The Onsen of Hida 飛騨温泉

As early summer rains continue to fall, nature blossoms and flourishes. The forests that cover the roaming mountains strengthen, and show their brilliant deep green. They fade into the horizon and turn from green to blue to match the sky. Carved out of the valleys are small pockets of civilization where we live, surrounded by this awesome, beautiful nature.

A strong part of the traditions of our area are onsen. Onsen are facilities and hotels centered around a hot spring bath. A hot bath is the perfect cool down after exercise. Intense physicality met with passive recovery. The therapeutic effects of an onsen come from the temperature of the water, and its chemical make-up. Though, I think the main reason people come to the onsen of Hida is the beautiful serene nature that surrounds you as you bath and relax.

You can receive the temperature benefits from any public bath in Japan. Water temperature tends to be around 40ºC. The hot water expands the muscles in your body and improves blood circulation. The body works hard to cool itself, which increases your metabolism. An onsen might also have a cold bath around 20º or below. Lying in this pool is massively chilling and forces your muscles to tighten and contract.

The idea of contrast therapy is to hop back into a 40º bath, and alternate back and forth. This soothes and heals muscle soreness, facilitates recovery, and conditions the body and skin against temperature change. It feels fantastic, but be careful. The rapid changes can cause dizziness and even fainting.

The Hida area has more than 250 onsen. Many onsen in Hida have additional therapeutic effects from the unique chemicals in the water. Many of these places are outside of cities, set in forests near some beautiful hiking trails. These are some of my favorites.

Far east in Takayama is Hirayu no Mori ひらゆの森. This is a sulfur (you) 硫黄 containing sodium bicarbonate saline hot spring (tansan suiso shio izumi) 炭酸水素塩泉. It contains other minerals, too, such as calcium カルシウム, sodium ナトリウム, magnesium マグネシウム, and chloride (enka butsu) 塩化物. Sulfur, bicarbonate, and chloride hot springs are all known for their healing effect on cuts and bruises. Sulfur springs also helps lower high blood pressure. Bicarbonate springs are known to wash fat from the skin leaving it young and beautiful looking. Chloride springs connect with proteins on the skin to strengthen it.

The indoor baths are gorgeous, and have the feeling of a Japanese castle. Outside baths are carved out of the rock, and allow you to lavish in the surrounding nature. It’s the most beautiful onsen I’ve been to yet. And entrance is only 500! It does get quite busy, though.

If you travel a little north, near the Fukuji 福地 area is the Okuhida Green hotel, Yakedake 焼岳. It’s a bicarbonate spring, and has a beautiful emerald green bath outside to match the towering forested mountains. Entrance is 750.

Further south in eastern Osaka are a few onsen towns. There’s Yuya 湯屋 and Shitajima 下島. In Shitajima, there’s Himeshaga no yu ひめしゃがの湯, another bicarbonate spring facility that also contains sodium and chloride. Outside, hot and cool baths allow you to bask in the sun. Perfect for contrasting while listening to the flow of the nearby river and waterfall. Entrance is 650.

Though, my personal favorite is Ebisu no yu 恵比須之湯 in northeast Takayama. This is primarily a carbon dioxide spring (nisanktanso) 二酸化炭素, which lowers blood pressure by expanding blood vessels. It also has bicarbonate, sodium, and calcium. I love this place because it’s small and out of the way. There are no frills. Just 3 baths set at 42º, 40º and 21º, perfect temperatures for moving back and forth. After leaving the bath, my skin instantly dries, and feels so smooth. I feel great every time I go there. Entrance is only 550.

Check out any of these places if you’re in the area, and check out our Hida welcome guide for more recommendations for onsen in our beautiful home.

As a last recommendation, after any bath in Hida, the absolute best treat is a bottle of orange or pineapple Hida milk.

Originally written for the July 2016 issue of the Gifu Bulletin, a monthly publication sent to all ALTs in Gifu participating in the JET programme. Original title was "Explore the Nature of Hida through Onsen."