Are you ready for some beauty science?

Let’s start with a repost of a comic about Tamatsukuri Onsen, one of Japan’s original beauty onsen, a downright fountain of youth according to the Chronicles of Ancient Izumo.

I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not an expert. I just really like going to onsen and have picked up some nerdy knowledge and onsen guides here and there. I am not a chemist or a beautician. I can say, however, that I have noticed some changes in my skin quality over the course of my time in Shimane, which, for the past few years, have been ranked #1 for beautiful skin based on its humidity, hours of sunlight, life habits, and other environmental factors. I didn’t really believe this over the course of my first winter here when I had terribly dry skin due to indoor heaters, but when I started thinking skin care in terms of texture rather than acne (or lack thereof), I found that following skin care advice I’ve heard here really works well.

But beyond that, knowing nerdy things about onsen I enjoy anyway is plain fun. So let’s dive in! (No. No diving at the onsen. Don’t be Faux Pas Man.)

Onsen, which are all at least 25 degrees C at their source and contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements, can be categorized in some of the following (sometimes scary-sounding) ways:

Simple onsen (単純温泉: tanjun-onsen)
The most common type of onsen found throughout Japan, with relatively low concentrations of chemical elements (general 1g/kg and below). Good for people with sensitive skin.

Hydrogen carbonate onsen (炭酸水素泉: tansansuiso-sen)
Good cleanser and for giving you smooth skin.

Sulfate onsen (硫酸塩泉: ryuusan’en-sen)
Works like a toner and supplies moisture to skin.

Iron onsen (鉄泉: tetsu-sen)
Water with somewhat light brown color, good for people prone to anemia.

Chloride onsen (塩化泉: enka-sen)
Helps your skin to retain moisture and gives it a damp texture (in a good way).

Sulphur onsen (硫黄泉: iou-sen)
Antibacterial properties make this good for treating skin ailments. Also considered good to detox your system, and for helping your skin retain moisture.

Radioactive onsen (放射能泉: houshanou-sen)
Includes things like radium onsen and radon onsen. Good for pain relief.

Carbon dioxide onsen (二酸化炭素泉: nisankatanso-sen)
Basically, carbonated onsen. However, the gas bubbles are too tiny to see. Said to promote blood flow, these are relatively rare in Japan. (Shimane has one in the little town of Iinan, named Ramune Onsen. Gee, I wonder how it got that name.)

These chemical elements should be indication on a sign somewhere around the onsen, based on how much of them can be found per 1kg. Just because these are the primary chemical elements which any given onsen might be known for, it doesn’t mean they’re limited to those characteristics.

You also want to note the onsen’s pH balance. Onsen with pH balances from around 6 to 7.5 are the gentlest to your skin. Alkaline, particularly 8.5 and above, are supposed to be good cleansers. Higher acidic concentrations are good for their antibacterial properties (but always remember to keep hygiene in mind when visiting an onsen!).

If you’re looking for beautiful skin, you also want to keep an eye out for metasilicic acid (メタけい酸 metakeisan) content. H2SiO3 is a very simple, diluted silicic acid thought to stimulate collagen, which is what gives your skin a springy, youthful texture (in other words, it prevents wrinkles). Back to that Tamatsukuri Onsen comic up there, the joke is that when the onsen was introduced in writing about 1,300 years ago, the research team found all the locals partying in the hot springs, young and old alike. All of them had youthful, springy skin. Nowadays, onsen aficionado attribute this to the high concentration of metasilicic acid, at 110mg. In order to be considered a good beauty onsen, most would aim to have at least 50mg.

