Get warm at onsen in Japan's Hirado Kaijyo Hotel
It is bitterly cold and overcast on a December afternoon on Hirado Island. The sea is angry and sends winds whipping across the chop toward land.
Fishermen can be seen huddling in their boats just offshore while they wait for a bite. The shores are desolate and uninviting.
Life couldn’t be more different underneath the placid waters of the outdoor private onsen at the Hirado Kaijyo Hotel, one of the best places in Nagasaki prefecture to thumb your nose at Mother Nature this winter.
At Kaijyo, which literally means “on the ocean,” steam steadily rises from the hot spring pools that are built for families but are great for couples or small groups of friends. A miniature waterfall gurgles as it steadily deposits more piping hot water into the cradle of dark-colored stone.
The fertile fishing channel that separates the island from the mainland can send its razor-sharp winds — but they are quickly disarmed, relegated to the harmlessness of a birthday-party clown.
Hirado Kaijyo Hotel, located less than an hour’s drive from Sasebo, offers one of the best onsens around for the money. While it is not on the level of Unzen, Ureshino or Kurokawa, Kaijyo is comparable to high-quality outdoor onsens in Sasebo, Kawatana or Sechibaru.
If you want to spend a few hours outside and need the armor the outdoor onsens of Kaijyo provide, you pay 600 yen per person, and it guarantees you entrance into their large, beautiful outdoor public onsen.
Some foreigners find walking around in the buff a bit daunting, so should you fancy a private onsen experience, indoor onsens with an ocean view cost an additional 1,500 yen for one hour. The outdoor private onsen costs an additional 2,000 yen for an hour.
After your onsen soak, there are multiple rooms and lookouts where you can close your eyes, hydrate and relax before the drive home. The hotel is filled with pools, fish and the peaceful sounds of trickling water. Should you want to stay, rooms at Kaijyo start at 6,000 yen per night. They also have an in-house restaurant.
In the United States, jacuzzis are a sign of affluence, a toy like the jet ski or kegerator on the back porch. Regular folks usually see them only at hotels or spas, and many stay away, frightened off by the cauldron of uncirculated water, perceived germs and enough chlorine to take the paint off of a house.
The Japanese — with their natural hot springs — have made an art out of the notion and brought it to the masses at an affordable price.
True onsens in Japan usually offer serenity and stunning views to go along with the fact that everyone washes before getting in. Heat and constant circulation also ensure cleanliness. Instead of chlorine and other chemicals, onsens contain natural minerals that translate into healthy skin.
The onsens of Kaijyo are that blanket that protects you from the cold, a soothing, healthy escape from winter’s unrelenting bite.