I went for a one-night stay at the ryokan Tsurunoyu Onsen, in Nyuto onsen village, which is famous for its natural hotsprings and in particular, its mixed-sex bath. As I’m a last minute traveler with poor planning skills, I’d like to take a brief moment to give a shoutout to Travel Arrange Japan, because while they looked like a semi-sketchy website with very few reviews to verify their legitimacy, the folks there helped me book a stay at the very popular Tsurunoyu! They also contacted the onsen to help me arrange the shuttle from the closest bust stop to the onsen, and were very available on email. So Travel Arrange Japan is a legit business, people!
Now — onto my ryokan stay in Nyuto onsen village.
Nyuto translates into “nipple” because the onsen village is nestled in a part of the mountains by a beautiful lake which apparently looks like a nipple. I don’t know; getting to Tsurunoyu involved taking a train, then a public bus, then a shuttle which picked me up from the bus stop along with three others on their way to Tsurunoyu at the same time as me.
Japanese ryokan are traditional inns where people typically spend a night or so basically just lounging around, but traditionally. The general ryokan schedule involves soaking in hot springs a lot, having a nice meal served in your room, and then pushing aside the room’s sparse furniture to lay your futon out on the tatami mats to go to sleep.
Most people in the onsen walk around wearing traditional yukata, because they’re easy to put on, and more importantly (at least for me, I don’t know if this is standard logic) they’re really easy to take off when you’re ready to dip into the hot springs all over again.
When I was first shown my room in the ryokan, by a friendly ryokan employee with limited English, I had absolutely no idea what anything was for.
There was a box with a tea set (which I didn’t know how to use), and some other inexplicable things (see: the pig thing.) Just about the only thing I was sure about was the jug of hot water, though that hot water had its own quirks — it stayed piping hot throughout the entire night and into the morning, which upped its mastery factor by at least 20. It also made these strange groaning noises like it was dying every so often, in the dark.
My first real puzzle involved changing clothing. The ryokan supplied me with some things which were self-explanatory, like a towel and a small wash cloth. Then I also had a yukata, an obi, and a harrison. The yukata was the dress-like thing, the obi was the belt to tie it with, and the hair is a sleeveless jacket with pockets to g o over the yukata.
If I’ve got any of this wrong, it’s because this is all information that I hastily googled minutes after finding the pile of clothing and realizing I had no idea what it was, or how o put it on.
Oh shit, I thought, because the only thing I did recall was a vague feeling that it was possible to tie the clothing the wrong way. Eventually, my frantic googling produced the names of the clothing, and also how to tie it.
When wearing a yukata, you have to fold the left side over the right side. (Right over left is the way used to dress corpses, so I’m really glad Google had my back on this one.) For women the belt is tied at/above the waist, while for men it’s tied around the hips.
The onsen itself was natural, with opaque, light-blue waters. I don’t have photos, because you’re not supposed to take photos into the onsen, but it was really beautiful and also smelled like rotten eggs. There were separate-sex small indoor baths, an outdoor bath for women, and a mixed-sex outdoor bath.
I lounged a bit in the outdoor bath for women, and then got a bit more adventurous. The outdoor mixed-sex bath was very tasteful though; the entrance for women was artfully concealed by tall rocks and low-hanging branches, so you could sink into the water and cover yourself before wading out into the larger pool if you wanted. The water in this bath ended up being the hottest of them all, so I spent most of my time there, except with my back turned to everyone else.
After soaking a few times in the afternoon, I dried off and went to dinner. Though in many traditional ryokan dinner is brought to your room, I booked my room last minute (typically) and had dinner in a shared area, which turned out to be a lot of fun, and also better because then I could watch how everyone else ate their food before having mine.
(googling how to eat ryokan food and also what is this?? was not a successful venture.)
The older man sitting to my right at dinner greeted me with Japanese, to which I did my standard apologetic smile and “No Japanese.”
So then I ended up getting to have a real dinnertime conversation, except in Chinese, which was very nice. As a bonus, when I got back to my room after dinner, I found that the ryokan staff had magically made up my futon. This was extra-nice, because I never would have figured out what to do with the blanket-cover that had a giant hole in it.
Sleeping on a futon was actually very comfortable and cozy.
In the morning, I went for breakfast (composed of Food, But Not Sure What Kind) with my new Taiwanese friend, went for another soak in the onsen, and then napped a bit on my futon until check-out time and my scheduled bus back to the Real World.
(I continued to smell like rotten eggs for at least a day after, but it was all worth it.)