Asamushi Onsen 浅虫温泉
The bay of Asamushi onsen in winter
In the Yusa onsen, with a view of Asamushi bay
Credit: Asamushi onsen Tourist Office
The beach at Asamushi onsen
Sunset in the bay of Asamushi onsen
Legendary hot spring
Asamushi Onsen is the ideal place to relax and enjoy good food in the north of Honshu, in a beautiful bay that's full of history.
Asamushi Onsen hot spring is located in Aomori prefecture, just 20 minutes by train from Aomori Station. Nestled in Mutsu Bay, this traditional onsen is called the Atami of Tohoku.
Monks and artists
Asamushi Onsen was first discovered by the great Buddhist monk Ennin, of the Tendai sect, in the Heian period (794-1192), but use was limited to retting hemp (a process of submerging plants in water to separate the fiber from the stem, called asamushi in Japanese) which is how the onsen got it's name. When Honen, a holy man of the Jodo sect, went there in 1190, he saw a wounded deer heal thanks to the waters. Because of this, he recommended the hot spring to sick people, leading to a parade of prominent figures coming to visit, drawn by its healthful reputation, including the famous engraver Shiko Munakata who visited every year for his health, as well as the writer Osamu Dazai who recounts his stay in his work "Omoide".
Today, forty ryokan and minshuku hotels welcome you to the area with their beneficial baths and tasty seafood from the Bay of Mutsu. Two public baths are available to spend the day at: Matsuno-yu (7:00-21:00 daily, 350 yen) with its simple baths with waters directly from the spring, and Yusa Asamushi (7:00-20:30 daily, 350 yen) with a pleasant view of the Bay of Mutsu.
The onsen ryokan
Another option is Michi no eki, which offers tourists many services from its tourist office, as well as a market selling regional specialties and a restaurant, too. To enjoy the pleasures of the place, you can buy a pass called the "Asamushi yufuda", granting access to fifteen ryokan and their onsen all day (1,500 yen for three onsen).
A beach for summer
Yunoshima ("hot water island") is the symbol of Asamushi onsen. The island emerged due to volcanic activity, just 800m from the beach in Asamushi. To get there, simply take a boat for a short three-minute crossing. In April, the island is covered katakuri, a celebrated white flower. Asamushi beach is ideal for swimming in summer, and the sunsets are magnificent.
Take the opportunity to hike in the cool of Asamushi Onsen Forest Park, on a 10km path. There's a 700-year-old Japanese red pine, plum blossoms in spring, and hydrangeas and the delightful spectacle of fireflies in the summer. From Mutsu Bay Observatory, you can view the beautiful panorama of the bay.
And for all the family, Asamushi Aquarium is open every day from 9:00 to 17:00 (adult: 1020 yen; 6-12yrs: 510 yen). It's an educational aquarium, where you can discover and learn the mechanisms of nature. Note the presence of some rare species living in Aomori, you can also find the shirakami-sanchi.
Paper chariot festival
And finally: don't forget, the Asamushi Onsen Nebuta Matsuri is held annually from 2nd to 7th of August. This traditional festival is as popular here as in the neighboring towns of Aomori and Hirosaki. With four paper floats paraded through the narrow streets, everyone sings and dances for a total celebration. The event is smaller than other, more famous matsuri, but impresses with its family side. Tourists are welcome, and costume loan is free, so if you'll be nearby, why not enjoy the festival's warm, summer atmosphere?