Unexplained insomnia made worse by an ever-increasing reliance on alcohol. Incompetence at the workplace. Mounting nihilism over Japan’s apathy towards improvement. The Coronavirus. The past week or so hasn’t exactly been what I would describe as enjoyable. Dangerously teetering on the brink of a total #FuckItAll moment, I knew I needed to unplug from it all or else I’d end up going Chernobyl on some poor 7-Eleven clerk. Normally in these circumstances, I would extradite myself to some godforsaken part of the countryside. Alas, I had foolishly scheduled a physiotherapy appointment for Sunday morning meaning that I would need to find a day-trip solution.
Enter Hottarakashi Onsen to save the day. Located just outside of Yamanashi Prefecture’s capital city of Kofu, this secluded hot spring was just what the doctor ordered. Situated over 700 meters above sea level, Hottarakashi Onsen offers commanding views of the entire Kofu valley basin below (which, by the way, has been authorized as one of Japan’s best three night views). What’s more, you can dreamily gaze out at the ever-majestic Mt. Fuji while soaking away all your worries. While there are no overnight lodgings available at this hot spring, Hottarakashi Onsen easily makes up for it with the views.
As impressive as the above description holds, what originally stood out to me about Hottarakashi Onsen was its name. You see, this hot spring’s moniker essentially translates to something like “to be left alone.” Allegedly, this title comes from this mountaintop retreat’s history as a shelved health facility. From what I see written elsewhere, the founder wasn’t satisfied with just giving up and elected to make a free-to-use open air bath. Despite the fact that he basically just “left it there,” the hole in the ground somehow became quite popular and eventually evolved into today’s Hottarakashi Onsen.
These days though, many people take a more liberal interpretation of this hilltop hot spring’s name. Rather than associate it with the tale of the founder, many instead view Hottarakashi Onsen as a place to cast away worries and let bygones be bygones. Truth be told, after spending a good two hours or so in one of the outdoor baths here, I must attest that there very well may be no better way on earth to de-stress. Oh, and did I mention that it seems like Hottarakashi Onsen is welcoming of those with tattoos too? What more could you ask for?
How to Get There
As you might imagine, a trip to paradise doesn’t come without strings attached. To reach this rejuvenating retreat is no simple feat, even for those who are well traveled. For starters, you’ll need to take one of the limited express trains that are bound for Kofu. There are a few departures from Shinjuku every hour but as always refer to the ever-helpful Jorudan. The entirety of the journey by train should take no longer than ninety minutes. If you want to save some coin, you can opt to take the much slower local trains but I wouldn’t advise it unless you’re on a really stringent budget. Either way, your destination will be Yamanashishi Station.
The real fun begins only once you arrive at the train station. Put succinctly, Hottarakashi Onsen is located some distance from Yamanashishi Station and sits atop one of the many hills surrounding the Kofu basin. By far, the easiest way to make the final leg of the journey is by taxi as there is no public transportation. Of course, this can get expensive if you’re traveling solo but there’s honestly little other recourse. Though you can hoof it (and yes, I truly did just that!), the walk to Hottarakashi Onsen is long and hilly. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this route for those short on adequate constitution.
Hottarakashi Onsen’s Hot Springs
Hottarakashi Onsen is home to only two bathing facilities. Known simply as Kocchi-no-Yu (lit. “the bath over here”) and Acchi-no-Yu (lit. “the bath over there”), both have indoor and outdoor options. Which bath you choose honestly comes down to a choice of scenery. Kocchi-no-Yu boasts an amazing view of Mt. Fuji front and center. Alternatively, Acchi-no-Yu, which is twice the size, offers a view of the Kofu basin as well as Mt. Fuji (albeit just not as in your face as over at Kocchi-no-Yu). Undoubtedly, you cannot go wrong with either facility so just pop in whichever bath tickles your fancy. Entry to both Kocchi-no-Yu and Acchi-no-Yu will run you 800 yen.
In addition to your bathing options at Hottarakashi Onsen, you’ll also find a gift shop as well as two eateries on site. While these offerings fall short of approaching gourmet dining, Hottarakashi Onsen’s dual cookeries cover the bases when it comes to grabbing a bite after a long soak. Depending on your preferences, you can select the curry rice or go with a bowl of soba or udon noodles. Alternatively, the gift shop stocks some locally sourced munchies that will put the hunger demons back in their cages long enough for you to return to civilization.
Other Nearby Attractions
Yamanashi is an interesting prefecture in that it is fundamentally subdivided into different regions. You have the Kofu Valley near where Hottarakashi Onsen is located but you also have Fuji Five Lakes on the other side of the mountains to the south. Because the prefecture is naturally bisected, it is quite hard for public transportation to traverse the hilly terrain. What this means is that it’s quite difficult to get to the area around Mt. Fuji from Kofu despite the fact that it’s relatively close as the crow flies. Tragically, because of the poor access, a relaxing dip at Hottarakashi Onsen doesn’t combine well with a trip to Japan’s most iconic peak.
Luckily for you, the reader, the Kofu basin has several enticing spots to check out. For starters, the wine connoisseurs out there will want to be sure to visit Koshu’s vineyards. Here, you’ll find around seventy wineries of which over half sponsor tasting rooms. Outdoor and nature enthusiasts will rejoice to know that one of Japan’s most alluring gorges (pictured above) can also be found nearby. Known as Shosenkyo, this location is exceptionally spectacular during the fall months when the autumn leaves reach their peak.
Until next time travelers…