I mentioned that in Japan, people think of skin care in terms of texture (or whiteness, but that’s a totally different topic). They have a number of fun words to describe what skin should feel like, many of which don’t have a full equivalent in English. Some of the common ones are:

つるつる tsuru-tsuru: slick and smooth
すべすべ sube-sube: smooth and sleek
ぺたぺた peta-peta: skin moist enough to make a little sound when you lightly press your fingers to your skin
うるうる uru-uru: damp, moist, well-hydrated skin
さらさら sara-sara: silky and soft
もちもち mochi-mochi: a springy texture (yes, like a good rice cake)
しっとり shittori: retains its moisture really well

Or at least, if I had to try really, really, really hard to differentiate between things like uru-uru and shittori this is my sense. I’m not a professional linguist either, I just happen to be mostly fluent in Japanese. And I do like gitaigo (or gi’ongo, in peta-peta‘s case?).

And I like onsen. That too.

Hopefully this will help to make your next visit to an onsen more interesting. Throw these terms into conversation with your friends, and then make up observations about the smell and color and feel of the onsen water and pretend you’re taste-testing on a food competition show or something. Your friends will either think you sound really cool or they will be tempted to dump a bucket of cold water on your head to make you just shut up and enjoy onsen for the simple pleasure that they are.


I used to contemplate drawing an informative comic like “Buri-chan’s guide to using an onsen,” seeing as the San’in region has many, many, many wonderful onsen, and they are one of my favorite parts about living in rural Japan. However, once I started seeing this poster in a few onsen around Matsue, I gave up on that idea. How could I possibly make anything better than the amazing Faux Pas Man (named just now by me), ultra-serious in his efforts to ruin the grouchy old man’s bathing experience?

Please forgive the fuzzy photos, as I was in a hurry to snap the photos before anyone came in–as you can imagine, camera use is generally frowned up in onsen. Those “only person in the onsen” opportunities are not that rare on weekdays, but they’re hard to plan around.

Fuzziness aside, isn’t Faux Pas Man great? I’m surprised he’s not swimming, as that’s one of the ultimate temptations for Japanese people and foreign visitors alike! Whenever I go to a big onsen and I’m the only person there, I’m always reminded of Natsume Souseki’s “Botchan” and how the main character got in trouble for swimming at Dogo Onsen (which happened to be a spot in Shikoku which Okuninushi and his little friend Sukuna-bikona enjoy, and which has appeared on this blog before on last year’s Anime Pilgrimages series I wrote with Artemis of Otaku Lounge. But I digress. Back to the star of this entry, Faux Pas Man.)

Some more advice:

1. Yes, bathing suits are against the rules. You’ll very likely see naked old people, and you’ll be just as exposed as they are. The good news, however, is that no one really cares. Once you get over the “I am stark naked” thing, onsen are a very relaxing and casual experience. Plus, people do tend to use the little hand towels for some coverage when walking from one area to another, so feel free to do so–just keep it out of the bath water.

2. Onsen water is not potable, and you should not stick your face in the water–this protects both you and everyone else from the spread of germs. If you really want to enjoy some of that beautifying water on your most looked-upon feature, there will usually be a water source which you can cup your hands under and then dab it on your cheeks and forehead. Warning! This is where the water will be at its hottest!

3. Tattoos are still against the rules in most onsen throughout Japan, despite the rise in foreign tourists using onsen facilities. This isn’t because of they think the tattoos are bad for the bathwater or anything, but because tattoos have unpleasant associations with crime. Some people with small tattoos are able to avoid trouble by covering them with a bandage, but people with larger tattoos should find out ahead of time what the onsen rules are, or they should book a private bathing time. The price and ease of doing this likely varies quite a bit, and I have not done it myself. People at tourism information centers at major train stations may be able to help you investigate this and book a time.

4. Some people suggest acclimating to the water by pouring some of the bathwater on yourself with the available buckets before stepping in (not jumping in like Faux Pas Man). Some step-by-step guides also say to do it, but it is optional.

5. Some people think it is healthy to warm up either in the hot bath or in the even hotter sauna, and then sit in an icy cold bath. This shock to your blood vessels is supposed to be good for your circulation–and perhaps by extension, circulating all the other healthy elements you pick up from the natural minerals in the onsen water. I’ve also heard this is good for sore muscles after a hard workout, as it helps flush the lactic acid out of them. Repeat the hot-cold process a few times for best results. (Side note: there is usually a shower available by the sauna to rinse off your sweat–be polite and use it.)

