Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ogawa Machi: 花和楽の湯 Kawara no Yu


If there is anything one can say with certainty regarding the Japanese people, it is that they do things with dedication.  Of all of the cultures I have experienced (however much or little), the Japanese culture-as a whole-wins gold for dedication to hard work. 

The Japanese people are known to be hard workers.  And although I say that they win gold for their work ethic, this can be-and frequently is-taken too far.  The life of the “salary-man” is far too ubiquitous in Japan and is debatably a partial cause for the high suicide rate with which Japan struggles.

Although this sometimes decidedly unhealthy dedication to work is so engrained into the Japanese way of life, this does not mean that they don’t know how to play.   Some of the most intense parties to which I have been are the end of the year parties with my husband’s coworkers.  These people really know how to party.  They will drink you under the table and come back for more.  On weeknights. 

Yikes.  That is all I have to say about that.

Another thing that Japanese people do well is relax.  Their favorite way of relaxing is, of course, the onsen-Japanese hot springs. 

The archipelago we call Japan is ostensibly one huge mountain range that rose volcanically from the ocean thousands of years ago.  Several live volcanoes still can be found all over the islands-including (according to many sources, including National Geographic) the great natural icon of Japan-Mount Fuji.

Arguably the best product resulting from the volcanoes are the hot springs located all over Japan.  In our town of Ogawa Machi, we have a locally famous hot spring called Kawara noYu.

Entrance to Kawara no Yu
Not so many years ago, the building that now houses the onsen was a roof tile factory.  The son who inherited the factory decided to change the business and drill through the bed rock under Ogawa in search of hot spring water.  After investing everything and failing the first few drills, he struck gold in the form of hot water.  A very successful and popular onsen, they now have multiple locations in Saitama.

One of the reasons this onsen is so popular is because of the feel of the water.  Some onsens have a high level of sulfur in the water and besides not smelling so great, can cause your skin to itch.  (I experienced this at the very popular hot spring resort called Kusatsu in Gunma prefecture.)  Kawara no Yu’s water feels very silky on your skin in the best possible way.  There is something about the mineral content of the water that does not dry out your skin-it feels wonderful.

For the full experience at Karawa no Yu, you should also spend some time in the hot stone spa-the ganbanyoku A dimly lit room with soft music and relaxing scents, you receive a wooden head rest and a towel when you enter.  After you have found a location, you lay down on stone floor.  The entire room is heated.  The heat from the hot stones seeps into your bones and feels amazing-especially during winter. 

The hot springs themselves are separated by gender-this is because the Japanese way to experience onsen is in the nude.  However, many people do carry small modesty towels with them between the shower, sauna, and all of the hot spring pools.  After showering, you can either go outside to the assortment of pools which vary in depth and temperature, or stay inside and enjoy the one indoor spring, the sauna, and the cold pool.  Everyone I know usually switches between all of them. 

Kawara no Yu also boasts massage and aroma therapy services, two restaurants and bars, private rooms available for renting, and a big tatami room for reading and taking naps. 

Although entrance to this onsen is a bit on the expensive side, everyone we know who has been there agrees that it is worth it.  If you are a resident of Ogawa and would like to frequent this onsen, I recommend becoming a member of the affiliated gym across the street-Kawara Sports-where along with your membership you receive two free tickets per month to Kawara no Yu.  The tickets only allow one item with entrance-towel set, hot rock room outfit, or yukata (a casual kimono for wearing while dining or relaxing outside of the onsen itself)-we usual bring our own towels and ask for the outfit for the ganbanyoku room. 

Located a short walk from the station, Karawa no Yu is also a great destination for a anyone day tripping to Ogawa Machi. 

Opening hours:  Open from ten am until midnight.  I believe they are open 364 days a year. 

If you are planning on going there during a holiday-especially one that falls on a weekend-be prepared to wait a long time for entrance.  I find that the best times to go for the least amount of people are in the evening during the week.

Here is a map from Ogawa Machi station to the Kawara no Yu entrace.  I am sorry you have to zoom in to see it...I am still an html novice and could not figure out how to correct this just now.


View Ogawa Onsen Kawara no Yu in a larger map
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