Onsen water coming up out of a river bed?
You take a shovel to make your own bath?
And you adjust the water temperature by mixing in river water?
Sounds like something out of an onsen legend. But it’s not just a myth — it actually exists: Kiriake Onsen in the northern corner of Nagano Prefecture near the borders with Niigata and Gunma Prefectures.
Relaxing in the Kiriake river-onsen
You park your car at the lone ryokan, Yusenkaku, grab a shovel, cross the suspension bridge, walk down to the river, take care to avoid the onsen hot spots (the onsen temperature is supposedly a toe-tingling 57 deg C), find an area where the temperature is to your liking and move the rocks around until you have your own little onsen pool.
The other day, after we visited the snow monkeys, our family and some friends drove up and through Shiga Kogen and Oku-Shiga Kogen along the windy mountain road to Kiriake (approx. 45km and 2hours from Shibu-Yudanaka Onsen area).
Actually, I’d come here about 17 years ago. Back then, the road to Kiriake was a bumpy gravel one. It’s been paved since then, which may be the reason it’s lost some of it’s ‘hidden’ charm. Judging by the number of celebrity signatures, and by how many other people were there that day, the secret is out.
I had always wanted to have our kids experience this onsen-in-the-middle-of-a-river where you build a bath yourself. Plus, I was needing a relaxing break from the summer holiday rush. For me, this combination of natural setting and onsen is perfectly sublime.
You do actually use a shovel to make your own bath.
The onsen water does actually bubble up right in the middle of the river.
You do actually adjust the temperature yourself by mixing in river water.
And, being that it’s an all-natural phenomenom, the onsen keeps bubbling up in different spots. First over there, then over here, then, Ooh la la!, right here!
Onsen water bubbling up
Grab a shovel...
...Cross the bridge...
...and dig your own onsen bath
Although Kiriake is enjoyable any time of the year, being that it is located in the Akiyama (“autumn mountain”) District, it’s is probably at its prettiest when the fall leaves are in color. It’s location is very inconvenient, but that makes finding it that much more enjoyable. There really isn’t any bus access, so a car is highly recommended. Or, if you book a stay at Yusenkaku, they provided limited pick-up service.
Click here for the Kiriake Onsen / Yusenkaku Ryokan website.