6. Washing off is mandatory before entering the bath–be sure to use soap and to thoroughly rinse it off, and to bind your hair and/or use a hair net to keep it out of the bathwater. After leaving the bath, some people shower again to wash off any remaining germs from communal bathing, and others do not because they don’t want to wash away the water’s healthy and beautifying effects. Use your judgement. Keep in mind the time of day the bath is cleaned, often in the late morning. It is also advisable to rinse off if you have sensitive skin or if the onsen water has especially strong elements.

7. Speaking of cleanliness, very popular bath houses will often add chlorine to help keep the water clean. Much smaller countryside onsen, with fewer bathers, often do not. Some onsen enthusiasts prefer non-chlorinated water and avoid resort onsen, and the locals in popular onsen areas often use the less fancy, and therefore less populated bathing facilities. Personally, I don’t mind either approach.

8. Be tidy when you shower. Try not to spray water on people passing by, rinse off the stool you used, and line everything back up nicely for the next person who will use it. If you must leave your toiletries or hand towels anywhere while you’re in the bath, leave them where they won’t get in anyone’s way. Side note: Leave large towels in the changing area.

9. Stay hydrated! Cold water is usually available for free in the changing area, or just outside of it in the hallway. Also, make sure not to pass out in the hot bath. That would be problematic.

10. Speaking of staying hydrated, after you get dressed afterward it’s a common practice to drink some milk while your body is still feeling really warm. I have no idea how or when this custom started, and I don’t usually do it. Sometimes in hot weather I eat some vending machine ice cream instead.

11. As good as onsen water might be for your skin, make sure to apply lotion when you get out! Your pores will be really open in all that hot water and steam, but as your skin dries, it might get really, really dry as the water evaporates. Lock that moisture in! Many onsen in hotels will provide free facial moisturizers, but bathing-only facilities often will not provide that many freebies.

12. Some “onsen” are not real onsen. True onsen must meet certain thermal and mineral qualifications at their sources in order for them to be counted as such, and the scientific specs must be posted somewhere in the onsen area. Onsen-otaku could probably describe the effects of different minerals and water qualities in very subtle linguistic differences, but it may be fun to look up what makes an any particular onsen special before your visit. This will be the topic of the next entry.

Life is going to be so hard when I’m not a CIR anymore. Really, how can I complain about modeling for photos at a foot onsen? Modeling, although infrequent, is just another part of work, and when someone says, “see? That’s me here on this flier,” I can very placidly reply, “ah, and here’s the most recent one I’m on.”

Going to an onsen sounds great right about now. Thankfully I work right around Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station, the easternmost stop on the Ichibata Railway which links the heart of Matsue to Izumo Taisha. Like many travel facilities in onsen areas around Japan, there is a free foot onsen there.

However, most train station and rest stop foot onsen cannot compare to the charms of Tamatsukuri Onsen‘s foot onsens–I’m purposely adding an ‘s’ because there are three available, two of which are located at the Tamayu River’s edge. You know what? Forget “foot onsen,” let’s just call them ashiyu. Besides generally warming your whole body up and relaxing tired feet, there are supposedly many health benefits just from sticking your feet in onsen water. Those of you who for whatever reason cannot take a full dip in an onsen (though you really should try to experience that!) can take advantage of the hot mineral water and the beautiful surroundings for free!

Besides the ashiyu themselves, non-bathers visiting Tamatsukuri Onsen can also enjoy strolling the onsen resort streets in rental yukata from Hakobune Tamatsukuri Art Box–assuming your aren’t already borrowing a yukata from your ryokan! Seeing as we were already borrowing the yukata for a different photo shoot we were there to do, former Matsue CIR Bernice set up her tripod to get some of these photos of the CIR team at one of the ashiyu. Squint though we did, these were some of my favorites!

