Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Snowshoe and Hot Spring Adventures in Myokokogen, Japan

Sunrise and Outdoor Black Mineral Water Hot Spring at Alpen Blick Hotel
Winter is covering the higher elevations of Japan with layers of snow. The distant vistas of fields, forests, lakes, and hills have turned the color of an intricately decorated white silk wedding kimono, or so I thought while sitting in a hot spring in Myokokogen, Niigata. Steam from the black mineral water swirled with drifting snowflakes around the snowy rocks on the edge of the bath. I pressed my hand against the bottom of the bath and then compared the color with the fresh snow. In this area of Ikenodaira-onsen, some of the unfiltered spring water comes with dark mineral sediment. The sediment is visible on my wet hand in the photograph below. This unique Japanese bath is the outdoor bath at the Alpen Blick Hotel, which is at the base of a ski run, so you can ski, soak, and sleep without the hassle of driving. The view from the outdoor bath cannot be beat, and walking in below zero degrees through the long hallway that connects the hotel with the outdoor bathing area builds anticipation and makes entering the bath a stimulating experience! The hotel's indoor bath has filtered clear water in an unattractive room without a view

Mineral Deposits Visible on Skin

Exterior of Outdoor Bath
When is the best time to visit a hot spring?  Most of my Japanese bathing friends agree that a hot spring is best enjoyed after a long hike in nature. The bath is a welcome reward for the physical exertion, and it helps to reduce muscle aches. During the first major snowfall of 2012, my wife and I searched for a location with snowshoeing trails and hot springs. Myokokogen has these in abundance. Our first hike brought us to a waterfall, called Naenataki, which is officially listed as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan.  


Naena-taki in Myokokogen

Most Beautiful Woman in Japan Enjoying Waterfall Before Hot Spring.
Myoko-kogen (妙高高原), which is on the border of Niigata and Nagano Prefectures, comprises seven hot spring areas, each with its own uniqueness. You can expect more reports about Myoko-kogen in the near future. Until then, stay hot and wet.