Ever since hitting up Kusatsu Onsen, I’ve been on a real hot spring kick. I have been visiting as many onsen as time allows. As such you can imagine my delight when I found that Azabu Juban, an area I have lived in for nearly ten years, has its own secret onsen! Known as Take-no-Yu, this hidden gem has been in business since 1913 and has been a well guarded favorite of the locals for decades. The long-running establishment was officially licensed as an onsen in 2002 and further brought into modernity with a renovation in 2011.
Despite having a homely atmosphere like that of a normal neighborhood public sento (which re-heats water), the Take-no-Yu baths are actually sourced at a hot spring deep underground. The large amounts of peat and volcanic ash in the ground give Take-no-Yu’s waters a dark brown hue much like that of black coffee. It is literally so dark that one cannot see much past their knees after entering the bath. The waters themselves are said to be an effective panacea for recovery from exhaustion, coldness, stiff shoulders and lower-back pain.
While one might suspect that the waters would be full of dirt, the trace minerals have melted completely so there is no precipitation. Worry not, you won’t leave these baths with a layer of filth on your skin. In fact, many have made the claim that that these waters are great for bestowing smooth skin making Take-no-Yu a favorite of those looking to fight the effects of aging. Because of this particular quirk, they have been called Azabu’s “black beauty waters.”
How to Get There
Getting to Take-no-Yu is pretty simple once you actually know where to look. The onsen is located on the first floor of an otherwise unassuming apartment building next to a coin laundromat. As you might expect, it’s extremely easy to miss if you can’t read Japanese and even most foreign residents of the area who do are unaware of its location (myself included). Here’s a map to help you find it.
Take-no-Yu is best reached from Azabu Juban Station. Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll be taking the Nanboku Line or the Oedo Line but as always, check with Hyperdia first to see the best route. There are also many buses with stops near Take-no-Yu but those are much more challenging to navigate for tourists.
Enjoying a Soak at Take-no-Yu
The first thing you need to know about Take-no-Yu is that it is about as far as you can get from a tourist destination. For example, unlike the former Oedo Onsen Monogatari (which sadly closed in 2021), this hidden gem is not really setup to accommodate the needs of ignorant foreign travelers. While Take-no-Yu’s location within the international neighbourhood of Azabu Juban means that it has some English signage, please keep in mind that this onsen is very much a place for locals, by locals. As such, I implore you to heed the below directions so that as a tourist you do not make a fool of yourself or be a nuisance to the regulars.
Before making tracks to Take-no-Yu, you’re going to need to make a pit stop at a local convenience store and pick up a small wash towel and some soap. You’ll also want to bring a normal bath towel to dry off with after. Though you can purchase these at Take-no-Yu, the signage is not written in English and you will likely crowd the small entryway with your struggles. If you’ve never been in an onsen before, you’re going to need to read up on the proper procedure. Here’s an in-depth guide that details all you will need to know. Study it so that you know what to do!
Immediately upon entering Take-no-Yu, you’ll need to take your shoes off and put them in one of the boxes provided. Take your key and then proceed to the front desk area. The entry fee is about 460 yen per person but they also have a combined ticket for 900 yen that allows access to the sauna. If this is of interest to you by all means knock yourself out but I would rather use my body’s heat tolerance on the actual black waters. Regardless, after paying you’ll enter into the locker rooms; men are on the left and ladies are on the right.
Once you’re in the locker room you’ll naturally need to find an open locker and strip down to your birthday suit. The key to the locker is attached to a strap that you’ll wear around your wrist while entering the water. This next part is a little tricky and took me a minute to grasp. To lock the door you’ll need to take the key for your shoes and slip it in the back of the locker room locker. This will free the key with the aforementioned strap which is normally locked in place without the second key. Make sure that you take your soap and towels before shutting the door!
After putting away your belongings, make your way toward the bathing area. On the very edge of the locker room there should be some sort of rack for you to leave your large towel so be sure to do so. These items will wait for you here so that you can dry off after without getting water everywhere. Once you’re in the actual bathing area you’ll need to find an unused shower and get to washing. DO NOT GET INTO ANY OF THE BATHS WITHOUT THOROUGHLY SCRUBBING YOUR BODY WITH SOAP AND WATER! This is a huge faux pas and will make everyone irate over your filth.
After washing yourself more than you think you should, make sure to rinse all the soap from your body before making your way to the baths. Take-no-Yu has two baths with different temperatures; the hotter of these is 43–44℃ (109.4–111.2 °F) whereas the cooler of the two is a mere 39–41℃ (102.2–105.8 °F). If you’re a newbie to onsen you might consider starting with the cheaper of the two but I’ll leave the decision up to you. Whichever you choose though, don’t pussyfoot around getting in as this will make you look like a fool to the eyes of your fellow bathers, especially for the men.
Take-no-Yu also has a chilled bath that uses the same special waters as their onsen. The only difference is that it’s around 16℃ (60.2 °F) meaning that it’s a great way to cool off after boiling your body in the hot waters. If you opted for the sauna, it would be a good idea to hop in the cool bath after as well but make sure you go back to the faucets and quickly wash any sweat off of your body to avoid contaminating the pristine onsen waters.
While I cannot comment personally, I’ve read that customers can actually purchase some of the prized Take-no-Yu black waters to take home with them. Why would someone want to do this? Well, according to local hearsay, the waters are a great remedy for smooth skin but it’s definitely not kosher to put one’s face into the onsen waters. At 20 yen per liter, you can purchase some of the mineral-rich waters to take home and treat the areas not allowed at Take-no-Yu.
Take-no-Yu has interesting hours for an onsen but when you think of it as a local public bathhouse, the hours make sense. Open times are from 3:30 PM to 11:30 PM and Take-no-Yu is closed on Mondays and Fridays, the two days Japanese are the least likely to be hitting up a place like this. Make sure you keep this in mind so you don’t show up there on a Friday night only to be disappointed!