I have two information entries about onsen coming up, one about faux pas and another about what makes the water special. Be on the lookout for them! Or step away from your Internet-enabled device and go take a hot bath, that works too.

As part of my ninja romp through the obstacle course at Adventure Forest in Gotsu City, I also checked out Arifuku Cafe in the Arifuku Onsen area. It’s one of three places in the very charming, tiny townscape that I wish I would have saved more daylight to walk around and take pictures of. I sort of blame the cafe, because even for having only seen a tiny portion of the stylish amenities, my friend and I stayed there a long, long time, completely swept up in the quiet, relaxing atmosphere and our conversation.

Here in the regular cafe space, there are some roof tiles to write wishes on. The Iwami area–that is, the western block of Shimane Prefecture–is a well-known spot for producing quality rooftiles.

You can enjoy a view of some of those roof tiles by sitting outside with your feet soaking in a little basin of hot onsen water, which flows throughout the little town area and sends steam up from the streams.

Ah, the charming townscape.

But what’s back through that door?

An indoor hall of rooms, behind which are the decorated rooms with beds which you can rent out for nighttime or daytime use.

And parallel to it, an outdoor hall with doors leading to the onsen rooms named after the Seven Lucky Gods, rented out by the hour for private use.

These make a great little introduction to onsen culture for visitors to Japan who are shy about bathing with strangers, and who don’t want to pay for a full ryokan experience. The sizes of the rooms and characteristics are reflected in the prices (the lowest ones run 1,500 yen per hour for one to two people), and not all have access to the outside. Even the indoor ones, however, are situated by sunlight windows. The bath water, naturally extremely hot near its source, can be adjusted with cold water to suit your preferences, but the natural light and wood tones give it a warm atmosphere as well. The pH 9.0 water is known for its cleansing properties and gives your skin a soft and springy texture like rice cakes.

After a dip in the onsen, my friend I thought we’d just get drinks in the cafe and then be on our way, but as I mentioned before, we stayed quite a while. I specifically chose the chairs I thought I’d be least likely to get cozy in and doze off in, but we got too comfortable anyway! Along this cafe is supposed to be a good spot for specialized coffee roasted with bamboo charcoal, my friend went with a hot cocoa and I went with a ginger ale with a generous amount of very tasty fruit.

For being a relatively small city, sandwiched between Hamada and Oda, Gotsu has no shortage of stylish and satisfying cafes or fancy onsen facilities. Kaze no Kuni Onsen Resort was also a favorite!

Ginger has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes across many cultures, and Japan is no exception. In fact, the variety of ginger grown in Izumo’s Shussai region around the bed of the Hii River was mentioned in the 8th century records of the region, the Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki. The Fudoki were like encyclopedias of every region of Japan, and were a massive project. Despite the years of work poured into them, most have been lost or are largely incomplete. Only the Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki is mostly intact, so we know about 8th century life in this region in the most detail (and on that note, the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo, near Izumo Taisha, is a must-see for ancient history nerds).

When I’m not spending winter being a history nerd, I’m spending it whining about the cold. However, since incorporating more ginger into my diet, I’ve found I’m not as bothered. In addition to heating properties, I also drink ginger tea to soothe my throat after days of relentless interpreting or going all-out at karaoke. It tastes a little strong to drink ginger tea straight and it takes some getting used to, but I am a big fan of the local brands–they are so much more potent than the generic ones! You only have to drink it once when you have a bad cold to be a believer.

This is because Izumo Ginger–more properly referring to as Shussai Shouga–is like ginger with a power-up in both health and taste. This might make you think of a burly root that looks like a body builder, but it more so resembles a young maiden. The color is fair and the fibers are finer than they are in other types of ginger, making for a softer texture when used in recipes.

Click for source.

No one knows for sure why the ginger grown around this spot is super ginger in a pretty package. Some think it’s because of the properties of the soil or the waters of the Hii River floating in from the Chugoku Mountains on their way to Lake Shinji, but even the farmers aren’t entirely sure.

