A packed itinerary today – leaving Shingu (新宮) early in the morning, we would first drop by two interesting hot springs: Yunomine and Tsuboyu, before getting to Kumano Hongu Shrine (熊野本宮大社). Then moving inland along the Tosukawa River (十津川) valley for 100 km, we would return our rental car at Gojo city and change to express train heading up Koyasan, where hopefully we would be in time for the early dinner as part of our temple stay there.
Yunomine Onsen (湯の峰温泉)
Yunomine is tucked away behind the hills, the last stretch before getting there is a narrow one-way road. But it’s worth checking out, as it has (allegedly) the oldest hot spring in Japan, named Tsuboyu (つぼ湯), which is considered as part of the World Heritage Site of Kumano.
Entry to Tsuboyu is by reservation (not a shared public bath). Ticket is bought from the office nearby and you can use it for half an hour. The hot spring is just the size of a small bath tub that can fit probably no more than 2 people at a time, so if there is any sort of a queue you have to expect a long wait. You would be told your place in the queue when getting the ticket, if you’re not the next group to go in, it’s common practise to come back later and kill time by boiling some food to eat.
We didn’t have much time to spare, and seeing one group already waiting outside, there was no chance for us. This explains why there is no photo of the actual thing inside the shed!
Kawayu Onsen (川湯温泉)
Kawayu Onsen is just a short drive away. The main point of interest is Sennin-buro (仙人風呂), which can be interpreted as “thousand people bath”. It’s an exaggeration of course, but as an outdoor bath it is definitely bigger than the normal ones, and the interesting thing is it is located in the middle of a stream, with cold water diverted from the stream mixing with the hot spring water, giving the right water temperate for bathing.
It’s important to note that Sennin-buro is normally only available between December and end February, as it depends on the seasons and river condition. Apparently we were quite lucky this year that they extended the opening period until March!