The Naked Stranger
By the Naked Stranger
Episode 9: A winter ode to l’eau chaude
Hot water is good. I love it. But not like that comfortable, homey love affair I have with my slippers. And not like that sneaky, guilty love I feel for hot chips with gravy. I’m talking real slappin’-your-pants hot, hot love. Like my love for Natalie Portman and that funny thing she does with her lip when she smiles. Ah, l’eau chaude, it even sounds better in French.
Hot water has many practical uses as well. You can use it to clear ice off your windshield on a winter morning or sterilize your surgical instruments. Put it in jelly crystals, and it goes hard. It is efficacious and mysterious and, if you take the bidet option on the Japanese toilet, your world will change forever. Hot water is what separates us from other hominids. Turn on the tap, and there it is. It is a testament to our ancestors’ struggle against nature, and we reap the rewards.
But in winter after a day on the slopes, the majesty of hot water is taken to an even higher plane. Stick a room temperature, warm toe in hot water and it feels pleasant. Stick a foot that has been wedged in a ski boot for six hours in sub-zero temperatures, and joy turns to rapture. It is better than that Natalie Portman smile. It is banging on the table, hooting, tooting ecstasy. So, do yourself a favor this winter and reignite your romance with l’eau chaude.
Yutaki Onsen Nozawa Onsen, Nagano Prefecture
Rating: ★★★★ (4 of 5 stars or onsen symbols)
Address: Oaza Ichiyama Aza Kawaoshi 1898 Iiyama-shi, Nagano
Cost: ¥400 (adults)
Tel: (0269) 65-3454
The Upside: The rotenburo is beautifully designed. The onsen water cascades four feet down a stone wall to the bath through ornate timber work that would be of interest to anyone with an appreciation of traditional carpentry techniques. Watch the river flow slowly by from the rotenburo.
The Downside: It is difficult to access without a car.
The Bare Facts:
Yutaki Onsen sits beside the Chikuma River, the longest river in Japan. It is a quick 10-minute drive down the hill from Nozawa Onsen and a nice change from the many free onsen in the village.
Yutaki was a popular place during the Edo Period, but the 1849 earthquake in Nagano caused the water to stop flowing in the area. Luckily, it was re-established in 1987 at the current location.
Food: Sasazushi (vegetarian sushi in bamboo leaf) is a specialty of the Iiyama area.
Nearby Attractions: Nozawa Onsen ski area, Togari Onsen ski area and Oku-shinano or “Little Kyoto.”
Access: Take the Joshinetsu Expressway toward Iiyama and then the Toyoda-Iiyama exit, then onto Rt. 117 toward Yutaki Onsen. It’s about 20 minutes by car from Iiyama Station or 10 minutes by from Nozawa Onsen.