“Well, those Tokyo girls are hip, I really love those clothes they wear. And Okinawa girls with the way they talk they knock me out when I’m down there. But I wish…they…all…could be…Akita girls…”
—David Lee Roth (from his unreleased Japanese album)
With all the sadness coming out of Tohoku recently, the Naked Stranger decided to remind people of some of the fantastic places up north in Tohoku. Other than the areas most affected by the tsunami along the coast, Tohoku is open for business. Legend has it the most beautiful girls in Japan come from Akita Prefecture. The Naked Stranger couldn’t get there quick enough to find out for himself.
The legend of the Akita bijin (Akita beauty) is based largely on the reputation of one feisty old sexpot by the name of Ono Komachi. Ono Komachi was an erotic poet and famed rare beauty who tickled and tormented men with her pale skin and venomous pen back in the 10th Century. In those times, tans weren’t a great selling point and the porcelain skin of Ono Komachi still has the locals talking. So much so, she has received the highest honor that can be bestowed on a person in Japan—they named a bullet train and a variety of rice after her.
Akita is also known for one of the most famous konyoku (mixed bathing) onsen in Japan. It is called Tsurunoyu Onsen and is approximately two hours inland from Sendai near Japan’s deepest lake, Lake Tazawa. And if that isn’t enough to persuade you to visit, Akita Prefecture also has the renowned Ono Komachi Festival which boasts “seven young women wearing woven hats reciting seven waka poems.” Oooh-yeh!
A pristine lake, white skin beauties, dirty poems and mixed hot springs. Now that’s an irresistible combination. And as if you need another reason to head north, knowing you’ll be supporting the people in Tohoku makes it that much better.
The Upside: The rustic old buildings, simple-yet-delicious traditional cuisine and natural mixed bathing outdoor hot springs provide a quintessential Japanese hot spring experience. It is also a great place for a combined ski holiday in the winter and nearby Tazawako Ski Area.
The Downside: Tsurunoyu is quite isolated and is a little difficult to access. It is not a place you would go for a day trip. Due to its popularity, it can also become quite crowded in the high season. It is best to book accommodation well in advance. Don’t go if you are shy about baring your body to the opposite sex.
The Bare Facts:
• The name “Tsurunoyu” comes from the fact that a local hunter saw a crane (tsuru in Japanese) healing its wounds in the hot spring.
• Tsurunoyu is one of eight hot-spring baths that belong to Nyutō Onsenkyo located near the foot of Mount Nyutō (1,478m) and Lake Tazawa. It is possible to hike among all eight hot springs of Nyutō Onsenkyo along a beautiful forest trail.
• People have been using Tsurunoyu hot spring since 1638, when the second lord of Akita, Yoshitaka Satake, visited Tsurunoyu Onsen for therapy.
• The general public has been using the hot springs since the Genroku Era (1688-1704) and it was used as a sanatorium prior to World War II, where people would come to recover from various illnesses with the help of the water’s healing minerals.
• Tsurunoyu has three types of water—sulphur, calcium chloride and carbonic acid hydrogen water. They are said to be remedial for high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, rheumatism, dermatitis and diabetes.
Accommodation: Room fees ¥8,550 – ¥15,900, depending on the type of room. During the winter, heating fees of ¥1,050 per room are charged.
Food: Traditional, local foods are served and can be eaten around an irori, a traditional Japanese fireplace set in the floor. Seasonal foods that may be served include sansai (mountain vegetables), yamanoimo (Japanese mountain yam), nabe (Japanese hot pot cuisine) and irori-grilled trout.
Nearby Attractions: Tazawako Ski Area, Lake Tazawa, Kakunodate Historic Town, Towada-Hachimantai National Park.
Access: Take the Akita Komachi Shinkansen and get off at JR Tazawako Station. There is a bus depot where you can catch regular buses to Nyutō Onsenkyo. Contact Tsurunoyu in advance, so that they can arrange to pick you up from the bus stop.
Tsurunoyu, Lake Tazawa, Akita Prefecture
Address: Tazawako Sendatsuzawa Kokuyurin 50, Senboku-shi, Akita-ken
Hours: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Not open Mondays for day bathing.
Tel: (0187) 46-2139