Kurokawa is an onsen town in the middle of our island (Kyushu). It is about 40 kilometers north of Mt Aso (Japan’s largest volcano – which would explain why there is an abundance of hot springs). According to the Kurokawa Spa Association website, the history of the town as a hot springs/spa/onsen destination goes back at least 300 years. Feudal lords use to come from nearby areas to “cure their wounds” or as a rest stop on long journey. However, it has only been about 50 years since the town started marketing the area as a resort, and only within the last 10 years that it has become really popular. Some claim it is one of the best onsen towns in all of Japan. I have no idea if it is or not, but it certainly is a beautiful place. There is no touristy glitz, no big ugly buildings or signs, no convince stores or fast-food chains, and even a very limited number of shops and restaurants. It seems to have stayed true to it’s roots.
There are only about 30 ryokan in the area, each with less than 20 rooms, so they tend to book up months in advance. Getting a room on a Saturday night is nearly impossible, so Robert actually had to take a Friday off so we could go. Most of the places only have Japanese websites, so I had to get assistance from a co-worker to actually book the place. The ryokan we picked, Hozantei, was recommended by several people, and each room has it’s own private rotemburo (outdoor bath). The village is only accessible by car or bus…we took the bus. The scenery getting there was spectacular. The bus ride was like a roller coaster ride (but without the tracks). The roads were incredibly narrow, curvy and built on cliffs. Our bus driver earned every penny he made by managing to get us there safely.
We arrived in Kurokawa around noon. After glancing at the map near the station, we proceeded down stairs to a small back street that headed into the heart of town. I found the restaurant I had read about previously which serves curry, so we decided to have lunch since neither of us had any breakfast. We then walked around the town and figured out where everything was. We could have easily walked our ryokan, since it was only about 3 km from town, but we had already set up the pick-up time and didn’t want to confuse them. Upon arrival, they immediately escorted us to our own little cottage, pointing things out and telling us something (I have no idea what). We did manage to figure out when dinner and breakfast were and where we needed to go, the rest (I hope) was not important. We settled in, had our tea and biscuit, and took full advantage of our private hot tubs until dinner.
Dinner was served in a special dining room. Tonight’s menu was laid out in front of us (in Japanese) and course after course was presented to us. They did their best to explain what each thing was, but there’s no way I could remember it all. It was all delicious. I ate everything, except for the whole fried fish (the bugged out eye, spine and intact stomach just didn’t appeal to me). Robert, however, ate even that – head, tail and all…which really impressed the Japanese women. We both had horse sashimi (the speciality of the area) – which is actually very tender and tasty. I’m not sure what the best part was…so many flavors and textures, all so fresh and each presented as a piece of art. I’m really sorry I didn’t have my camera with me.
When dinner is over, you can’t move. You’re so full, you only want to sleep. We each slept on a single futons with a buckwheat pillow. This experience is literally one step above camping. After sleeping like that for one night, it’s no wonder they love their onsens…you get so sore sleeping on the hard ground, you need them to recover. These cottages (like the Japanese houses) are made very simple, so you hear every outdoor noise. The river and the rain was wonderfully hypnotic. But right before daybreak, Robert was sure there was some creature in our room eating the treats I brought. He had to get up and check it out. In fact there was plenty of animal activity going on outside that morning…it had me giggling.
Amazingly we didn’t wake up still full, thus enabling us to enjoy our wonderful multi-course Japanese breakfast (mainly a variety of fish, tofu, vegetables, rice, egg) which was also fantastic.
We didn’t have to check out until 11am so we spent a leisurely morning watching the ducks and heron from our spa. We were both so completely relaxed at this point we didn’t want to go. We finally checked out and decided to walk to town. We did some shopping, had some coffee and ice cream and eventually caught our bus back to the city. The drive back was equally as beautiful on the way back, but fortunately it wasn’t nearly as frightening since we now had the inside lane. 🙂
I’m already looking for another place to stay there….maybe in the spring.