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Japan’s volcanic terrain is known for its numerous hot springs. The Japanese love the chance to relax in baths made from these warm natural waters. These hot springs (or onsen, as they are called in Japanese) are found all over Japan, and especially in the mountains. You will usually find these onsen in ryokan (traditional Japanese inns).

Yonezawa, a small mountain town famous for its high-quality beef, is home to many of these onsen. In winter, the Yonezawa area receives an impressive amount of snowfall and deeply cold winter temperatures. A visit to the city is a perfect opportunity to stay in a ryokan and enjoy the pleasures of a rotenburo (outdoor hot spring bath), surrounded by snow.

A Luxurious Ryokan in an Onsen Village

Onogawa Onsen Kajikaso is about a 25-minute drive from Yonezawa Station by bus. The ryokan has a free shuttle that picks up visitors at the station to take them directly to the lobby of the hotel. During my arrival, I was offered a small skewer of konjac (a Japanese root ingredient), while I waited for someone to guide me to my room. I saw snow as far as the eye could see outside my windows. It was a beautiful view and a wonderful feeling to be in such a warm, comfortable environment with the cold rains outside.

When people say ryokan they expect full Japanese-style rooms. Although the experience of sleeping on a futon laid directly on tatami-mat floors is an incredible way to experience Japanese culture, some Westerners will prefer the comfort of a bed. Rest assured, if you have back pains or other worries related to sleeping on the floor, Onogawa Onsen Kajikaso has thought of you. It is possible to choose between Japanese or Western rooms in this ryokan.

The only real difference between a Japanese room is the presence of a bed. The room as a whole is very much in line with what you would expect from a ryokan room. We remove our slippers before entering the room, to protect the tatami mats flooring. The room is large, spacious, and luxurious. A huge floor-to-ceiling window offers superb views of the snowy expanse surrounding the hotel. The room’s coffee table is the perfect place to enjoy the scenery while sipping a cup of hot green tea. The room is so comfortable that we almost forget that the best is yet to come and the delightfully warm natural spring waters still await us.

Yonezawa Onsen Ryokan Snow Covered Terrain in Yamagata Prefecture

The Onsen in Onogawa Onsen Kajikaso

With few exceptions, onsen are generally not gender-mixed in Japan. Because we do not fit into the bathing suits that we share with the other occupants of the ryokan, it is necessary to undress completely, then wash yourself, before entering the onsen. Culturally, it is a small barrier to cross for us Westerners, who are unaccustomed to public nudity. But it’s so natural for the Japanese, that we quickly forget our own hesitations.

Onogawa Onsen Kajikaso Hot Spring Village Baths

The Onogawa Onsen Kajikaso has an outdoor bath and an indoor bath, each reserved for either men or women according to the hours of the day, to allow everyone to enjoy the two different baths. This is not the first onsen I had visited, however, it was the first time I found myself in an outdoor pool surrounded by snow. It was a wonderful feeling. It’s a bit hard to get into the water at first; your body needs time to adjust to the difference in temperature. But once you have entered the water, your whole body relaxes.

Onogawa Onsen Kajikaso Outdoor Rotenburo Baths in Yonezawa

While staying in a ryokan, Japanese people usually go to the onsen before eating, and then again after eating, to be relaxed before going to bed.

A Superb Dinner

In a ryokan, we eat early, around 18:30. Once we were seated at the table, the waitress lit flames under iron dishes that would cook before our eyes–for me, it was a shabu-shabu (hot pot) of Yonezawa beef and rice. She continued to bring many other dishes for the meal.

Yonezawa Beef and Shabu Shabu in Yamagata Onsen Village Ryokan

I never understood in what order all the food should be eaten. No matter, it was delicious all the same. Some sashimi and seafood gratin were highlighted, the flavors following one another…sweet, salty, acidic. Each bite was the discovery of a new and different flavor. Yonezawa beef is particularly tasty, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture. Two sauces, one sesame-based, and one with citrus fruits, delicately perfume the meal.

A slice of white cheese with strawberry and apple (another specialty of the region) dessert completed the meal. I left the meal having eaten a lot but without feeling heavy. It’s impossible not to be in love with the cuisine of this ryokan.

Local Strawberry Desert Speciality at Onogawa Onsen Kajikaso Hot Spring Village Ryokan

Exploring the Onsen Town

Going for a walk around the onsen allows you to discover a small village lost in the snow. The vapors of thermal water escape from everywhere in the village. I liked this remote and traditional atmosphere. In the middle of the snow, there was a small foot bath and a pool in which residents came to boil their eggs (named onsen-tamago).

It is also an opportunity to discover kamakura, a kind of igloo with pure and precise forms. Onogawa Onsen Kajikaso offers morning coffee or dinner in one such igloo. But that day, the temperatures did not permit lingering outside for long. Another reason to return one day in the summer or fall months is to rediscover the Yonezawa area in a different season.

Yonezawa official tourist information

Need more information? You can find up-to-date information about Yonezawa’s history, sightseeing locations, accommodations, and food, and search for local attractions here.

Sponsored by Yonezawa City

Joachim Ducos

Joachim Ducos

Passionné par le cinéma japonais, j'ai voulu découvrir la vie quotidienne de ce pays que je ne connaissais qu'à travers la fiction. En 2017 je quittais ma France natale pour poser mes valises à Tokyo sans savoir que j'y resterai si longtemps. Après presque deux années à poursuivre mes activités de photographe et de vidéaste en parcourant l'archipel japonais, le Japon exerce toujours sur moi une mystérieuse fascination qui me pousse à vouloir en explorer chaque recoin.


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