This spot is very close to Yunokawa Onsen, one of the top beauty onsen of Japan. Therefore, the Michi-no-Eki (like a rest stop and local products center rolled into one) is filled with ginger products–everything from ice cream (no surprise) to cookies to curry. Mmm, curry. Yum. The thought is that taking a dip in the onsen and enjoying cooking with the ginger warms you up through and through, and the warm and fuzzy feeling is aptly described by the Japanese onomatopoeia: poka-poka~~

I live closer to Matsue Shinjiko Onsen instead, and with it the furthest east station on the Ichibata Railway line, Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station. There is a cafe facing the taxi stand called “Gallery Fleur.” This is my recommended spot to chill (or warm up) while waiting for a train to Izumo.

This is where I go for ginger curry. I repeat: yum.

While I’m still on the topic of ancient history, Japan is often criticized for not having much in the way of cheese, but they already had their own version of cheese back in the 8th century–and I bring it up because it’s one the menu here. It was called so, was soft and slightly crumbly and full of protein, and had a slightly sweet taste. It’s usually much darker than this. Even though I tend to be apprehensive about offensive cheeses, my inner history nerd could not pass up the desire the try it. This felt like a large serving, but it was alright. It reminded me of other cheeses and yogurts, but it’s hard to compare to anything specific.

Fleur also sells an array of decorative items (the layout is different every time I go), and a number of Shussai Shouga products, including the ginger tea I like available by the single pouch instead of in bulk like it would be sold in local product centers and gift stores. The lady who runs the place is very nice and frequently throws in something extra, like ginger candies. They also have a lot of information about Ichibata Yakushi Temple and the Izumonukuni Shinbutsu Reijyo pilgrimage, which combines both Shinto and Buddhist sites.

You can find Shussai Shouga candies, baked goods, teas–or even ginger wine!–at retail-centric places, or purchase the ginger stalks and root whole for pickling in soy sauce as a topping to go with rice. Although I prefer the straight ginger-flavored products, there is a type of ginger red tea in tea bag form that makes me giggle: “Izanami‘s Tears.” I guess being an inhabitant of Yomi made those tears pretty spicy.

I might not be able to play, but at least I’m able to pose.

Tamatsukuri Onsen, home to the original fountain of youth of Japan, is hosting its second World Slipper Takkyu Competition in the Tamayu Gymnasium. It will be on Saturday, February 21, 2015. Sign-up is open through January 31, see the Japanese page for details.

This is table tennis as you know it, only played with slippers as opposed to rackets. It hearkens classic images of hanging out in your slippers after a dip in the baths and a fancy dinner at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), and spending your free time surprising your travelmates with how competitive you are when it comes to snapping plastic balls across the table (or in my case, across the room should I manage to even hit them). And, you know, you have the slippers on or in your hands instead of on your feet.

Reusing some of XiaoMan’s photos from last year–thanks, XiaoMan!

You know what I found nice about using slippers? They help when it comes to catching runaway ping pong balls. I should know, as I had to catch my fair share.

Like last year, the competition is in three categories: men’s pairs, women’s pairs, and male-female pairs, open to anyone of any age, nationality, and level of ability (or non-ability). It costs 3,000 yen per pair, or participate is free if you’re staying in the Tamatsukuri Onsen area for the trip. What’s more, if you win first place in your category, you’ll get cash back on your stay up to 30,000 yen.

All participants receive some local agricultural and seafood products, but special ones are given away by raffle. Seafood miso soup is also serves to all of the participants while they take a break between matches. Finalists can expect to be there through the afternoon (and probably change into yukata for the final matches), but for those who get some fun out of losing in the morning, there is still plenty of time to wander the scenic streets along the Tamayu river and take a dip in a daytime onsen. It makes for a light taste of a ryokan stay for those who can’t afford the full pampering treatment.


