Muslim-friendly hot springs in Tohoku, Part 2: Nyuto Onsen
Hot springs (温泉 onsen) are one of the primary reasons people from all over the world flock to Japan time and time again. Regardless of the time of the year, visitors both local and foreign find the experience of dipping into hot spring baths irresistible. While many people would vouch for winter to be the best season for hot springs, others would claim that there’s no bad season for hot springs: it’s always a good time to experience it, whether it’s during the cold of February or in the warmth of August.
Travellers from Southeast Asia would most likely fancy the idea of dipping in hot springs during the colder seasons―spring, autumn, and winter―since summer is the one season they’re all too familiar with. And of course, like everyone else, it’s always fun to look up and hunt for the best hot springs in Japan.
Hot springs in Japan. (Image credit: Tourism Commission of Hakuba Village / JNTO)
Visitors typically enjoy hot springs by two means: one is by staying at the hot spring inn (旅館 ryokan) where the hot spring is, or use one that is open to the public without accommodation. Most visitors spend a night or two at an inn partly for the hot spring experience, but some may opt for the public ones where they need to pay a fee for temporary use.
Hot springs resorts can be found in central areas, but the best ones are usually in secluded and remote locations. Most visitors―and especially first-time visitors―usually opt for hot spring resorts that are accessible so resorts such as Hakone near Tokyo or Noboribetsu in Hokkaido are the usual suspects. But for those hunting for the best hot spring experience, they wouldn’t mind trekking all the way out for them. Some of those places are in Tohoku (東北地方 Tōhoku-chihō), the northeastern region in Japan.
Miyagi Prefecture (left) and Aomori Prefecture (right) in Tohoku Region. (Image credits: 宮城県観光課 (left), 青森県 (right))
Some people say that the best hot springs are the ones that are hardest to find. Indeed, hot springs are not known for accessible location. Since hot springs are formed naturally, people have to go where the hot springs are, since the best ones source the hot spring water directly from the source, most of which come from mountainous areas. Tohoku’s hot springs are no exception, but thanks to the region’s comprehensive transportation system such as JR East’s shinkansen (新幹線) system, travelling to these secluded places have become much more manageable.
Tohoku is easy to travel from Tokyo thanks to JR East's comprehensive railway network. (Image credit: JR East)
Takayu Onsen in Fukushima and Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会 (left), Yamagata Prefectural Government (right))
Tohoku is home to the prefectures such as Miyagi, Akita, and Yamagata, each with its own unique natural scenery and terrain. The region is also home to some of the best hot springs in Japan, where each prefecture boasts their own unique hot springs. For example, Miyagi has hot spring resorts such as Naruko Onsen (鳴子温泉) and Togatta Onsen (遠刈田温); Yamagata has the famous Ginzan Onsen (銀山温泉) and Zao Onsen (蔵王温泉). And of course, there’s Takayu Onsen (高湯温泉) in Fukushima, which I covered in part one of my two-part article on hot springs in Tohoku. This time, I’ll introducing to you another legendary resort: Nyuto Onsen in Akita Prefecture!
(Note: this is a two-part series featuring amazing hot spring resorts with private baths, ideal for Muslim families)
Nyuto Onsen (乳頭温泉) in Akita Prefecture
Akita Prefecture (秋田県 Akita-ken) is one of the northernmost prefectures in Tohoku, bordering prefectures Yamagata and Miyagi in the south, Iwate in the east, and Aomori in the north. Facing eastward to the Sea of Japan, the prefecture is gradually seeing more inbound local and foreign visitors as one of the lesser known tourist regions in Japan. Akita is known for many things, but it’s most famous for its amazing natural sceneries.
Akita Prefecture's sceneries throughout the year. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
One of the most visually breathtaking landscapes in Akita is the Towada-Hachimantai National Park (十和田八幡平国立公園 Towada-Hachimantai Kokuritsu-kōen), which is located in the mountainous region that stretches across prefectures Akita, Aomori, and Iwate. The sprawling park is home to beautiful forests and mountains, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as camping and hiking. It’s the most beautiful in October, where autumn foliage is at its peak.
