In February, I stayed in a ryokan at Tsuta Onsen for my birthday! This was the first ryokan I’ve stayed in since moving to Japan.
Just in case you don’t know, a ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn that features tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata.
This onsen is near lake Towada and rests at the entrance of Oirase gorge. The ryokan is surrounded by virgin beech wood trees. It is famous for its onsen, which has been used for over 1000 years. The bath is made from beech and Japanese horse chestnut wood. The style of the building is fashioned to the Taisho period.
Behind the ryokan there are numerous ponds and lakes. There are also walking trails all around so you can enjoy nature during all four seasons.
On the downside, it’s kind of a dangerous drive to get there in winter, but the snow is very beautiful! You’ll have to make sure you have an updated GPS, because a lot of roads close during the winter and the paths also close at night because they are too dangerous.
Typically the roads would be lined with gigantic snow walls, but this winter we didn’t get as much snow. However, the snow walls were still much taller than me, which doesn’t say too much, considering I am 5’3.
When I arrived at the ryokan, it was like entering a winter wonderland. There was a nearly frozen pond with a water fountain, snow covered roads, and snow covered trees all around. I was really excited to spend the night!
The staff was very friendly and took our shoes when we got in and gave us indoor slippers.
When I first got there they took me to a tatami room and brought me tea and a warm towel. I had to fill out some paperwork, as the man explained the times for the onsen, since the main bath alternates between men and women.
After he explained the times and such, he took me to my room. He came inside room to show me where the futons were and the yukata. He also said that they put the futons out for you when you are at dinner, and in the morning to just leave everything as is.
Speaking of dinner, most ryokan have a set meal that you can enjoy. The meals often include seasonal locally produced ingredients. Usually they have some interesting choices, so if you don’t have adventurous taste buds you may want to opt out. I also told them when I made my reservation that I had some food allergies so they could prepare food without those ingredients.
One of the more daring foods that I ate was a whole fish on a stick. It looks very intimidating, but honestly it was probably the best thing I ate that night.
After eating dinner I wanted to enjoy the onsen, but to be honest I was feeling a little shy that weekend. On the bright side the ryokan has a private onsen that you can book! It was only an additional 3000 yen. I am actually really glad I did this because I ended up with the flu about a day later so I am happy I wasn’t near anyone.
The water was clear and gentle on my skin. It was really hot though, so I couldn’t stay in the water for too long.
Tsuta Onsen is one of the few 30 sites where the hot spring bubbles out of the ground. This is because the baths are placed directly over the water source.
It was a very nice stay and a beautiful location. Since the onsen is near lake Towada and Oirase gorge you can take many different day trips if you stay for more than one night. In the winter you can enjoy walking through Oirase gorge with snowshoes!
I hope to stay here again someday! The staff was super friendly, it was very clean, and the onsen was wonderful!