All this snow and cold weather has got me thinking about hot springs. I love winter days when you’re soaking in the hot water in an outdoor bath and watching the snow fall outside. I think that’s the ideal, anyway, when you’re living in Japan.
One of the best onsens I’ve been to was the very old and very historic Marukoma Onsen at Lake Shikotsu in the Chitose area.
Emphasis on old.
As in the building is quite dated and the facilities are not as nice as the newer hotels MizunoUta and Suimeikaku. These are beautiful buildings with full on service–which means super expensive prices at ¥50,000 a night.
While Marukoma Onsen is not as shiny and new, it is charming and affordable (¥19,000 per night). It’s also located right at the edge of Lake Shikotsu and offers one unique feature that the other hotels don’t offer: an outdoor bath that is right on the banks of the lake. You can literally take a bath in hot water while the waters of Lake Shikotsu spill into the hot spring.
The only thing about this natural outdoor bath is that it’s located away from main building, so you have to trek out in the cold. Hubby didn’t want to do it, so I was left on my own. I walked out into this covered wooden walkway/path and meandered down onto the lake side. When I went, it was low-tide so the romantic vision I had disappeared. There was no water from the lake, but the hot spring itself was nice. I was the only one stupid enough to be out in the cold, so I had the place to myself.
Marukoma Onsen was built in the Taisho Era, in 1915–so this onsen is over one hundred years old. Of course, it’s been renovated through the years with updates to fit more modern trends.
We stayed in the rooms facing the lake and the view was amazing in the morning. You can watch the sun rise if you are an early riser. The hotel does have a separate room designated for this event if you’re up for it. You just have to leave the comfort of your own room. There is a room facing east with big windows and chairs set up to make your sunset viewing experience as good as can be. If not, the sunsets are just as wonderful.
Our room was Japanese style with tatami mats and everything. The hotel also provided us with yukatas and slippers. But the best part of the hotel was the dinner served in our rooms provided by the okami, or our hostess.
Lake Shikotsu is a wonderful place to visit in the summer. There’s lots to do then. Winter, however, is low season and it’s quite difficult to get to, to be honest. The roads getting into the lake are narrow and slippery, so just be careful when you’re driving. I’d rely on the professionals and just use the shuttle bus option that the hotel provides. You won’t have the freedom to drive around on your own, but at least you get the safety record of these dependable drivers.
The touristy around the lake area is nice with some shops and restaurants, but it’s so small that you can only spend a couple hours and be bored already. I’m not sure though if it’s worth your time in the winter, though. Most of the vendors might be closed because it’s low season. Again, the area is more alive during the warmer months.
If you enjoy nature and just walking around, then it’s a good place to visit after a nice relaxing stay at Marukoma Onsen.