Every now and then, after being in Niseko for many years, a new treasure is uncovered. Sometimes it’s a new area to snowboard, sometimes it’s a new restaurant or bar, but rarely is it a new onsen.
By pure chance we picked an onsen at random from the satellite navigation on the car. It was in the Konbu Onsen area, just west of Niseko Moiwa and Annupuri. We kept following the navigation, which eventually took us off the relatively major road and onto a small country lane. If it weren’t for the other tyre tracks on the road, it would have been hard to believe that anything could be down here. There were no signs, and no signs of life. But, trusting the navigation, we kept following the winding trail down towards a river.
This was now certainly fresh territory, a location like this wouldn’t be forgotten easily. We started to get excited, there was great potential for an amazing hidden onsen.
As we approached the end of the road, we were stopped by a mangy looking fox standing in the middle of the road. This fox had no fear of us, and seemed to have no intention of moving out of the way. In a way, we later came to think of this fox as a natural companion, guardian even, of the onsen that we were headed towards.
After a toot of the horn, the fox allowed us to pass, though it didn’t move too far away and never took its eyes off us. We spotted the remains of a partially collapsed building and joked that it was probably the onsen that we’d been following the guidance to. After looking around, it was clear that this was the only building that it could be – there was nothing else out here, other than that fox.
Expecting to have to return back to find a real onsen closer to civilisation, we jumped out of the van and began to investigate anyway. There were ticket and change machines, all of which had notes on them saying that they were out of order… It was starting to feel like we were trespassing. Sliding open the door into the entrance of the partially collapsed building we saw that there was a pair of gumboots with a puddle of water underneath – somebody had to be inside. The sliding doors had warnings to keep them shut due to foxes stealing boots, and another sign warning about keeping bees out. It was starting to feel comical.
We tried yelling out to get the attention of whoever left their boots in the entrance. Eventually a rather weathered middle-aged lady poked her head out of the reception window and charged us ¥300 each to use the bath. Now we were very surprised, this place isn’t abandoned. But, where is the onsen?
With limited Japanese we managed to learn that there isn’t power for the lights in the bath, so if we needed to more light, to open the windows. If it was feeling comical before, then it was hysterical now. Where were we? Has someone decided to squat in the office of an abandoned onsen and charge entrance? No, it can’t have been abandoned, the softdrink vending machines in the entry were still glowing and humming away…
In the darkness we could make out what looked like a bath just beyond a basic change room. Without any heating and a roof that was dripping, the changing room wasn’t a place to linger any longer than was required. Tentatively entering the dark room, with eyes slowly adjusting, we managed to find a couple of buckets (and a literal bin) to rinse with before entering the bath. Surprises are nice sometimes, but not when that surprise is not knowing that the bath is nearly deep enough to stand up in – at least we can all swim. It’s also not so much fun when you aren’t really sure what you are walking on, as the floor of the bath was full of random sized rocks.
But, eventually after much laughter, we came to enjoy this bizarre experience. That was until we randomly felt something move against our legs. With our sense of sight taken away from us, and our imagination running wild, we had visions of a giant fluke worm like the one in X-Files swimming around in the murky depths. Turns out it was probably only gas bubbling up through the floor of the bath. Probably.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t see any other customers in the hour or so that we spent there, laughing at this ridiculous place. Much like the poor haggard fox, there was something redeeming about this place. A certain charm.
If that was all that was wrong with this place, I could comfortably recommend it to adventurous friends. However, just as many of the other onsens in the Goshiki area are having trouble with water temperatures, this onsen too was a little too cool to really be able to enjoy. At a guess I would put the temperature at about 38-40˚C.
Oh, and the other major problem with this place? There is only the one bath. The collapsed section of the building was the women’s onsen. The doorway to a collapsed corridor still has the signs for the women’s bath. There also aren’t any showers or soap, so you’ll have to bring your own.
Inside the foyer of the section of the building that was still standing, there were dozens of small white plaques on the walls, each with a rave review. The reviews seemed to be a few years old, so I assumed it must have been before the other half of the building collapsed. Utterly confused about how this place was still operating, I spent the evening researching. It is now something of a cult onsen that people travel to, like trying to collect a rare pokemon.
And, after the initial shock wore off, we too were charmed by this place. There was something incredibly different about this place. So, it surprises me to be saying this, but if you’re feeling adventurous and interested in a very unique bathing experience, I wholeheartedly recommend you visit Yakushi Onsen Niseko. It won’t be for everyone (the fact that it doesn’t have a women’s bath already reduces the potential target audience), but those of you brave enough to try it won’t forget it!