Second part of our trip to Central Japan had a single goal of staying at a resort which “Spirited Away”‘s setting was based on (it’s even being mentioned here ). Before our trip I’d never seen the film, and I was compelled to see it before we embark on my first visit to a hot spring resort.
First two days of our trip included sleeping in a car on a parking lot in the middle of nowhere (which surprisingly wasn’t bad or uncomfortable at all) and staying at a manga cafe (I will definitely dedicate a whole post to this subject in the future), while stopping by at Nikko (which I’ve already written about here) and another shrine on the way.
Shima Onsen (or Shima Hot Spring if you will) is located in Gunma prefecture and apparently, beside hot springs, not much is on the repertoire. But who needs more when you get to relax for couple of days soaking in boiling hot water in a hotel with an amazing service, healthy food and get to walk all day in yukata, forgetting about the outside world! The resort’s name is Sekizen (積善) and there’s whole history behind the resort, which looks like it has been trapped in a time vortex, not changing its wooden structure and interior since forever. Below I’ve attached some images for you to inspect and compare it to “Spirited Away”‘s resort and hopefully get some inspiration for your next trip in Japan.
This is the Shima Lake, which can be reached from the highway, right before you reach the many resorts pinned around the hot springs, one of which is Sekizen (and by the way, there’s a so-called “Melody Line” right on the way to the lake and it stands for a road that makes a sound when you ride over it by car).
The interior is simply stunning, and it’s a perfect choice for all hard-core Japan-lovers who want to go for a more traditional experience than you can maybe get in Tokyo. For me, it was my first time at a public bath. Normally, as most of the inns of this type, “Sekizen” has “public” baths (separated for men and women, both guests of the resort), free private baths (which you enter when there’s no other people around and just put a wooden sign on the door that it’s taken) and exclusive private baths which you can rent for about 45 minutes for a fee.
Private baths are no-fuss and no-stress, you just get inside and then do as you please, as long as you follow the main rule of not getting in a tub before you shower first in the provided area. That’s the case with all the baths under Japanese sun, as well as with the normal tub you have at your typical Japanese home. What was challenging for me was getting in the common bath with other women. I am used to getting in a pool completely covered up in a bathing suit, which are completely forbidden in all baths in Japan. No person gets to bring anything inside except a tiny towel which you use to cover yourself up if you can manage to fit that small piece of cloth all over from your torso to your knees (it’s impossible, I’m telling you). What you can do is, however, take off all your clothes in the changing room and place your tiny towel over your chest vertically, so it reaches your thighs and get in that tub ASAP (don’t forget to shower first!), which is what I did. I was also told that Japanese women would be staring at me out of curiosity, which I was getting really mentally ready for but it never happened haha.
As you can see from the picture above, there are many resorts you can choose from in this really small area. The sole reason we picked “Sekizen” is the connection to the legendary film and its long and rich history. Having made a reservation over the phone, we even got a bonus – you can choose one of their free services – either a free meal or a private outdoor bath for free. We went with the latter, and the experience was amazing. You get to soak in the hot water in a tiny lodge in the forest surrounded by nothing but a glass wall, which means you can enjoy the view of the bamboo forest lit by strategically placed lamps all over the hotel’s backyard. So, make sure to check with your resort if they have similar kind of offer when making a reservation over the phone.
I hope you enjoyed my report from hot springs.
Till next time.