If you are really on the cheap, you could use one of the three ashiyu (free foot baths) in the area. You could do so while enjoying my beloved Ice Corotto, but seeing as it will be chilly out, I suggest the veggie soup sold at the neighboring stand. It’s light and refreshing, and there is nothing like being out in cold weather sipping a cup of nutritious and tasty soup while warming your feet at the riverside. Or boiling them, depending on which spot you chose–but that one should be obvious from all the steam.

Seeing as this is a world competition, international guests are highly encouraged to attend, whether residents or tourists passing through enjoying the Tamatsukuri area and the discounts for foreign passport holders and/or zairyu card holders that are found at tourism facilities throughout the San’in region (nudge-nudge, wink-wink, hint-hint). Personally, I highly encourage lots of people from the Western Hemisphere to attend so that I do not fail again in representing half the world.

My straight record of loses should not be surprising.

Last year was fun, but I’m sure there are Americans who could do much better!

You’ll notice Japan has a lot of “Top 3” lists. There’s not really any ranking within these lists–if something is in the top three, it does not mean it’s a kind way of saying third place, it means it shares first place with two others of its kind. Of course, you’ll notice that has expanded into “Top 100” lists, at which point I think it’s getting a little out of hand, but there are probably already hundreds of “Top 3” lists to begin with. I guess it just means that you can find a “Top 3” list to suit any of your needs.

And if beauty onsen happen to be among your needs, allow me to introduce you to one of those “Top 3”, Yunokawa Onsen, south of Lake Shinji and five minutes away from Izumo Airport! (Not be confused with Yunokawa Onsen in Hokkaido!)

Click for source

This post is following up two other posts introducing the other places associated with this myth.

This post is following up two other posts introducing the other places associated with this myth.

I cannot take credit for this discovery–rather, Princess Yagami herself was said to have found spied this onsen on her way to Izumo, and she happily refreshed herself from the long journey so she could look beautiful in front of her husband–but we all know how that worked out. Stories go on to saw that she stopped there on the way back as well and nursed her broken heart, but was able to start fresh both body and soul afterward–with lovely silky smooth and springy skin, of course.

But hold up… where in the Kojiki did it say that? Or in the Nihonshoki, the more political history-book like of the two? Or was it in the Izumo Fudoki?

This legend is much more recent, perhaps as late as the Edo period. A lot of people were coming up with new interpretations of the Kojiki around those times, so in wider culture, you tend to be left with a mash-up of interpretations about just which kami is actually which kami. Although there have been movements to go back to the original text and reanalyze it in purely linguistic methods (which, depending on whether you’re reading for the character for their meaning or their sound, could give you very different results!), the interpretation of the Kojiki has constantly been evolving, and this piece of cultural canon is so attached to the original Kojiki story that, at least in terms of general cultural use, it’s not worth trying to separate them.

The crystal clear water is rich in sodium and calcium, and it is classified as both a sulphate and chloride type onsen. Chloride onsen tend to warm up your body even faster, so although this lets your skin soak in the minerals, just make sure to stay hydrated and don’t pass out! But that applies at every onsen, though you’ll notice some are especially hot while others are more lukewarm. At least when I went, it was just right for a rather lengthy evening soak outside in the cool night air.

Nestled among the mountains, it’s the perfect spot for a quiet onsen getaway, though if you’re just in for a brief stop, there is a day-trip onsen for ¥500 at Hikawa Bijin no Yu. On your way out, be sure to stop at the Michi-no-Eki (like a rest stop, only much nicer) next to the statue of Yagami by the entrance to the onsen area. Izumo is also famous for ginger, which also has body warming properties, so in addition to ginger products on sale, they also serve ginger curry–that way you can warm yourself up from inside and out! The ginger tea or candy is easier to take home, though~

I must be a bit biased because I continue to mention Tamatsukuri Onsen almost every time I mention an onsen–the bath of the gods may not be in this particular “Top 3” list, but it was listed as one of the “Top 3” onsen in Sei Shonagon’s ever-famous “Pillow Book” record of courtly Heian life. That means we have two top onsen just south of Lake Shinji which the gods are said to frequent, and they’re a very short car-ride away from each other.

