Monday, 13 September 2010

Renge Onsen 蓮華温泉

From Nagano we biked through  rice fields and  mountains, cedar plantations, hyrdoelectric dams & half enclosed tunnels built along rivers.  On reaching Hiraiwa (Hwy 148) in the depths of Niigata, we turned and headed south on a winding mountain road towards Renge Onsen (蓮華温泉).  Renge is accessible by public transport -but only just -  four local buses a day from Hiraiwa in July and August and two services a day in Sept and the first two weeks of October.  Much of the year snow would make the road impassable.

A hazy view from the top of the mountains
leading to Hakuba village

Ripening ricefields
A half tunnel from the bike
A sign in the dining room - 'naked sociability
- if you can come up with a better translation,
feel free to let me know :) )

The few English websites with information on Renge Onsen all laud its remoteness,  its beauty and its rotenburo (outdoor onsen).  At New Year when the Tokyo air is dry and clear and the lights of industry are dimmed,  it's possible to glimpse the twinkle of a star... but otherwise I've got used to not looking for them. In Renge the stars were clear and bright (ok not clear and bright compared with rural Australia, but still clear and bright) and the prospect of a deep mountain rotenburo experience seemed appealing.

Most people who go to Renge Onsen are mountain climbers rather than onsen hoppers, aside from the camping ground there, the only accommodation is a simple mountain lodge:  no electricity in the sockets, lights out 9pm when the generator gets turned off, phone access  only via satellite.   The food is all brought in - picking mountain vegetables in the surrounding national park is prohibited, and all rubbish except for beer cans is  mochikaeri (take home with you).

I expected that there would be few people there, failing to factor in the mountain climbing 'boom' among the recently retired - there would have been at least forty people staying in the lodge.  There was a large group of mostly men knocking back the large size cans of beer at dinner time and the thought of sharing a rotenburo with them dampened my enthusiasm significantly... I was thankful for the suggestion from Katsu, a friend in Kyoto, that I might want to take a swimming costume (usually anathema in Japanese onsen).     I settled for the indoor segregated sex onsen, which regrettably I didn't take my camera into - it didn't occur to me no one else would be in there - the view was stunning.

Early morning the energetic mountain climbers were up at 4.30 or so, getting an early start before the day heated up too much. Mindful of the amount of alcohol that was being consumed the night before (I couldn't justify the 800Y or so for a can of beer, though most people had no problem doing so), and the fact that mountain climbers take their onsen at the end of the day, I figured that at 5am I wasn't going to have much competition for the rotenburo.  

It was so beautiful,  misty Brigdoon-like, ethereal. Not a soul about.  Looking up to Mt Hakuba through the fog, I could have been alone in the universe.  (Hiro was comatosed and not moving.... understandable given that is chronically sleep deprived & had driven most of the previous day.)  I spent the best part of twenty minutes there.  Timing was on my side - as I was almost back to the lodge I passed a number of early risers making a beeline up the hill with their onsen cloth.

I walked around a bit, and could have walked around a lot more, but Noto Hanto called, and we were on our way.

Renge Onsen is lovely, really worth a trip.    Perhaps in autumn, when there are few mountaineers around it would be more peaceful & more private,  even being there in the middle of the day rather than the end of the day, you could probably  have the rotenburo to yourself, but I'd still pack the swimming costume just in case. 

A lookout with a guide to mountains that can be seen -
alas it was a bit hazy to take a picture of the real mountains.

The moutain lodge
The trail up to the rotenburo

one of the rotenburo

early morning haze at the rotenburo
Mount Hakuba from Renge Onsen
Shira-ike (white lake) on the road road between Renge and Hiraiwa
Shira ike

Parts of the road were not in good condition - given the
heavy snow and  the low traffic, I imagine fixing it
is not a high priority. 
One of several waterfalls on the road to Renge Onsen.

Biking along

The Japanese website of Renge onsen


Bryn said...

Looks and sounds like an amazing trip! It's so awesome that you guys can just take off on the bike like that!

Cecilia said...

I recommend it highly!

Greg Goodmacher said...

Renge Onsen left me deeply impressed, and I have been to hundreds of different hot springs across Japan. I recently wrote about my experience there in October when the lodge was closed, but we entered the baths anyway. Please read my blog post, which is at I enjoyed reading your post.

Cecilia said...

Thanks for your comment Greg. I really wanted to comment on your blog, but I have to sign in with G+ and I am not ready to cave in to Googles demand that I have a single identity...

Your post about sexual harassment in the onsen was very interesting - and troubling. I had a very uncomfortable experience in a women's onsen in Akita with a 10? year old boy who was much to old to be in the women's onsen staring at me the whole time. Extremely icky and I got out very quickly. I regret not saying something (he was there with his mother and grandmother....). Not comfortable at all...