I traveled to Hirugami Onsen in Nagano Prefecture to spend Friday night at Hirugaminomori - one of the many ryokan in the village that has grown up on the banks of the Achigawa river that runs through the hot spring resort.
From Nagoya, the journey is a pleasant 2 hour and thirty minute drive on Route 153 through Toyota City with a slight short cut on Route 39 through Korankei (香嵐渓) - an area famous for its autumn leaves in the Nagoya area.
Hirugami Onsen is also very near the Sonohara (園原) exit of the main Chuo Expressway between Nagoya and Tokyo and the trip from Nagoya should take no more than 90 minutes, though cost about 4,500 yen in tolls.
Hirugaminomori ryokan is a pleasant enough place to stay with fine views of the snow-covered valley and Southern Alps beyond, good locally-sourced food and a pleasant rotemburo (outside bath).
There is also a swimming pool which is handy for the kids but we didn't know you have to ask to turn the the water slide on, so the slide became an Alpine warfare assault course as we had to edge our way through the freezing twisting tubes for about 10 minutes dressed only in swimming trunks until we could clamber out at the other end. Nightmare.
The other guests were the usual collection of young couples with loud children, retired couples taking the waters and the obligatory nutty, Engrish-speaking, ojisan (old man, literally 'uncle')/pest.
Still it was great to be sipping sake, taking in the impressive quiet - cock and balls dangling pleasantly free in a yukata - rather than hunched over a keyboard in the office.
Hirugami Onsen is a 30-minute drive from the historic castle town of Iida from where it is possible to shoot the rapids on traditional boats on the Tenryu River through the scenic gorge. Get on the boat at Benten Pier near Inayawata Station.
Japan Onsen in Japan
Sunday, February 12, 2006