TRAVEL WATCH: OCTOBER 25, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 16
If you're traveling with kids, it's important to know that while children are welcome at most establishments, they too must follow the rules. This might not sound like your idea of family fun, but don't cross onsen off the vacation list just yet. Some holiday destinations offer onsen-style attractions without the conventions. These updates on tradition allow foreign families to enjoy the experience without the fear of upsetting other patrons' sensibilities.
Hotel Mikazuki, (81-470) 731-115, in Katsuura, about 90 minutes east of Tokyo by train, lures visitors with nearly 50 different types of indoor and outdoor baths. In the hotel's Aqua Palace, pools come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, including marble and the prized hinoki wood that adds a special scent to the bathing experience. Curiosity seekers can immerse themselves in coffee or sake, each of which, besides being tasty drinks, are claimed to impart salubrious effects on the skin. The "pent-bath" at the top of the eight-story building provides a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. Yutopia (yu means hot water) (81-460) 24-141, in Hakone, 80 km west of Tokyo, offers modern twists on the onsen concept, such as a steaming rock sauna inside a cave; a bath lined with magnetic rocks, which is good for stiff muscles; and the "supersonic" onsen, which will whirl you to health with jet-propelled water.
Further afield, Kenji World, (81-19) 695-3333, in northern Japan's Iwate prefecture, boasts a colossal onsen "beach" where warm water washes up on the shore (made of brownish soft board instead of sand). This indoor facility also includes a variety of smaller pools and jacuzzis with hot spring water. Spa Resort Hawaiians (81-246) 433-191, in Iwake city, about 90 minutes by train northeast of Tokyo, has an extensive outdoor onsen swimming pool surrounded by palm trees and hibiscus. The resort touts itself as a "comprehensive water park" that integrates regular swimming pools and the traditional hot springs.
Some onsen establishments cater to hot spring lovers who would rather be alone. Befitting Japan's growing respect for privacy, young families and couples are opting for hotels and inns featuring private baths. About half of the popular onsen establishments today set aside kashikiri, or bookable baths. Ranging from small to medium sized, these can be reserved for 30 minutes to an hour, or longer depending on the hotel. Booking is arranged at the time of reservation or upon arrival and usually requires no additional charge.
For a private audience with Mount Fuji, head to Resort Pension Marine Blue, (81-558) 942-062, in Shizuoka prefecture, three hours southwest of Tokyo. It offers exclusive baths with a view of the magnificent volcano. At Tokiwaya, a countryside ryokan in Shizuoka prefecture, lucky bathers can see dramatic sunsets over Toda Bay. Whether you go traditional or explore some of the more modern takes on the onsen experience, getting into hot water in Japan is good, clean fun.
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