASHIYU”)
If you head a little up the mountain trail, you will find a steam bath called ‘oiranburo’. There are three rooms with steam blowing out of a hole.
You’ll need to get yourself a ‘goza’ (like a tatami sheet) at Sukawa Kogen Onsen to spread over the steam hole. Bring a towel to cover yourself (you can wear clothes, just underwear or go nude), it also helps trap the steam. Lay down on the goza and have the steam hole blowing out under your back.
The recommended time is around 20mins and make sure to have water at hand. *This space is utilized by both men and women.
ブナの恵み (BUNANOMEGUMI SPRING WATER)
After your healthy, relaxing time at the hot springs, why not make the most of the water in the area and head down to this beautiful little stop to get pure, crystal clear spring water with a pH of 7. ‘Bunanomegumi’ water is recognized as one of Japan’s 100 selected water spots. Its most fascinating and rarest quality is that there is 0.00 general bacteria (一般細菌, ippan baikin) in the water.
Fill up your water bottles and tanks here. Ours is 20L, we use it as our drinking and cooking water at home.
Lastly, when planning your trip to the Sukawa Kogen Onsen area, be sure to keep in mind that the road up closes during late November to late May!