Dorogawa Onsen, located in Nara Prefecture's Tenkawa Village, is a hot spring town situated in a picturesque mountainous area. In winter this scenic hot springs town is covered in snow and crowded with visitors who enjoy looking at the snow from a hot spring - a pleasure called yukimi onsen in Japanese.
In the last few years the inns have been fixed up and the retro streets have been drawing more attention, leading to an increase in women guests. Here is some information about the Dorogawa Onsen and the nostalgia that envelops it.
Leisurely stroll through Dorogawa Onsen - once open only to ascetics
Dorogawa Onsen is located about a one-hour bus ride from the Yoshino Kintetsu Shimoichiguchi Station.
Legend has it that a descendant of Goki [a female ogre] who served En no Gyoja, the founder of Shugendo, an ascetic religion unique to Japan that was an amalgamation of Buddhism and mountain worship noted for its harsh training secluded in the mountains, opened the place.
It is located at the entrance of Mount Omine, a sacred place for Shugendo, so it has prospered since old as an inn town for the ascetics practicing Shugendo.
Mount Omine has been off-limits to women for more than 1,300 years, even to this day, and the town was once a place where only men could go, but as the hot spring became more popular in the 1970s women were allowed to enter and now many visit the place.
There are about 20 inns and pensions in the hot spring town, each having a veranda and a lantern hanging out front; all very elegant.
Dorogawa Onsen is also famous for its spring water. People come from afar to bottle the spring water locally called Gorogoro Mizu, which has been selected by the Ministry of the Environment as one of the "100 Best Waters" in the country, and there are many shops in the town that use the water for making tofu or brewing coffee.
The most visible thing when walking through the town are signs reading "Daranisuke".
Daranisuke is a gastrointestinal medicine said to be the “original Japanese medicine”. Legend has it that En no Gyoja was taught how to make Daranisuke by his attendant Goki for Yamabushi [mountain ascetic hermits] preparing to go into the mountains to undergo training on Mount Omine. That, reportedly, is the origin of Daranisuke.
Even now, besides being medicine favored by Yamabushi, it is also a popular medicine kept at home in the Kansai region and said to be effective for treating anorexia, hangovers, and overeating.
These cute figures in front of the Zenitani Shokakudo welcome you.
- Address 254-1 Dorogawa, Tenkawa Village, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture
- Phone Number 0747-64-0046
Hours: 10:00 a.m. ~ 7:00 p.m.
Closed: January 1 ~ 3
Onsen baths with views of the snow - and exquisite Botan Nabe made with local game
After a pleasant walk through the town I arrived at my inn, the Hanaya Tokubee. Established 500 years ago, it is the oldest one in the town.
Originally it was an inn for ascetics so it only had baths and toilets for men, however today it combines the vestiges of the Showa era with modern conveniences and has become a pleasant destination for women, too.
When you enter the inn the display of ascetic artifacts catches the eye.
The section of the current building facing the road was built in 1953. In 2010 a three-story structure was additionally constructed. Wood from Yoshino was abundantly used in the construction and the aroma of the wood pervades the establishment.
All of the rooms on the third floor have terraces and toilets. The views are excellent.
On the first floor there are the semi-outdoor bath Goki no Yu and the Zenki no Yu, which relieved the fatigue of ascetics over the ages, and on the 3rd floor there is the reservation-only Zenku-no-Yu.
All are simple alkaline hot springs and are said to be effective for neuralgia, muscle pain, and relieving fatigue. The two baths on the first floor are open 24 hours a day!
The eagerly awaited dinner this evening was the Botan Nabe course which is served in autumn and winter. A beautifully arranged dish of wild boar meat obtained from local hunter Mr. Tadasu Sakaguchi called Omine Jishi [Mount Omine Boar].
The boar meat, meisui tofu, Chinese cabbage, edible chrysanthemum, shiitake mushrooms, shimeji mushrooms, burdock, and locally made konjac are cooked in a soup made from white miso flavored with burdock and ginger.
The Mount Omine Boar meat was tender, the fat sweet, and being very fresh, it did not have the wild flavor or strong aroma typical of boar meat!
Normally Botan Nabe uses a red miso base in a thicker soup, but the lighter and sweeter white miso soup was surprisingly delicious. Of course the high-quality boar meat was definitely a factor. Meisui tofu, firmly infused with the soup, becomes softer the longer it cooks making it even more delicious.
In addition to the nabe, there was also an aperitif, three other dishes, a small side dish, persimmon leaf sushi, soup, and dessert; a satisfying amount of food. And a most satisfying and filling meal.
After dinner, or after a bath, you can drop by the lounge and sit by the fire. You can also listen to soft jazz or even read, if you like. The room has a sophisticated atmosphere perfect for spending a nice relaxing evening.
- Address 217 Dorogawa, Tenkawa Village, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture
- Phone Number 0747-64-0878
[Room charge] Room for two for a night and day starts at 13,600 yen per person, and includes meals (including tax and service)
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