The title is a bit of a mouthful, but the festival itself is quite refreshing–especially considering the free use of onsen facilities although the Matsue Shinjiko Onsen area on the northeast banks of Lake Shinji! The line of ryokan and other facilities all have views facing the lake along the boardwalk.

The onsen are only open for a few hours in the middle of the day, but the festival really picks up in the evening. The purpose of the festival is to give thanks for having the springs in the first place. There is a statue of Jizo, the merciful Buddha often thought of as a patron of children. This is the Oyukake Jizo whereas “oyukake” means that you pour hot water on it, and thus your wishes are granted.

Oyukake Jizo on a sunny day

Oyukake Jizo on a rainy festival night

In addition to the usual street of food and game stalls (as well as toy sales and free sake tastings and what not), there were stage events set up near the line to offer incense and pour water on the Oyukake Jizo. It started raining partway through, but no one seems to mind–umbrellas or not, the crowds didn’t decrease at all.

This festival began in 1974, and it has since become a classic sign of late summer around this onsen area. Besides games and food stalls and stage events and people in yukata everywhere, one of the main draws is cooling off by the lake and watching the fireworks.

The early people waiting for fireworks while the lake is still quiet… I didn’t attempt to take any photos of fireworks this year, but you could always see my Suigosai entry from last year.

Now as for fireworks, I’m afraid they can’t compare to the display put on during Suigosai, the focal point of the summer. This event was supposed to be held August 9~10, but due to a typhoon, it has been postponed until August 30. Usually they fire 3000 fireworks over the course of half an hour on the first night and 6000 fireworks over the course of an hour the following night, but due to this schedule adjustment, they’ll be firing all 9000 of them from 8pm until 9pm!

Everyone, if you can make it to Matsue this weekend, try to find a spot early before everything fills up with people!

And don’t forget, the best Suigosai viewing spots are also around the Matsue Shinjiko Onsen area, and the Ichibata Railway will even be allowing people to view it from a special train car. Well, they’re probably best only next to the view from Matsue Castle, but people had to win a raffle of sorts to get acess to the tower at that hour. Anyway, before or after the fireworks, there is a free foot onsen outside the Ichibata Railway station and the Shijimi Clam Center. The one outside the station has a second Oyukake Jizo to pour hot water on.

I’ve written about other Tamatsukuri Onsen sweets in the past, but today I’d like to introduce my favorite. It might seem more like a summery treat, but even in cold weather I usually treat myself to these. Hence, as a little break from the incoming summer heat, I have some photos from later winter and early spring trips to the onsen area. Even on cloudy evenings, the cherry blossoms there are lovely, after all.

Although there are places in Tamatsukuri famous for their fresh seafood, cute cafe atmosphere, or even for takoyaki, my favorite is this pair of stalls directly across the Tamayu River from Yu~yu, the cheapest option for a day trip to the onsen if you’re not staying overnight at a ryokan. Although I try to visit a different day trip (higaeri) onsen every time I go for a dip instead of just passing through the area, just because Yu~yu is cheap doesn’t mean it feels cheap. Out of all the ¥400 or so price ranged places I’ve been to, the magatama motifs in the design of the indoor/outdoor baths, the waterfalls, and both dry and wet saunas make Yu~yu feel plenty ritzy so long as you don’t mind having the sky to gaze at instead of a traditional garden. However, the overall design of the building makes me think of a fishbowl in the sky. Yu~yu is not only a primary spot in the onsen area for a somewhat cheaper bathing experience, but also a spot to buy local food products (both fresh and packaged to take home and hand out as gifts), as well as an event space, a spot to buy towels if you forgot to bring them for the outdoor ashiyu (foot onsen), and it’s also one of the biggest parking areas right in the middle of the strip of fancy ryokan–just be forewarned that the parking lot can full up pretty fast on the weekend! There are additional parking lots a little further down the street as well.