The Towada-Hachimantai National Park in October. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Towada-Hachimantai National Park is famous not only for its natural sceneries. For it is here where the famous Nyuto Onsen (乳頭温泉) is located, hidden deep in the mountainous terrain. The hot spring area is regarded as one of the best hot spring resorts in Tohoku and whole of Japan, known for its pristine natural surroundings and natural hot spring water.
Nyuto Onsen. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Nyuto Onsen, as collectively known as Nyuto Hot Spring Village (乳頭温泉郷 Nyūtō Onsen-kyo), is a rustic and charming hot spring village found in the primeval beech forest of the Nyuto mountains. It is made up of seven natural hot springs found at the foot of the mountain, its water sourced directly from Mother Nature.
Nyuto Onsen, known for its amazing natural surroundings and hot spring water. (Image credit: 休暇村乳頭温泉郷 (left), 乳頭温泉郷妙乃湯 (right))
One quirky thing about Nyuto Onsen is the name itself: it literally means "Nipple Hot Spring", and there’s a good reason for the unusual name. It’s because of the peculiar shape of the nearby Mount Nyuto (乳頭山 Nyūtō-zan), which resembles a nipple. Although the name might make some visitors chuckle, there’s no denying that their experience at Nyuto Onsen will be a heavenly one.
Mount Nyuto, which resembles the shape of a nipple. (Image credit: katsuuu 44 / CC BY 2.0)
Hot springs play an important role in Japan’s history. People in the past used hot springs to heal from wounds and injuries, as hot spring water is said to have therapeutic properties. That practice remains to this day, where people nowadays visit hot spring resorts as a getaway from busy urban life and make use of hot springs’ healing properties. The same applies for Nyuto Onsen, where its hot spring water is famous for being enriched with vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for the human body.
Nyuto Onsen's water is famous for being mineral-rich. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
One fun fact about Nyuto Onsen (and Akita Prefecture as a whole): it is known for using bountiful natural ingredients for their meals, especially for rural areas. One of them is mountain vegetables (山菜 sansai), which include wild greens and mushrooms, which can thrive in harsh cold winters that Akita often experiences and bloom just in time from spring onwards. These ingredients form a part of a culinary experience known as Jango-ryori (じゃんご料理), a local dialect that translates as countryside food.
Akita Prefecture's countryside food. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
As most people would reckon, Nyuto Onsen’s success lies in its hot spring water. It sources the water directly from the surrounding mountains, and is known for its milky and cloudy appearance. All the hot springs belong to the inns in the area, but they aren’t only open to staying guests; members of the public can also access some of them at a small fee.
Nyuto Onsen's iconically milky and cloudy natural hot spring water. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
There are a selected number of hot spring inns in Nyuto Onsen, each showcasing unparallel hospitality and escapism from hectic daily life. It’s an immersive experience in the heart of Akita’s pristine nature, and guests can choose with stay for a night or two at any of the inns, some of which have private hot spring baths for Muslim families or those seeking for a private experience.
Tsurunoyu has the honour of being Nyuto Onsen’s oldest hot spring inn, its establishment dating as far back as the Edo Period (1603–1867). It offers their guests an authentic rural hospitality, and even has a traditional Japan sunken hearth (囲炉裏 irori), which is iconic for dwellers of the countryside.
Tsurunoyu is Nyuto Onsen's oldest hot spring inn. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Tsurunoyu also has irori (囲炉裏), which are sunken hearths used for heating and cooking. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori Akio)
As an establishment with over 400 years of history, it has the privilege of housing government officials and members of royalty during their travels. In fact, the establishment’s name carries a symbolic significance: it translates as ‘crane hot spring’, named after the legend of a crane that recovered from an injury after soaking in the hot spring bath due to its rich mineral contents. As cranes were believed in folklore to live thousands of years, this symbolises longevity and good fortune for this establishment.
Tsurunoyu has hosted honourable guests in the past. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Tsurunoyu’s therapeutic hot spring water is said to be beneficial for those suffering from high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, and rheumatism, as it is rich with sulphur and calcium chloride. The bath is open not just for the guests, but for the public as well, but for a small fee of ¥600 per adult and from 10am to 3pm daily except for Mondays.
Tsurunoyu. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
For guests staying at Tsurunoyu, meals using mountain vegetables such as Japanese mountain yams (山の芋 yama-no-imo) and char / trout (イワナ iwana) are served at the comfort of their own room. Guests can also request to have their meals around the sunken hearth, subject to availability.
