Saturday, November 15, 2008

Takaha Onsen - Another Defunct Onsen

When I went there in June 2008, the doors had already been closed for good but the structure was still standing. This area, 3-400 meters east of Hankyu Rokko, is mostly a residential area with single-family housing.

I was forced to use onsen and sento after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January 1995. So, I had to search out which nearby ones were available. Because there were so many people using them, we were given a time limit. Since then, I know of two that I had used near Kobe High School on the number 2 bus line that have been closed down. And a third, about 200 meters southwest of Hankyu Rokko and across from Rokko Elementary school, now has apartments where it stood.

In addition to a lack of patrons, due to a shift in the local housing, I can imagine that the cost of fuel has further squeezed profit out of that kind of business.
This was the outdoor notice board of the price structure, 380 yen for adults, and cost for soap, shampoo, and towel rental, up to 470 yen.

Otomezuka Onsen - Male and Female Alternating Bath Areas

Updated: January 14, 2016

In the eight years since I have posted, the base fare has increased to ¥420 and with the sauna charge it is ¥700. One of the unusual aspects of this mineral hot spring bathhouse is the men's and women's sides change every other day. One half has mostly tile throughout while the other side has a wood-rimmed indoor bath, and a stone-rimmed outdoor hot and cold bath.

Years ago, while I was neck-deep in the cold stone-rimmed outdoor bath, while all of the other men were in the hot bath, a Japanese man went to sit in the cold bath but only got as far as his ankle before he jerked out his foot. I suppose he was thinking that since I was a foreigner sitting up to my neck, it was a hot bath. I also recall here, a father with two young children were getting in the outdoor bath. The father could tolerate the heat but the 3 or 4 year old children couldn't. Most homes use showers these days so young people may not become accustomed to the heat, so they may never adapt to this prime aspect of Japanese culture.

Last week, I tried the bath again after several years absence. The outside tiled hot bath felt a comfortable, slimy green with loads of gas bubbles. As we sit, the bubbles accumulate around the hairs on the submerged parts of the body. I believe the cold bath is artisan well water off of Mt. Rokko and is around 19° C, but this is an exceptionally warm winter. The posted temperature of the hot mineral water is 41.1° C. Both the indoor and outdoor hot mineral baths have a low enough hot temperature for lingering, which a handful of local, older men did outside. I prefer a bath closer to 41.5° C or so. The hot, dry sauna on the tiled half of the bathhouse is entered with a wooden latch key and is hot enough but seating for only 3 or 4 men.

This bathhouse has three floors: ground floor with the changing room, second floor with washing stations and bubble Jacuzzi baths, and the third floor with more washing stations, the sauna, one large, indoor mineral bath, and the hot and cold outdoor baths. As always, it is wise to take short, tentative steps when walking in the bathing areas to avoid a slip or a fall. A lot of Japanese produce a liberal amount of soap or shampoo suds around their wash station and may not wash the suds away. Wet floor tiles, on their own, are often slippery.

The ground floor has a seating area with tables and chairs for beverages, including draft beer, and light food, along with beverages from an automatic vending machine. Like some other bathhouses, but not all, people can leave valuables in a small locker after inserting 100 yen which is returned after you open the locker on your departure. A timed, payable massage chair is available. Pink, Himalayan rock salt was available for sale which, frankly, was a surprise for me, at around 540 yen for a small bag.

Great feeling mineral water with good aeration but I prefer baths a bit hotter.

六甲おとめ塚温泉 [web]

兵庫県神戸市灘区徳井町3-4-14 [map]
6:00〜1:00 (年中無休)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Asahi Onsen - Slimy & Green ... Wonderful

Luckily, their main attraction, the 31°C ambient-temperature, 2x2 meter, mineral pool, appeared on their web page. The other three mineral pools include a refrigerated 1x2 meter 20°C pool (reserved for paid-sauna goers), the 2x4 meter 42°C pool, and the hot, 2x2 meter 46°C pool.

