When I think about staying at a Japanese Ryokan, the first thing that comes to mind is relaxing in a yukata. A yukata is a type of light cotton kimono that all onsen ryokan have available to guests. Yukata are popular even among our international guests, and they allow you to relax during your stay at a ryokan while experiencing Japanese culture on a deeper level.
We’ve put together some essential information about yukata and how to wear them here.
First, the yukata is just one type of traditional kimono in Japan. This means there are many other kinds in Japan. For example, women can wear one of two kinds of kimono at formal occasions: tomesode for married women or furisode for unmarried women. There are also plain black kimono for mourning, which traditionally have a family crest embossed on them. There are even special kimono just for guests.
For men’s formalwear we have the nagagi robes, haori jacket, and hakama trousers which form the base of the outfit. On these robes there may be as many as 5 family crests depending on the person’s rank. There are also black habutae kimono made from silk. And for men’s everyday wear, there are the iromuji, samue, and jibei robes.
Anyone who speaks English probably knows the proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In Japanese we also have a very similar saying: 郷に入れば郷に従え（go ni ireba go ni shitagae). It means that if you enter a foreign country or region, it is wise to follow the customs and ways there.
I believe that travelling is about not only seeing new sights, but also learning more about another country and culture.
However, during a long journey you will naturally miss the customs of your home country. We Japanese sometimes visit Japanese restaurants abroad. I think this is because many of us become homesick while travelling. Of course, I also believe it is a benefit for international travellers to step out of their comfort zone and learn about other cultures. That’s why I highly recommend staying at a Japanese ryokan.
Did you know that right here at Shima Onsen, there is a building said to be have inspired the setting for the famous animated film, Spirited Away? Today we’re going to talk about the little-known connection between Spirited Away and Shima Onsen.
Manga, TV anime, and animated films are one aspect of Japanese culture that we Japanese are very proud of. One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Captain Tsubasa are just a few examples of manga and anime titles that are popular all around the world. And you often hear Studio Ghibli, the producer of so many feature-length animated masterpieces, touted as one of the most beloved names in Japanese animation.
Among Studio Ghibli’s many works, Spirited Away (winner of Best Animated Feature Film at the 75th Academy Awards) is one of the most famous of all. The setting for this movie is the supernatural bathhouse for spirits called “Aburaya,” run by the witch Yubaba.
In the book, Ghibli no kyokasho 12 (the Spirited Away volume in a series of books about Ghibli films), it says that “there is no specific bathhouse in existence on which Aburaya’s design was based.” Despite this, the question of where director Miyazaki got his inspiration from is a question of great interest to the Japanese.
The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum and the Meguro Gajoen hotel are commonly believed to have influenced Spirited Away, and even Studio Ghibli recognizes this influence. Among other locations said to have influenced Spirited Away are Dogo Onsen Honkan, Shibu Onsen Kanaguya, Tsurumaki Onsen Jinya, and finally Sekizenkan Honkan, located here in Shima Onsen.
Shima Onsen’s Sekizenkan Honkan, designated one of Gunma’s Important Cultural Properties, was built in 1691 and is said to be the oldest wooden bathhouse (Ryokan) in Japan. As such, the nostalgic atmosphere of the period is perfectly preserved there. As an Important Cultural Property of Japan with as much prestige as Nikko’s Yakushido, Sekizenkan Honkan is one of the most historically significant structures in Shima Onsen.
The total number of lodgers who came from foreign countries to Japan reached a record 70 million in 2016.
80% of them stayed in descending order in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hokkaido, Okinawa, Chiba, Fukuoka, Aichi and Kanagawa prefecture.
Most of these regions are known for sightseeing, and are destinations on the “Golden Route”.
Meanwhile, the numbers of lodgers staying in Gunma prefecture where Shima Onsen is were just 210,000, 0.3% of the total.
(From the statistical survey by Japan Tourism Agency)
To get more visitors from foreign countries, we the managers of small onsen ryokans in the countryside are working hard to attract them.
The Japanese government helps us by promoting rural areas as nice places to visit and also help enhance community revitalization.
For example, according to ‘Tourism Vision to Support the Future of Japan’ drawn up by the Japan Tourism Agency in 2016, the Japanese government is actively making a plan which aims to double the number of foreign tourists visiting the countryside in Japan by 2020.
With this, the amount of money spent by foreign tourists in Japan is estimated to more than double from about JPY 3.5 trillion in 2015 to JPY 8 trillion by 2020.