Now back to the important topic–sweets. No wait, before that–I just want to add that on a really cold visit to the onsen area, the vegetable and fruit juice vendor sells some really, really nice vegetable soup in a light broth. Sipping that soup while bundled up and sitting at the ashiyu with your friends and watching the snow fall is lovely. See? I don’t just love sweets, I love veggies, too.

Now back to sweets. Allow me to introduce you to the Ice Corotto, an addictive mix of textures and complimentary refreshing flavors that change with the seasons and local availability.

Gyuuhi is very similar to mochi in that it is rice-flour based and soft and stretchy, but it is more delicate in texture, more like a Turkish Delight. I don’t always like the chewing involved for a mouthful of mochi and therefore don’t typically like to eat the ice cream balls wrapped in mochi that I know so many people adore around the world whenever they can get their hands on them at grocers that supply Japanese snacks. However, I have developed quite a soft spot (get it?) for gyuuhi, and I inwardly cheer everytime we have a wagashi at my tea ceremony lessons wrapped in the stuff.

Although gyuuhi is already wonderfully made use of in traditional style Japanese confections, it also matches a more western style sweet like vanilla ice cream very well. Just vanilla ice cream and gyuuhi would be lacking in some flavor, which is where the fruit sauce comes in. The fruit sauce is not limited to fruit–in honor of the local tea culture matcha is a pretty typical flavor, and I recall seeing Izumo ginger on the menu, too. There are usually four to five local flavors to choose from on the hand-decorated menu. Local strawberries and blueberries and grapes and figs and, while we’re at it, kiwis and mangos are all nice, but this particular day I decided to take pictures of the lovely little experience, I went with an uplifting matcha and orange combination.

Although I do like the soft and delicate, springy texture of the gyuuhi and the creamy texture of the ice cream and the thick, icy texture of the fruit sauce, the crumb coating really does pull it all together. It’s sort of like the addictive and satisfying combination of crunchy and soft textures in a Take 5 candy bar, only it’s not so sweet that it makes you feel ill–rather, it’s just sweet enough to be refreshing without being overwhelming. It does plenty to satisfy my sweet tooth.

They are ¥500 for four balls of your flavors of choice, or ¥300 for two. I find two perfectly satisfying. Although there are many charms throughout the onsen area, for me, even if I’m not taking a full bath, it’s just not a trip to Tamatsukuri without a couple little mouthfuls of these and at least a quick dip in my favorite of the free ashiyu available–this is one is right down the stairs to the spot at the Tamayu River in between the vegetable/fruit juice (and soup!) and ice corotto stalls. Just watch out, this is the hottest of the ashiyu in the area, and at its source it’s the hottest onsen water I’ve ever experienced anywhere!

The Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki (Chronicles of Ancient Izumo, 713-733 AD) is among one of the original encyclopedias of Japan, written for each province to describe local geography, culture and customs, plant life and everything.

When the researchers came to the Lake Shinji area, they found that all the locals were partying in the baths, young and old, all together–but everyone had beautiful, youthful skin. The term “fountain of youth” was not so big a buzzword back in the those days, but they instead spoke of the water and its benefits for beautiful skin.

Today, the waters are still known as the baths of the gods, there is a line of skin products made with the water, and there is a spring from which you can draw water to bring home with you. You can buy little spray bottles by the spring if you didn’t bring a container with you, which I see many ladies do. Just a little onsen tip–the heat does make a difference. Instead of just spritzing the water on your face for a home treatment, the more recommended practice is to heat up the water, soak a towel in it, and then rest it on your face for three minutes (laying it on your face such that you can breath, of course!).

Although I know this advice, I’m a bit lazy with it. I usually go to an onsen for the experience and relaxation, not the supposed skin benefits. You probably won’t notice much after one occasional dip in the onsen–however, after those happy weekends when I’ve gone two or three times, I am quite pleased to find that, “hey, I guess this water really does make your skin feel nice!”

Besides actually relaxing in the bath, I like hanging out outside in the onsen area, too. I’ll introduce one of my favorite little bits of Tamatsukuri next time.