It took some time, using my faltering Japanese, to verify that the natural mineral water came out at 31°C and not at 20°C, the cold bath which looked greenish but lacked the oxygenated bubbles like the 31°C pool where bubbles accumulated on ones skin giving it a slimy texture. This natural pool felt more like the one found at Nada Onsen (Suidosuji) than at the closer Minatoyama Onsen.

Other onsen or sento might use the shallower, clear, artesian well water for its cold bath rather than refrigerating natural mineral water. Consequently, it is not refrigerated to maintain a set temperature and greatly varies more on the season.

Since I report on onsen, I tried the reputed 46°C pool. I could stand its heat up to chest deep for a minute or so. That was enough. Later, I told the 70-year-old woman at the reception desk that it wasn't popular because only two or three men soaked in this hot pool during the hour I was there. . She did say that in the evenings and on weekends there were plenty of men who soaked there. By my calculations, using a meat thermometer, the pool was only 44°C. This could be why I managed to stay in it for a while.

The fee of ¥380 allowed men to use seven pools plus the warm-hot steam sauna. For ¥500 men could enter into the hot sauna which came with a plastic key and a large, orange bath towel. Supposedly, the cold pool was also included with the added fee but regular bathers seemed to use it, as well. This hot, dry sauna with covered wooden benches and brick walls could seat 16 men, so I suppose one this size must be popular.

Four clear water pools and one forceful waterfall fill out the bathing options there. These include: 1) two 1.5 x 1.5 circular, bubble hot baths, 2) one, 120 cm. Width electric bath, 3) one sit-down jet bath, and 4) one, waterfall with two powerful streams beating down at shoulder width. These options are fairly common at sento, as well.

I visited Asahi Onsen, on Monday, November 17, 2008, from about one p.m. I mention the day and time because at this time of day only a dozen, or so, mostly young-elderly, and elderly men, were around. It wasn't crowded or noisy with children running and splashing about which could be the case on weekends and evenings.

One 60-year-old man sported a full-back tattoo of Kannon (Guanyin) but I didn't steel myself to ask if it were due to his religious convictions or not. He later looked like a good-natured fellow while talking with the reception desk staff so he must be a regular. Another man in his 50's had both his arms, from his elbows up, and his chest muscles darkly tattooed. Without spectacles, the inked images were unclear and it didn't feel right to look too intently at a person with such tattoos.

The two women at the reception desk guessed that this onsen has been there since about 1935. The photos of the drilling platform, along with the surrounding buildings, suggests that the drilling took place much later. Earth samples from the drilling, and the actual drill bits, provide some of the decoration for one room with electric massage chairs.

In addition to vending machines, the staff provide hot beverages like coffee and tea. Probably a cold beer and light food is also in store for those with more of an appetite.

Asahi Onsen is situated about halfway between JR Kobe and JR Hyogo, on the north side of the track. It's pink and orange, three-story structure with a happy, soaking family painted on it makes it hard to miss.
TEL 078-577-1836

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Asahi Sento - A Standard Bathhouse with a Great Sauna

Asahi Sento is one of the smaller bathhouses with only 30 lockers in its narrow changing room and 13 washing stations inside the tiled room with the three bathing pools. Patrons bring their own washing materials or buy them there. I had forgotten my thin washing/drying off towel and was ready to buy or rent one, which is the normal case. Unexpectedly, the proprietor just gave me one to use and told me to leave it in the red basket. Before that happening, I guess he had warmed up to me because I had commented in Japanese that what was said on TV, 'more white people voted for McCain' was true and I further explained that this was especially true for those white males over 45 years old. I wonder why he gave me a towel to use rather than renting it. Maybe it was because I was sociable or because I was an unexpected foreigner who spoke Japanese with him.