(From the survey by the Japan Tourism Agency & Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management)
The Japan Tourism Agency gives tourists information about recommended tourist routes in the countryside, such as hot spring tours, visiting Japanese Sake breweries.
The Japanese government has started to support improvements to local areas which encourage foreign tourism.
Questionnaires filled out by foreign tourists who visited Japan for the first time showed that the tours they would like to do next were ones in which they could experience nature, fishing or rural areas, the four seasons, Japanese history, and the traditional cultures in the countryside.
This indicates they take more interest in the countryside and rural areas in Japan.
(From the survey by the Japan Tourism Agency)
There are many kinds of regional unique sceneries, food cultures, and onsen cultures in Japan.
Japan has wide range of climate conditions because of its length from north to south.
Japan also has a long history.
This history and climate affect the Japanese culture and landscape which can still be seen in the countryside and rural areas, but is sometimes difficult to see in the urban environment.
For example, you can enjoy beautiful nature like the amazing blue water of the Shima river which is called “Shima Blue“, In this region you can experience onsen culture as it was after the war, feel a peaceful atmosphere not found in big cities, and communicate with the warm hearted people of Shima Onsen.
However, we have some problems we have to resolve when hosting foreign tourists who don’t speak Japanese.
Public transportation information for coming to the countryside is insufficient.
We need more signs and guides in English and other foreign languages.
Currently we are developing communication systems like Wi-Fi in the countryside.
In general, ryokan rates includes meals fee, too. If you stay over a night, ryokan prepares the dinner on the day and the breakfast on the next day. Thus you can save your time to prepare food by yourself.
It cannot be an exaggeration if I say that meals at ryokan are one of the best parts of travel. You can fully enjoy a wide variety of delicious cuisine washoku with abundant seasonal local ingredients to Western with fruits and main meat dishes.
You can enjoy the service only at ryokan that taking onsen with a plenty of time, warming up your body, and enjoy delicious meal. Your feeling must be raised in front of lavish meals, such as you cannot eat everyday. You will be released from the stress of everyday life and spend the bliss of time.
Every Ryokan Serves its Unique Meals
It should be noted, menus and catering ways served at ryokan vary greatly by each ryokan. If you are interested in tuna, saury, chestnut, nuts, and foods of mountains, ryokan in mountainous areas is recommended. In order to fully enjoy onsen travel, you can be more enjoyable if checking what kinds of meals are served as well as onsen.
In addition, although Kaiseki Ryori tends to serve lots of amount, we are committed to serve reasonable amount. For menu that changes about 5 times a year, we cook them in gentle taste.
Kaiseki Ryori is hospitality dishes to enjoy drink. The basic menu is one soup and three dishes (soup, sashimi, grilled, and boiled), side dishes for sake are added, such as Otoshi (appetize), steamed food, marinated, vinegared dish, and finally rice, miso soup, pickled, and fruits are served.
Except ryokan in urban areas of Tokyo and Kyoto, the basic Japan ryokan accommodation system is one night two meals (Half Board) with dinner and breakfast.
In recent years, including our Kashiwaya ryokan, more and more ryokan are accepting other styles, such as B&B, accommodation and breakfast, and just sleep over.
Ryokan the Perfect Place to Taste Washoku
However, if you’re staying in long-awaited Japan, I recommend that you eat both dinner and breakfast at ryokan at least once. This is because ryokan is the perfect place to taste “Washoku; the Japanese Traditional Food Culture” registered as the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
However, a lot of ryokan provide in buffet style at relatively large-scale ryokan, so you need to be careful. Of course, I do not deny buffet style, but this is from a point of view in order to taste “Washoku; the Japanese Traditional Food Culture” registered as the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
What is Kaiseki Ryori (traditional Japanese meal brought in courses) ?
Most ryokan have their base of dinner as washoku, and many of them have the flow of “Kaiseki Ryori.” Kaiseki Ryori was originally dishes to enjoy drink and consists of various side dishes for sake, such as soup, sashimi, grilled, boiled, fried, steamed, marinated, and vinegared. Then it has a style of rice and soup (Tomewan; finish bowl) coming up at last. There are versatile ryokan; some ryokan serve traditional style of Kaiseki, some provide a little simplified, and some arrange in Western-style.
In addition, there are also ryokan, which serve “Kaiseki Ryori” that has same the reading but different kanji and has its roots in Teaism to enjoy tea and “Shojin Ryori (vegetarian food)” that does not use meat and fish.
Breakfast has more wide variety depend on each ryokan. Some ryokan serve feast more than enough to eat all even at dinner, some serve simple and basic one soup and three dishes, and some serve Western style as selected like our Kashiwaya ryokan. There are also many ryokan, which serve in buffet style only for breakfast.
