Just an hour from the city centre, Jozankei Onsen is the place to go for thermal spas, beautiful scenery and indigenous Ainu culture Sam Ballard
Located about an hour outside of Sapporo’s city centre, Jozankei Onsen has long proved to be a breath of fresh air for city dwellers and tourists alike. The region is renowned for its beautiful scenery, history and Onsen – the hot springs and traditional bathing that the Japanese have turned into an art-form.
Onsen, the Japanese name for a hot spring, also identifies the bathing facilities and inns that surround the naturally warm waters that are dotted around the country. As with so many aspects of Japanese life, each step of taking Onsen has become immortalised in a ritual that can look daunting to foreigners but is beautifully simple. Just remember the basics – bathers must clean themselves by the side of the tub before they get in and don’t allow your towel or hair to touch the water – and you will be free to enjoy the soothing affects of the healing waters.
There is a huge array of accommodation available in Jozankei – from western-style hotels to more traditional ryokan inns. Luxury travellers are well catered for, too, with properties such as Kuriya Suizan, and Nukumori no Yado Furukawa ready to make the well-heeled feel extra special.
Outside the spas, Jozankei is arguably most famous for its outdoor pursuits. Known for its breathtaking scenery and wide-open skies, people come from far and wide to go hiking around the mountains or canoeing up the Toyohira River. The Shiraito-no-taki waterfall, which is formed from water coming from Hokkaido’s oldest hydroelectric power plant, freezes in the winter, creating a dramatic ice sculpture. In Hakkenzan travellers can go fruit picking, rafting or horseback riding – there’s even a vineyard, offering the rare chance to sample Hokkaido wine.
History buffs might want to visit the museum Pirka Kotan, where they can learn about the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people. You can watch, touch and experience numerous traditional Ainu handicrafts and there are also recreations of ancient dwellings and artworks to learn more about this relatively unknown side of Japan.
Sam Ballard looks at the options for anyone looking to revive themselves in the spa hotels of Jozankei Onsen
Kuriya Suizan is a traditional Japanese inn – located in the heart of Jozankei – with minimalist decor and food that would rival a Michelin star restaurant. It’s peaceful, too, with children under 13 not allowed.
With just 15 rooms, this intimate ryokan is the epitome of luxury – combining traditional Japanese architecture with luxurious flourishes, to create one of the most peaceful hotels in Jozankei. The most well-appointed rooms even come with their own private hot spring, a luxury that is particularly useful for travellers with tattoos that might not be allowed into the public Onsen.
Rooms are large, with spaces divided by shoji screens and floors covered in tatami mats. The furniture is traditional, with low tables and zaisu chairs (with no legs) and futon beds. Perfect for guests seeking an authentic, luxurious Japanese experience.
Those who use the public Onsen are in for a treat. The outdoor tub is surrounded by beautiful wood panelling with the canopy of the surrounding forest shielding those bathing below, making it an even more revitalising experience. Kuriya Suizan is an oasis within Jozankei and the ideal place to stay after a day hiking through the beautiful area.
Nukumori no Yado Furukawa
For a more traditional stay, travellers may want to book a couple of nights at Nukumori no Yado Furukawa. Furukawa is split into two separate wings, Nukumori-kan and Furusato-kan, the former offers traditional Japanese rooms while the latter have a Japanese sitting room with a Western bedroom. For travellers wanting that extra bit of luxury, Furukawa offers a special guest floor with some rooms including their own private Onsen.
The traditional inn – known as a ryokan – includes four different types of hot spring, which all offer something different for guests. From the Yumemi, a hot spring in the basement that is a recreation of the first to be built in the area back in 1866, constructed with wood from 150 years ago, to the exclusive 8F Bath which offers views of the changing seasons outside from the top floor. In addition to these traditional Onsen, there is also a stone bath, where guests lie on heated stones – a ritual is said to have a beautifying effect – and the Hinoki bath for couples wanting some privacy.
The restaurant serves food using seasonal Hokkaido ingredients. The fare is plentiful, too, with breakfast including a choice of 35 typical Japanese dishes. The kitchen also offers irori seating at the dinner venue, where guests can watch their meal being cooked in front of them. Furukawa is a slice of traditional Japan for travellers wanting an authentic experience – or to bathe like the Japanese did more than 150 years ago.