(Note: For Muslim guests or those with dietary restrictions, they may need to make prior arrangements with the inn before arriving.)
Another well-known establishment in Nyuto Onsen is Taenoyu, a modernistic hot spring inn overlooking the Sendatsu River (先達川 Sendatsu-gawa). It is famous for its outdoor hot spring baths, which offers their guests unique tranquillity against the soft murmurs of the flowing river nearby.
Taenoyu. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Taenoyu has hot spring baths separated by gender, and the baths are swapped every evening. It also has a gender-mixed open-air bath, which feels like an infinity pool and overlooks a giant waterfall at the edge of the space.
Taenoyu's outdoor baths separated by gender. (Image credit: 乳頭温泉郷妙乃湯)
Taenoyu has another unique bath: an indoor one designed with rocks around the edges, and with a distinctive gold-orange hue water. The water is high contents of magnesium, calcium, and sulphur, which are beneficial for people suffering from skin conditions, arteriosclerosis, and digestive organ diseases.
Taenoyu's indoor bath has a distinctive gold-orange hue because of its content. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Like Tsurunoyu, Taenoyu’s baths are open not only to the guests but to the public as well. Visitors can use the baths by paying a fee: ¥800 per adult, from 10am to 3pm. It’s very popular among guests as well as visitors, many of them claiming that it’s a hot spring experience that’s not to be missed.
Dining at Taenoyu. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Of course, a stay at a hot spring inn wouldn’t be complete without dining, and Taenoyu’s spread is luxurious. Making use of the plentiful mountain vegetables and freshly caught fish, it’s a feast that is both visually and gastronomically unforgettable. Special attention is paid to prepare the meals carefully to showcase the Akita countryside’s fresh ingredients.
(Note: For Muslim guests or those with dietary restrictions, they may need to make prior arrangements with the inn before arriving.)
Kuroyu is another hot spring inn in Nyuto Onsen with a long history, similar to Tsurunoyu. Established more than 300 years ago, the inn is located furthest away in the resort and offers the most serene lodging experience in the entire area.
Kuroyu in Nyuto Onsen. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Kuroyu has something unique that other hot spring inns don’t have. The establishment’s name translates as "black hot spring" because it offers black hard-boiled eggs! Fresh eggs are placed in nets and immersed in the hot spring to be boiled. The sulphurous content causes the eggs to turn black on the exterior, with its interior remaining intact. The eggs are even said to have health benefits, as the minerals from the hot spring helps to kill bacteria. This is something all visitors need to try, and since this has no meat involved, Muslim visitors can also try them.
Kuroyu's baths are open to public at a small fee. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Just like the other hot spring baths, the ones at Kuroyu are also open to the public. For ¥600 per adult, visitors can use the bath without staying at the inn when it is open from 9am to 4pm. Kindly note that it’s closed during the winter season.
BONUS: Side trips with amazing sceneries near Nyuto Onsen
Visitors would naturally visit Nyuto Onsen for their hot springs; however, it need be a trip with a singular affair. The resort is part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, which is a sprawling natural landscape which begs to be explored by all visitors. Visitors to Nyuto Onsen can consider making side trips in the national park: one place that’s not to be missed is the majestic Hachimantai.
Towada-Hachimantai National Park. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture / JNTO)
Hachimantai (八幡平) is a scenic mountainous region stretching between Akita and Iwate Prefectures, forming a part of the southern side of Towada-Hachimantai National Park. The views at Hachimantai are spectacular, and people from all over Japan and the world come here to enjoy the breathtaking views.
Akita-Komagatake. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
For people seeking some hiking action, they can look no further than the magnificent Akita-Komagatake (秋田駒ヶ岳). It is an active stratovolcano, and at a height of 1,637m, it is the highest mountains in Akita Prefecture and second-highest in Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Most hiking trails begin from the 8th Station, which is at an altitude of 1,305m. There’s even a hiking trail that leads back directly to Nyuto Onsen.
Akita-Komagatake's diverse in the summer. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Akita-Komagatake is also known for its diverse variety of alpine flowers, most of which bloom from June to August during the summer. But like Hachimantai, the region is at its peak beauty during autumn, where the whole landscape is carpeted in shades of fiery red and gold.