For breakfast, you can choose from Washoku, which has lots of local ingredients, such as local miso and tofu, and Japanese rice gruel, Washoku with freshly baked bread and coffee, or brunch at Kashiwaya café at onsen town.
“Food” is one of the great funs of travel, so please fully enjoy.
It is said that there are more than 3,000 onsen with accommodation in Japan.
On the contrary, looking at the number of onsen in the world, Australia is about 50 and Germany is a little less than 200, thus you can see that Japan has overwhelming onsen powers. (Source: National Diet Library database)
In addition, its history and traditions are also great.
Onsen that was Described in the Japanese Oldest Book
A relationship between Japanese and onsen is so deep that there are descriptions about onsen on “Kojiki” that is said to have been compiled in A.D. 712 and is the Japanese oldest book. We often say, “Onsen culture is due to Japanese DNA.” It is exactly like that.
Where is the oldest onsen in Japan? Onsen enthusiasts often discuss it.
From a view that are appeared in the ancient texts such as Nihonsyoki (Chronicles) and Fudoki (Topography), commonly referred “Japanese three oldest onsen” are Dogo onsen (Ehime Prefecture), Arima onsen (Hyogo Prefecture), and Shirahama onsen (Wakayama Prefecture).
In the era when medical care was undeveloped, onsen was revered as Holy Land that has amazing efficacy for injury and illness. It was after the Kamakura era that bathing became a common culture same as modern. Then in the Edo era, “Toji (onsen therapy)” culture, that is people heal their fatigue in onsen during agricultural off-season, spread and has continued unbroken until now.
Tradition of Shima Onsen
Tradition of Shima onsen is also very old and nobody knows exactly, however, there are episodes, such as Shogun of the time, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, discovered it at Ezo conquest during Enryaku period (from A.D. 782 to 806) according to a legend, and Usui Hyuganokami Sadamitsu, a vassal of Minamoto no Raikou, discovered it when traveling From Echigo country to Ueno country in Eien 3 (A.D. 989).
The legend is like this. Usui Hyuganokami Sadamitsu was spending time by chanting while he was camping in the middle of the journey. Then suddenly, an unfamiliar child appeared and left mysterious surrender, “I bestow you a holy onsen that cures 40,000 diseases as I was moved by your sincerity of chanting. I am a divine spirit of this mountain.” Although Sadamitsu was almost falling asleep, he examined the peripheral in a hurry, and found onsen gushing out there. According to these legends, it is likely that onsen had been known before the 10th century.
It was during the Warring States Period of the 16th century when Shima onsen ryokan was full-fledged open. The length of history is also a proof of the height of efficacy. It is said that when taking Shima onsen, it demonstrates wonderful effects on improving skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis or burns, and poor physical condition of gastrointestinal system disease. Thus, Shima onsen is highly acclaimed as a premier Toji place. In addition, skin effect is also outstanding, thus many female customers also visit for cosmetic purposes.
Shima onsen is a spa town, and there are more than 30 accommodations along Shima river. One of them is “Sekizenkan main building,” which is said to be the existing Japanese oldest Yuyado architecture.
So, you can feel good old Japanese tradition. Sekizenkan is said to have become the model of the stage of “Spirited Away,” a Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece. If you look at the red bridge towards straight extending to the front door, many people raise impressed voice by superimposing with the world of the anime.
In October, a Shima autumn festival is held, where local young people play grand festival music works together. The traditional festival lives up the onsen town, so you can enjoy a little bit different Shima onsen’s taste from usual one.
“Yakushido,” a national designated important cultural property, that has been dedicated to Yunomae Myojin at Hinatami district is a symbol of Shima onsen tradition.
It is said to be architecture of late Muromachi Era. The fact that there was such a splendid building from that time is also a testimony that Shima onsen has prospered from old time.
There is a system called “national resort onsen,” best onsen as resort designated by the Ministry of the Environment, in Japan. Shima onsen was designated as the first national resort onsen in 1954. This would show that Shima onsen is traditional and also has excellent medicinal efficacy.
As Toji culture had been remained until the 1975’s at Shima onsen, you can walk the streets where you can feel the Toji culture even now, such as shopping mall and drinking onsen spot.
In addition, concerning the humanity of people living at Shima onsen, most of them do not care business profit that is same as in Toji era, thus people sometimes say that it is like the time of this town has stopped.
Fully enjoy onsen atmosphere at traditional Japanese onsen, especially among them, at Shima onsen with old history.
