Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Zekkei-No-Yado Hot Springs (Izumo, Shimane Prefecture)

(Zekkei-no-Yado Goshoranba Ryokan, Ottachi Town, Izumo City, Shimane Pref.)

(BGM:  "I've Got You Under My Skin" by Frank Sinatra)

The main facade of Zekkei-no-Yado Goshoranba Ryokan, facing the gorge.
People go to hot springs for different reasons. Some (like me), concentrate on the water's therapeutic effects. Others, like my husband, look forward to the differences in atmosphere and ambiance. Fortunately for us on this trip to Shimane, we found a place that appealed to both of us, with an entrancing view of an ancient, slowly-eroding gorge. The name zekkei-no-yado means "lodge with an indescribable view." The name could not be more fitting.

The sign reads: "Zekkei-no-Yado Goshoranba Rotenburo" (rotenburo= open-air bath).
The lodge itself is sandwiched in the middle of a loop between the two opposing one-lane roads of Route 184, a narrow but lovely course that winds and twists along the Kando River. We arrived just at the peak of rush hour traffic and parking was a little harrowing with all the giant trucks violently wooshing by. But somehow we made it. Gazing up the massive cathedral of bare rock looming above us, I knew we were in for a treat!

The very kind, silver-haired gentleman who collected our fee allowed me to rinse off my sandy feet with a garden hose before heading for the baths. Peeking inside the warm, welcoming entrance to the lodge, my eyes lit up at the bouquet of gaily-colored yukata robes spread out on a smooth, age-worn shelf. Female guests staying overnight could choose their favorite kimono (and if they couldn't decide, "color assistance" was available!) The lodge advertised traditional cuisine with local game and greens. Pheasant and wild boar, fresh river fish, mountain vegetables in season -no wonder this place has a four-star reputation! Too bad we were short on time and could only enjoy the outdoor bath. But we were psyched up, regardless. A quick sprint across the street and down the hill, serenaded by the chirps and whirrings of cicadas in the late afternoon haze and I'd arrived at my mountain retreat.

Shrubs and a cement path leading to the women's bath.
Toilet (left) and a rentable private family bath (right).
I was a little silly and forgot to take pictures of the very neat, tidy and newly-built dressing room. (Here is a video taken by a Japanese guest of the men's rotenburo bath. The layout is very similar, but without a separate smoking room). My feet felt really groovy on the clean, smooth bamboo mats underfoot. The pleasing fragrance of fresh-cut lumber filled my nose. (This place must've been remodeled fairly recently. Lucky me!) I was thankful for the free, generously-sized lockers and baskets to put my things in as I organized my towels and prepared. Rotary fans kept the dressing room cool and dry, a refreshing oasis free of drippy summer humidity. Bath goodie bag in hand, I open the door into paradise: Aaaahh!! :-)

Horizontal panorama of the women's bath from the dressing room entrance.

Three spigots were situated in the corner so I couldn't accidentally get any soap into the tubs (smart design!) The wooden stools were too short for me so I just knelt down old-fashioned style on the floor and used the shower and plastic bath bucket provided. The lather I whipped up from the shampoo frothed rich and creamy enough for my nekoge (猫毛 cat fur-thin) hair; I didn't need to supplement with my own conditioner. Peeking out the window behind me, I couldn't help myself: the imposing view of Tachikuekyo's monolithic andesite spires was so awe-inspiring that it sent me scuttling all dripping wet to the locker to grab my phone for a few photos! Wowee zowie! Talk about a "gorge-ous gorge!" (Sorry, I couldn't help myself).

Vertical panorama from the main womens' bath. (Jealous?) ;-)
My rapture was about to be tested, however: Mid-summer in Japan means biting critters -everywhere. And being right next to the very pristine, slow-flowing Kando River, this onsen gets a few Japanese giant horseflies, no doubt visiting from the dairy farm several kilometers down the river. Two of these devilish giant hornet-sized flies took too much interest in me, and no amount of shooing would scare them off. I tried spraying them at point-blank with hot water and the can of all-purpose insect repellant I found resting on the stone steps. Neither worked. But I discovered that if I submerge myself up to my neck and wrap my small bath towel around my ears, they wouldn't bother me. I was right! The buzzing stopped! I was free!

(Instead of bothering me, however, they simply used my head as an island while I enjoyed my bath. Oh well).

I could finally lay back and savor this mind-quieting environment. Warblers and thrushes trilled for me a tranquil melody of sweetness against a symphony of gently-flowing river water and post-typhoon summer wind. The silky-soft, piping-hot water soothed my aching muscles faster than usual as I tasted strong salt around the edges of my mouth -too strong to be from me. I was bathing in a salt spring! It seemed like years since I last soaked in one of these!

An inspired sign describing the water's general mineral composition and health effects.
The above signboard read that the onsen was actually a reisen (冷泉 cold springs) with a high salt and iron content, which implies that it's probably pre-heated before being added to the tubs. The water was perfectly hot and I imagine would feel incredible in the cold, bug-free bliss of winter. But for now, I was satisfied with the pleasant pain of the salt gently stinging my fresh insect bites, cleansing them. (The two bites hurt only slightly. Fortunately, no blood was drawn, today).

The porous peaks of the Tachikuekyo Gorge kissed by welcome sunlight.
Zekkei-no-Yado lodge boasts the best possible view of Tachikuekyo in town. At night, the stony spires come to life, awash in spotlight, perfect for ethereal nighttime bathing. Guests can sport their kimono, clomping in wooden geta sandals over the nearby bridges, soaking up the cool night air and sounds of the season. (Sure sounds heavenly!)

It may have been the peak of the stickiest, most humid time of the year. But thanks to the hot, briny waters of Zekkei-no-Yado, my skin emerged from the bath clean, smooth and radiant. I inspected the two hickey-shaped love bites bestowed upon me from the horseflies and was glad that they prefer the taste of cow blood to mine. They won't stop me from coming back to this delightful hot springs, though.

Zekkei-no-Yado Spa Information:
Outdoor Bath Operating Hours: 6:00am to 10:00 pm (Open 7 days/week)
Bath Fee: Adult 500 yen, Child 300 yen
Facilities: rotenburo (open air bath), showers, dressing room with rotary fan, family bath (by reservation), Western-style toilet, liquid body soap, shampoo, plastic buckets, lockers (free), blow dryer. (Bring your own towels).
Drink Machine (across the highway): soda, colas, tea, coffee, sports drinks, energy drinks, water
Parking: Space for about 20 cars.
Address/Access: 693-0216 島根県出雲市乙立町立久恵5269 (Shimane-ken, Izumo-shi, Ottachi-cho, Tachikue 5269. Postal Code: 693-0216).
Telephone (Japanese Only): 0853-45-0211
Specified Water Type: ナトリウムイオン泉・弱塩泉、ナトリウム・塩化物強温泉、令鉄線 sodium chloride (salt) springs, cold iron springs.
Insider's Tip: Come here in the fall when the autumn leaves are at their best!
For More Information: This website (in Japanese) contains more information on available plans, access and lodge information.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this blog is for entertainment purposes only. The author cannot and will not be held responsible for any information contained in this blog used by a third party. The author makes no claim of the effectiveness of onsen therapy nor suggests the use of various minerals for the treatment of any disease to any third party. Please do what the author did and check with a licensed health care practitioner before attempting any form of self-treatment for any medical condition.

Copyright 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author. 

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