This bathhouse is near the Hanshin Railway line and traditionally along this line and to the south, to Osaka Bay, medium and large industries were established. And, until 20 years ago, many people in this area rented an apartment without a shower or bath so they had to go out for a bath. This is not so much the case these days but a hot bath at a sento or onsen would be easier to prepare than a bath at home so some patrons still find their way to one. It is probably more popular with middle-aged people and above. Local women may find it a community center for catching up on gossip. An aged, bent-over woman with a cane and a push food cart/basket was leaving at the same time I was.

Asahi Sento has no naturally heated mineral water, only artesian well water. It is rightly called a sento, bathhouse, but with the artesian well water at natural temperature it is surely a notch above those. The natural well water changes its temperature depending on the season. The proprietor said it is now, in early November, at 18° C but it gets colder during the winter. Today, this water felt cooler than the natural pool at Nada Onsen in July but not as cold as I have experienced during the colder months.

The bath area has three hot pools which may actually be city water, and the natural artesian well water. The furthest one has three, reclining jet sprays and is at a comfortable 41° C. The center bath, with electrical panels on one side, is at 42° C. The electrical current was strong enough to exit through the arm that was out of the water touching the side of the tiled pool. Really too much for me. The deeper, nearest pool to the door is at 43° C. I saw one man get out of this pool showing a noticeable, lobster-red tone where he had been submerged. This deep red is a clear sign that the pool is a bit hot. I tried it but didn't find it so pleasant.

The Asahi bathhouse seemed below-average for this part of Kobe City but my impression of it heightened after I found the sauna: it is one of the best ones that I've discovered to date. It is a 7-meter wide, all-wood, dry sauna at about 108° C with a low level and a high level bench. I would think that six men could easily sit and watch TV there. It took me eight minutes to produce a stream of sweat flowing off but this delayed sweating might be due to soaking in the ambient 19° C pool just before. Still, it didn't seem as oppressively hot as some saunas are and it seemed a bit roomier than most, as well.

Getting there. The easiest way to find Asahi Sento is by walking east for 3-4 minutes on the south side of the Hanshin railway track from Hanshin Oishii station. It is one block south. The map is an approximation. Address: 4-5-14 Oishii higashii, Nada-ku, Kobe-shi. Phone: (078) 871-0578.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Minatoyama Onsen - Its the Water ... Dummy

Minatoyama Onsen is a bit more troublesome to get to but its curative powers may prove to be well worth the extra effort. Folks who soak in its natural mineral waters may find relief from afflictions such as joint pain, stiff joints, a frozen shoulder, or even hemorrhoids. Drinking it may curb constant constipation or gout. This ancient, natural hot spring boasts a national certificate from the Nippon Onsen Kyokai which puts it on par with the worldly-known Arima hot springs.

Minatoyama Onsen first caught my eye on the hiking map for the Rokko Mountain area, north of the JR Motomachi train station. Its location is where the old road from Arima, a well-known, ancient hot spring area in Japan, meets the residential area north of the Kobe harbor. The map shows the onsen sign, the Japanese katakana script for yu meaning hot water. I took notice of yu because yu is rarely noted on this hiking map. With over a dozen onsen in the residential area of Kobe City on the Osaka Bay side, Coor's House to the northeast of JR Sannomiya station is the only other yu sign indicated.

The lobby area of Minatoyama Onsen resembled the more recently built onsen or renovated ones, like Nada Onsen, with tables and chairs so customers can relax with a draft beer or a soft drink before heading back home. We also see massage chairs for full-back massage, one for calf massages, and ones for feet massages, all at ¥100. Also, patrons can leave their valuables in a combination-lock box rather than leaving them locked in the changing room. Other onsen commonly price the bath charge at ¥380 plus the voluntary add-ons for a sauna to bring the price to ¥520. Minatoyama Onsen has a ¥600 flat price for adults. Local residents can buy 11 tickets for ¥6,000 to save some money. Even with the higher price, necessities are not included but soap (¥40), shampoo (¥160), or towels (¥120) are on sale.

The changing area seemed spacious and nearly empty, with only half-a-dozen guys, but I arrived at about 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Evenings could certainly show more patrons.

