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Dorogawa Onsen: This Japanese Old-Style Hot Spring Town is Everything You Want it to be

Dorogawa Onsen: This Japanese Old-Style Hot Spring Town is Everything You Want it to be

Date published: 23 September 2019
Last updated: 30 November 2020

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.

Table of Contents
  1. Leisurely stroll through Dorogawa Onsen - once open only to ascetics
  2. Onsen baths with views of the snow - and exquisite Botan Nabe made with local game

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.

▲The town of Dorogawa Onsen. The mountain range in the background is registered as a World Heritage Site called Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.
▲The gently flowing river and the red balustrade of the bridge are also part of the scenic beauty of Dorogawa Onsen.

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.

▲Sitting on the veranda for a short time is a pleasant way to take a break.

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.

▲PET bottles in the shape of gourds filled with Gorogoro Mizu are sold for 350 yen (tax not included).

The most visible thing when walking through the town are signs reading "Daranisuke".

▲Zenitani Shokakudo sells 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.

▲Daranisuke since its inception has come in the shape of small, round pellets that are easy to drink and today is primarily sold as Daranisukegan, as shown in the photo. A box of 12 packets (30 pellets per package) costs 540 yen (including tax)

These cute figures in front of the Zenitani Shokakudo welcome you.

▲The stone figure of a monkey in front of the shop holds a box of Daranisukegan as an advertisement.
▲These original Zenitani Shokakudo Daranisuke Kewpie dolls are too cute! The straps (small) in the rear cost 540 yen and the large Kewpie standing up front on the left costs 864 yen (both prices include tax) (* The two on the right are not for sale.)
  • Zenitani Shokakudo
    • 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.

▲Mr. Yoshiharu Hanatani, 17th-generation proprietor

When you enter the inn the display of ascetic artifacts catches the eye.

▲A collection of Gyoja Group lanterns for those making pilgrimages to Mount Omine. Groups of Gyoja from each region stayed at their own designated inns, each having one of these lanterns outside of it.
▲ In the center is En no Gyoja. Zenki [a male ogre] is on the right and Goki on the left.

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.

▲There is a pleasant space at the top of the stairs on the second-floor landing
▲The hallway has a warm and inviting feel
▲The Omote-no-Ma guest room on the second floor costs 13,600 yen (including tax and service; the 100 yen bath tax is separate) for one night and two days with meals included.
▲These chairs in the room look perfect for relaxing in the cool evening air

All of the rooms on the third floor have terraces and toilets. The views are excellent.

▲The Nishi-no-Tenku guest room costs 19,500 yen (including tax and service; the 100 yen bath tax is separate) for one night and two days with meals included.
▲Relax on the terrace and enjoy the wonderful view

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 bath is exhilarating when the windows are opened all the way.
▲ In January and February you can enjoy a good view of the accumulated snow outside
▲The fee for the reservation-only bath is 2,000 yen (excluding tax) for 50 minutes. Reservations are required, but it is possible to make them on the same 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 Mount Omine Boar meat has a good balance of lean meat and fat

The course also includes meisui tofu, a special dish of tofu made with the famous mineral water. The tofu dish goes well with the nabe [hot pot] due to the soft flavor imparted by the mineral water.

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.

▲The items in the oblong dish in the foreground are smoked aigamo [a cross between wild and domestic duck], sesame tofu soy milk, a persimmon and butter mille-feuille, and a fig stewed in wine. Other dishes pictured are sunomono [a vinegared dish], shiraae [a classic tofu paste], persimmon leaf sushi, nyumen [thin noodles in hot soup], and an apple comfort for dessert. The ingredients vary according to the season.

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.

▲The proprietor’s collection of CDs

Dorogawa Onsen is a great place to relax in an atmosphere imbued with nostalgia. Taking a stroll through the hot spring town at night is also fun.

  • Hanaya Tokubee
    • 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)

Text by:EditZ

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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