Noilly Prattle: A Room with the Ultimate View

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Room with the Ultimate View

     “Your room has a beautiful view; depending, of course, on what you think is beautiful,” the room attendant joked as she ushered us into our 旅館 [ryokan] room at 湯原温泉[Yubara Onsen].

        In Okayama Prefecture, a river called the 旭川[Asahikawa] runs more or less north to south from the mountain divide in the north of the prefecture to the Inland Sea. It is a rather scenic river with, Yubara, one of our favorite onsen 温泉 (hot springs) with thermal pools in the river in the northern part of the prefecture. The same river flows through our city and, in fact, you can drive along the river all the way to the hot spring. It is a very scenic drive that takes about two to two and a half hours of pleasant country driving to get there.

thermal pools and Asahikawa, Yubara Onsen
        The unique thing about Yubara is the open air thermal pools in the river that are free of charge and feature mixed bathing, both a rarity in Japan these days. Nudity is de rigueur when using the pools although they are in plain view of anyone passing by. Public nudity is commonplace in Japan in the popular hot spring culture that the country enjoys. Japan is blessed, thanks to its volcanic geology, with a large network of natural thermal springs, and the Japanese have developed a culture built around public bathing. Nowadays the sexes are separated in the hot spring hotels' communal baths. But Yubara upholds an older tradition of mixed bathing in the town-run thermal pools in the river. Naturally, there are many ryokan with their own spas, but they conform to the more modern separated baths. Many onsen ryokan, however, feature private baths for mixed bathing on a reservation basis. 

the ryokan lobby, Asahikawa through the window
        We decided to take an overnight trip for an early celebration of Xmas and my birthday and booked a room with breakfast and dinner included at a ryokan overlooking the public pools—the circumstance that led to the room attendant's quip about “the beautiful view”.


notice the woman wrapped in a special wrap

in the roof bath
        After checking out the “view” we decided to soak in the hotel's roof bath in the rain before dinner. The roof bath is open air and there was nobody else in the men's bath. I could hear Road Buddy on the other side of the fence in the women's bath so I suggested she come over to the men's side since there was no one else there. She did, no other men showed up, and we enjoyed a relaxing soak together until it was time to get ready for dinner, which included a birthday cake for me after the meal.


        It was still raining after dinner but we decided to go out to the open air thermal springs in the river (a must) anyway. The hotel provided umbrellas for guests but, to our surprise, the rain had let up as we left the lobby of the hotel and the umbrellas were unnecessary but we carried them anyhow. There was only one other man in the bath when we arrived so we moved to an empty pool and, being alone, took out the camera and had a lot of fun taking pictures in the light of lamps around the pools. I will say that although mixed bathing is the rule at Yubara, most of the bathers tend to be men who seem to be less shy about taking it all off. Women are allowed to wear a special towel in the pools, although swim wear is strictly prohibited. So, you will rarely see women in the pools in daylight. (We went to Yubara with a couple from Spain last summer and the women were the only ones in the pools surrounded by admiring lads in the afternoon. Naturally, they loved the attention.) In general though, for the ladies, soaking in the outside pools is more comfortable at night. That is why we especially like Yubara at night. It is very special when you are there on a snowy night in winter. It didn't snow this time around, but it did start raining again while we were in the pool. And that is third best. Second best is when the moon breaks through the clouds on a snowy evening. 

under a lamp post - ryokan in the background

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