When stepping through the sliding glass door, the bathing area looked unimpressive with a large single, oval-shaped pool, divided into three sections, along with two other smaller separate pools. Common features like a sauna or rotenburo (ie., an outdoor bath) were absent. No waterfall, either.

The small, two or three-person pool to the left of the sliding door is the ambient temperature of this natural mineral water which varies between 26°C and 28°C.

At the far end of the room, the small, deep, circular pool seemed hot enough at 47°C to cook lobsters or boil eggs. I could only get in up to my knees and at that depth not for very long. Only a few of the veteran onsen goers, maybe only one out of 12, managed to soak in this pool.

The large, oval-shaped central pool offered a pleasant surprise even though it only looked like a large pool, divided into three parts. The nearest pool to the sliding door is a shallow pool, with jacuzzi-like bubbles, and is set to 40°C.

The deeper, larger middle pool, at 43°C, is too deep to actually sit on the bottom and keep one's head above water at the same time. Its temperature seemed closer to a comfortable 41°C (105.8°F) to me but a front desk staff member said otherwise. At both ends of this central pool, is an electric 'bath' which is a common feature in other onsen. One arrangement is the normal type of electric 'bath' where a steady electrical current which emanates between two underwater panels. So, the electricity steadily flows through the person who sits between these nodes. The second electric 'bath' was a real surprise because the electrical current automatically varies in intensity, maybe two kinds of electrical shock. The first was a pulsating current that on each shock grew from a weak to strong. The second kind of shock was a blast of current that seemed strong enough to shake the body, by contracting the lower back muscles. Later, a staff member told me that this second style of electric 'bath' was a newer technology. At other onsen I've visited, the electric bath intensity was steady and varied in its intensity simply by moving ones body closer to one of the electrical plates on the right or left.

The third pool, at 38°C, was probably only 40 cm. in depth. This pool seemed both too shallow to sit in or to stretch out in. One fellow sat in it and bent forward to stretch his legs as if he were preparing for or recovering from a race. This onsen is in the vicinity of a trail exit so maybe this fellow was a hiker.

It's the water. While in the ambient-temperature bath, an elderly gent next to me said he traveled one hour from Nishinomiya to get to this onsen. He swore that soaking in this particular mineral water cures lower back pain as well as knee joint pain. Later, while we were standing where this mineral water flows into a small bowl, he suggested that I drink it. This seems a common practice since two cups are set aside for use near the two spigot. Adults over 16 may drink as much as 220 ml., the notice states. Younger folks are advised to drink less.

This green-hued mineral water lacked the slippery, oily feel that builds up on the submerged skin when soaking at the Nada Onsen, along with less odor. Also, fewer CO2 bubbles than at Nada Onsen formed on the skin. Later, a friendly staff member said that the iron eon (Fe2+) is the unique feature at Minatoyama Onsen which is at about 1.87 mg. per kilogram.

Minatoyama Onsen may trace its history back hundreds of years. Photos in the lobby show male bathers there during the Taisho Era, around 1920, but the current owners have only maintained business there since about 1941. While taking photos around the lobby, a female staff member insisted that I take a photo of a placard showing that this onsen is a member of a national onsen group, nippon onsen kyokai. This placard may legitimize its status as a natural onsen and as I recall, it is not on display at other onsen in Kobe City. Here, the three pools only contain mineral spring water whereas most onsen have clear water (artisan well water or city water) pools along with mineral water pools.

Minatoyama Onsen is easily reached by taking Kobe City bus number 7 from Sannomiya, south, across the street from Hankyu Sannomiya. After getting off at the Hirano bus stop, cross the street to the north side, then cross the main Arima highway to the east side of the street. Minatoyama Onsen is about 200 meters to the north, on the other side of the shallow river. Address: Kobe-shi, Hyogo-ku, Minatoyama Machi 26-1; phone (078) 521-5839. It is open every day except Wednesdays from 7:00 to 22:00.

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