Tsurunoyu Onsen is deep in the mountains of Akita, just northeast of Lake Tazawa. Getting there is no small task. It’s nowhere near a large city or even train line. But don’t be discouraged. Making the trip here is not likely to disappoint. The hot springs baths here are milky white, and the outdoor rotenburo – open air baths, are stunningly beautiful. In fact, the baths here have been in use since the late 17th Century. The buildings aren’t nearly that old, but the thatched houses are quaint, and many of the guest rooms available for overnight stays feature traditional irori hearths.
If you’re traveling by car then it’s possible to visit the area during the day and just enjoy the four different hot spring baths here for only 500 yen. But be prepared for a challenging drive. The little winding road that dead-ends at Tsurunoyu is narrow and often steep. So it’s surprising when you arrive at this remote hot springs complex and find yourself suddenly in a crowded area. A popular Korean drama is apparently being filmed here in 2010 and tourists are bused in by the dozen. So the secret’s out of the bag. Tsurunoyu Onsen is very famous – even visitors from other Asian countries are not rare. But somehow this doesn’t detract from the magic of the place.
Unlike most traditional hot springs in northern Japan, Tsurunoyu Onsen actually has an excellent English website. Take a look for details of the facilities and how to get there. But be advised – if you’d like to stay overnight in one of the gorgeous Japanese-style rooms (in the Honjin) you may need to make a reservation three to six months in advance. A room can be booked for 10,000 yen per guest per night. By Japanese standards this is quite reasonable, especially for the rich experience a night at Tsurunoyu Onsen offers – and as a result it’s almost always booked solid. Still, if you’re looking for a magical hideaway in the mountains for a night or two it doesn’t get much better than this.