Shima Onsen is a well-known Onsen located at Nakanojo town in Gunma Prefecture.
In Japan, Ministry of Environment certifies onsen, which efficacy and integrity are recognized to be superior, as “national health resort onsen” and utilizes it as dissemination activities so that more people can familiarize onsen. Shima Onsen is the commemorable first onsen among more than 90 national resort onsens, thus can be called as the onsen with reliability proven by history and records.
Moreover, most sources of Shima Onsen are natural seep, thus you can expose the whole body to fresh water with less oxidation. Temperature of onsen is 50-80 degrees Celsius. You can thoroughly warm up the core of your body and indulge in a moment of bliss. Majestic scenery surrounding open-air bath also becomes a feast for the eyes, thus it has huge popularity as a retreat.
Shima Onsen is written as 「四万温泉」 in Chinese characters. It means the number 40000. It is said to be named as “forty thousand Onsen,” meaning that the effect of full onsen heals 40000 diseases.
There is originally a culture of “Toji” in Japan, meaning cure in onsen. Many people used to heal fatigue of body and mind by staying at onsen for one week to one month up to the 1970s.
why does onsen have a potency to heal sickness and fatigue of body and mind?
Supposedly ,It is due to the combined effect of 5 elements. Those elements are;
“Pharmacological effect” by efficacy components,
“Thermal effect” by the heat of onsen,
“Buoyancy effect” and “pressure effect” during bathing, and
“Changing environment effect” by changing environment.
Then, I introduce the detail of these five benefits.
1: “pharmacological effect”.
Quality of Shima Onsen is “sodium-calcium chloride, sulfate onsen”, of which main components are sodium chloride, calcium chloride, and sulfate ions. As it contains abundant sodium ions, you can taste little salt with a little lick.
When taking onsen, a large amount of sodium chloride components cover the body like a veil, and bring perspiration like sauna. As moisturizing effect can be available as well as waste discharge, you can enjoy the efficacy to become beautiful moist skin that is an eternal yearning of women. Besides anti-aging effects, improved efficacy of skin disease-relation is also known, such as abrasions, burns, atopic dermatitis, heat rash, and eczema.
In addition, minerals such as calcium and magnesium are also abundant. If bathing thoroughly, nourishing ingredients penetrate into the body, and work for relief of symptoms of neuralgia and arthritis. Relaxing effect of negative ions loosens entrenched body, and also contributes to fatigue, such as muscle pain and joint pain.
2: “thermal effect.”
By warming the body in onsen, blood circulation is improved and metabolism increases, and you will see the effect preeminent in terms of both beauty and health. Customers from abroad often ask, “Why do Japanese people enjoy taking this kind of hot water in such hot summer season?” I think this is because Japanese know by instinct the utility of thermal effect. Please try to observe the situation when Japanese get into a bathtub. Most people get into bath with really pleasant voice, such as “Fu ~” and “Ha ~.”
3:”buoyancy effect” and “pressure effects.”
Buoyancy acts when entering water, such as a pool not limited to onsen, you feel like the body became lighter. This buoyancy releases from gravity, muscles loosen, and that leads to relaxation of body and mind.
It is said that “legs are the second heart” as about one-third of the total blood volume gathers to legs, and this blood is sent back to the heart. When bathing, blood vessels become narrow in water pressure, blood is pushed toward the heart, and as a result, the flow of veins in the lower extremities is improved, thus circulation of blood and lymph also become active.
4: “Changing environment effect.”
I feel that positive impact given by changing environment effect to body and mind is very strong. You may have experienced that you got refreshed by leaving a home land and placing oneself in a different environment. Starting with Shima Onsen, many Japanese onsen are located at scenic places full of the nature, this changing environment effect is especially outstanding. Traveling from overseas to Japan itself is already changing environment effect!
By the way, Shima Onsen is renowned as “drinkable onsen,” and there is also a way to enjoy drinking onsen water as well as bathing. If you go to drinking onsen spots that are installed in some places at the onsen town, you can drink onsen water with rich nutrition. As components can be directly absorbed through digestive organs, there is a profound effect on improving disease of constipation, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal system diseases. It is said that there is also the effect on other illness, such as diabetes and gout.
Origin of the onsen name, “onsen that heals forty thousand diseases” is not a fake. Many people from all over the country visit on a regular basis for onsen treatment purposes. While eating good food, please come and experience the culture of onsen recuperation imprinted in the DNA of Japanese.
Take Shima Onsen with rich effects, heal fatigue from the journey, and enjoy your trip to Japan trip to your heart’s contents.