Akita-Komagatake in autumn. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
For something closer to Nyuto Onsen, there’s Lake Tazawa (田沢湖 Tazawa-ko). Like Lake Towada, this is also a scenic caldera lake with a serene and rustic ambience. Due to its close proximity with Nyuto Onsen, it makes for a popular day trip for people staying at the hot spring resort.
Lake Tazawa near Nyuto Onsen. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Lake Tazawa stands out as a tourist destination for two reasons: one is the Goza no Ishi shrine (御座の石神社 Goza-no-Ishi-jinja) situated next to the lake, and the other more imposing structure is the golden statue of Tatsuko (たつこ像 Tatsuko-zō), which has become a local symbol in the area. There’s a story behind this statue: according to folklore, Tatsuko was a girl who prayed for eternal beauty but was instead cursed and became a dragon, sinking into the bottom of Lake Tazawa and sworn to oversee it for eternity. There are sightseeing boats that visitors can take for a cruise on Lake Tazawa, and it operates from late April to early November. The boat ride takes 40 minutes and costs ¥1,220 per adult.
Goza no Ishi shrine next to Lake Tazawa. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
The statue of Tatsuko stands next to Lake Tazawa. (Image credit: Akita Prefecture)
Tohoku Region is blessed with many things, one of which is undisturbed natural surroundings. Because of its pristine nature, it is home to some of the best hot springs in Japan, and people are continually coming to discover more hidden gems. Nyuto Onsen is one such hot spring destination, and as more people come here, they also get to explore amazing places nearby.
I personally have never been to Nyuto Onsen, but if there ever comes the opportunity for me to do so, I will undoubtedly go at a moment’s notice. Plus, as Japan becomes more Muslim-friendly, I also wish for more Muslim visitors to try exploring more secluded hot spring destinations. Nyuto Onsen is one instance that you don’t want to miss!
More details on Nyuto Onsen
Nyuto Onsen is a hot spring resort in the eastern side of Akita. Visitors from Tokyo can take the Akita Shinkansen (秋田新幹線) bullet train to JR Tazawako Station (JR田沢湖駅 Tazawako-eki), which should take about 2 hour 45 minutes.
Upon arrival at JR Tazawako Station, visitors can proceed to take the bus to Nyuto Onsen. The bus takes visitors to most hot spring inns in the area except for Tsurunoyu and Kuroyu. The bus ride is ¥540 per adult, and the journey takes 50 minutes. The bus service operates at an hourly basis.
Guests heading to Tsurunoyu should get off at ‘Tsurunoyu Onsen Iriguchi’ (鶴の湯温泉入り口) and take a 45-minute walk to the inn. For Kuroyu, guests can get off at ‘Nyuto Onsen’ bus-stop and walk to the inn for 15 minutes. They can request for pick-up from the bus stop to the inn, but this must be arranged in advance. Visitors are encouraged to check for room availability for all hot spring inns in Nyuto Onsen before coming to the resort.
Hachimantai: it takes a considerable amount of time to travel from Nyuto Onsen to Hachimantai. For visitors without their own vehicle, they have to travel back to JR Tazawako Station and take the Akita Shinkansen to JR Morioka Station (JR盛岡駅 Morioka-eki). The bullet train ride takes around 40 minutes. From JR Morioka Station, they can take a two-hour bus to Hachimantai.
Akita-Komagatake: Visitors can take the bus from JR Tazawako Station to Akita-Komagatake’s 8th Station. For those with rental cars, note that the road to the 8th Station is closed to private vehicles on weekends and public holidays from June to October, and every day from late June to late August.
Lake Tazawa: Visitors can take any of the multiple buses available from JR Tazawako Station. They can take any bus bound for Tazawa-kohan bus stop (田沢湖畔). The bus ride takes only 12 minutes and costs ¥370 per adult for a one-way trip.
(INSIDER TIP: If you have the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), you can travel on the Akita Shinkansen and make seat reservations for free!)
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The new JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At only ¥20,000, it's much cheaper than a round-trip train fare between Tokyo and Akita (approximately ¥36,920). Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to a month in advance for free. For more information of the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), you can visit the link here.
NOTE: From 1 April 2021, there have been some changes in the validity and pricing of the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area). For more information, please check here.
Header image credit: Akita Prefecture