“Save water, share a bath.”
Maguse Onsen: The Travelers Friend
If you are a stranger in this strange land, the Naked Stranger is just like you. He is not from around here. He comes from a country where naked people get arrested and baths are a solitary affair. His wife is Japanese and she is always upset at him for reasons he doesn’t quite understand. Like the time he put out the garbage in bare feet. In his country, some people get married in bare feet.
The Naked Stranger sometimes feigns stupidity to avoid unpleasant situations in Japan. Particularly when going through customs or being questioned by the police. It sometimes works with his wife too. But most times, the stupidity is real and Japan is a complete mystery to him.
But the Naked Stranger does understand one thing about Japan. He loves onsen. It wasn’t exactly love at first soak. It came slowly over time. But now he welcomes the tingle when he first dips his toes in and the deep penetrating heat that comes after.
He savors the wave of exhaustion when he gets out of the bath, although he thought more than once he was having a major medical emergency after an onsen. Afterwards he even enjoys choosing strange drinks out of vending machines he cannot read.
The Naked Stranger loves a good road trip, especially one that has a bath at the end. Sometimes there is a bath in the middle too. Recently he finally agreed to take his wife to the Dosojin Fire Festival in Nozawa Onsen. The annual event is held on Jan. 15 and it’s one each year he hopes his wife will forget.
People had been telling him about Nozawa Onsen and Dosojin and how fabulous it all is, though the Naked Stranger is not a fan of crowded places, but the idea of drunken men wielding large flaming torches did pique his interest. One thing they forgot to mention, however, is the festival is at night and it is very cold.
So instead of standing with a couple of thousand others in the snow, he detoured off a side road and, while the good people of Nozawa Onsen were enjoying Nagano’s biggest barbecue, our friend the Naked Stranger was sitting in 39.5-degree hot spring water at Maguse Onsen.
Maguse Onsen first opened its baths in 1987 and was rated by Japan’s Keizai Shimbun as the top onsen in Eastern Japan. It is a kakenagashi-style bath, meaning the water comes straight from the earth and is not recycled at all. It is 100 percent pure onsen mambo.
The word Maguse comes from the kanji for “horse” and “turns” because it was originally on a treacherous switchback road that ran through the mountains. The local kannon god is apparently a horse that looks after travellers, and the spirit of the local god of Maguse Onsen seems to still be around as it truly is a haven for weary travelers.
Save water, share a bath.
Maguse Onsen Kijimadaira, Nagano
Rating: ★★★★ (4 of 5 stars or onsen symbols, onsen buckets, onsen towels?)
Address: Owazasumigo 5567-1
Shimotakaigun, Kijimadaira Village
Nagano Prefecture 389-2302
Cost: Adult ¥500 / Child ¥200
Tel: (0269) 82-4028
The Upside: The view from the rotenburo is one of the best in Japan and the water is pure.
The Downside: The onsen can get crowded after the ski hills close in winter, and the washing area is separate from the rotenburo. There is also no bus to Maguse, so you really need a car to access it or spring for a taxi.
The Bare Facts:
100% natural Naturium bath.
The onsen water is remedial for skin problems and rejuvenating the body.
Accommodation is well priced for groups.
Close proximity to quality ski resorts.
Tatami mat rooms are available that sleep up to six people. Price for six people without food is ¥15,750 (¥2,625 yen per person).
Food: The local speciality is Maguse teishoku (meisuibokuchi soba, tempura, sazazushi, tofu and mountain vegetables).
Nearby Attractions: Kijimadaira Ski Resort, Ryuo Mountain Park, Yomase Onsen Ski Resort, Nozawa Onsen.
Access: (Train) From Nagano City Station, take the Iiyama Line to Iiyama Station.
There are no buses to Maguse, so you will need to take a taxi from the station, which takes about 15 minutes.
(Car) Take the Joetsu Expressway. Get off at Toyoda-Shinshu IC. Follow Route 292 to Route 117 and finally on to Route 403, then follow the signs to Maguse.
Would you take a gift from a Naked Stranger?
If so, send in your favourite onsen or onsen story and win yourself free onsen tickets and Maguse style teishoku at arguably one of the best onsen in eastern Japan.