Best Kept Secret Hot Springs! Vol. 3: Aone Onsen, Yumoto Fubokaku
Best Kept Secret Hot Springs! Vol. 3: Aone Onsen, Yumoto Fubokaku

Lanterns hanging beneath the eaves of some of Japan’s more tucked-away hot spring inns proclaim that these establishments belong to the Japan Association of Secluded Hot Spring Inns. Beginning with thirty-three inns in 1975, the association now has a membership of 185 inns. Many of these used to be off the grid, literally; the type of place with no electricity that you might finally reach at the end of a long hike in the mountains. Times have changed though, and there are those who lament that many of these ‘hard-to-reach’ hot springs have become too luxurious! In this series we introduce off-the-beaten-track hot springs that can be enjoyed by people of all ages – onsen inns where the cloudy waters are nature’s very own hospitality.

Text : Sasaki Takashi / Photos : 平島 格 Kaku Hirashima / English Version : Judy Evans

Keyword :

The Favourite Springs of Generations of Feudal Lords

When successive daimyō (feudal lords) of northern Japan’s powerful Sendai Domain needed a place for rest and recuperation, it was to Aone Onsen in the eastern foothills of Mt Zaō that they came. Owing to its illustrious patrons, the onsen earned the nickname ‘goten-yu’, or ‘palace spa’. However, local legend has it that the first generation lord of the domain, the great Masamune Date, named the springs Yumoto Fubōkaku (the “Not-to-be-forgotten Hot Springs) because of the excellent healing waters. The largest of the many baths on the premises, the Ōyu-Kinsendō, was once a public therapeutic spa, but is now used exclusively by Yumoto Fubōkaku. In this spacious bathhouse, scented by the fragrance of timber, guests can revel in luxury just as generations of feudal lords did before them.

Top left: The Fubōkaku main building was built over 100 years ago. The sitting area along the corridor offers views of the inner garden and the Goten ‘palace’ building. Bottom left: The semi-open-air rotenburo bath can be reserved for private use. Right: The timber two-storey Aone Goten ‘palace’ building features an irimoya-style hip-and-gable roof, chiridori hafugables at the northern and southern ends. Guests are able to have a look around the interior of the building.

Admire the traditional architecture and skills of master craftsmen of bygone eras

One of the biggest charms of Yumoto Fubōkaku is the wide range of different types of bath that can be enjoyed without ever leaving the premises. Among several options there’s the Shin’yu bath built in the 16th century from stone quarried at Mt Zaō; the Kurayu Yokusu, a traditional earthen storehouse built in the late 1800s with baths inside, or the semi-open-air rotenburo bath that can be reserved for private use. 

Another attraction is the wonderful historical buildings, some of which are registered tangible cultural properties. The Aone Goten building, completed in 1923, is a replica of the palace building that accommodated generations of Sendai lords throughout the Edo Period (1603-1868). In addition, the spacious grounds house the main building, the annex and other detached buildings, all of which highlight the skills of master craftsmen of the different eras.

Clearly, there’s more to Yumoto Fubōkaku than just the magnificent cuisine and excellent restorative waters. Each day after breakfast, guest can soak up even more of the history of this venerable onsen with a unique guided tour of the Aone Goten building, which houses armour and other items associated with the Date clan.

Top left: Traditional kaiseki meals showcase local ingredients. Also on offer in season are regional hotpot dishes such as inoshishi-nabe(wild boar hotpot) and shika-nabe(venison hotpot). Top right: On display inside the buildings, in addition to items related to the Date clan, are various items that recall the onsen’s time as a therapeutic health spa. Bottom left: The famous Zaō Echo Line route (closed in winter) across Mt Zaō between Miyagi Prefecture in the east and Yamagata Prefecture in the west. Aone Onsen is near the starting point of the Echo Line, on the Miyagi Prefecture side. Bottom right: The emerald green waters of the Mt Zaō crater lake. The Zaō Highline toll road branches off the Echo Line and comes fairly close to the crater.

Aone Onsen, Yumoto Fubōkaku

Address: Aone Onsen 1-1, Kawasaki-machi, Shibata-gun, Miyagi Prefecture

Phone: 0224-87-2011 (in Japanese)

Number of rooms: 14

Check in: 16:00 / Check out: 10:00

Accommodation rate including dinner and breakfast: from 17,970 yen per person.

No daytime-only visits.

Access by public transport: From the Tōhoku Shinkansen Shiraishi Station, take the Miyagi Kōtsū bus bound for Togatta Onsen. Get off at the final stop.

Access by private vehicle: Approx. 25 km / 2 hours by car from the Tōhoku Expressway Shiroishi Interchange, or 10 km / 20 minutes from the Yamagata Expressway Miyagi-Kawasaki Interchange.

Text: Sasaki Takashi

Takashi Sasaki represents the editing office, Studio F. He is a writer and editor whose work includes ‘mook’ series in Japanese such as Scenic Drives (Gakken Plus Publishing) and Motorcycle Tours for Adults (Yaesu Publishing). He has authored several books, including ‘Touring Japan’s Kaidō’ (Gakken Publishing) and ‘Understanding Mongolia in Two Hours’ (Rippu Shobō Publishing).

Photos: 平島 格 Kaku Hirashima

Kaku Hirashima gradutated from Nihon University College of Art with a degree in photography. After working in magazine production, he became a freelance photographer. He works in various media, mainly specialist motorcycle and automobile magazines. He travels all over Japan capturing images of magnificent scenery, onsen and local food culture.

English Version: Judy Evans

Editor and Japanese-English translator Judy Evans has a background in education, the arts, production horticulture and landscape design. A secondary school teacher of Japanese and English who spent many years living and working in Japan, Judy now lives on a small farm in rural New Zealand and remains a frequent visitor to Japan.