49-1 Matsunoyama Yumoto, Tokamachi City, Niigata
Hinanoyado Chitose is a traditional style ryokan in the heart of Matsunoyama Onsen in Niigata Prefecture. The area is known for the curative quality of its hot spring waters. Though this little hamlet takes a little more effort to reach than some areas in Yukiguni it is most certainly worth the effort, and Chitose is the place to come to learn about the area.
Showcase for the Area & Keeping the Traditions Alive
Matsunoyama Onsen has a reputation that belies its small size as it is one of the top three curative onsens in Japan. It also has an interesting history and many stories. The owner of Chitose has a wealth of information on the subject and has been instrumental in setting up a town run travel agency called Manma to keep the traditions alive. They offer tours to visitors, resurrect forgotten recipes, pass on the knowledge and charms of the area, undertake revitalization programs and generally show the best of what there is on offer. The interactions with the locals are priceless and the stories you hear bring the town and history to life.
An Intimate Local Festival on January 15th
If you would like to see the town come alive and celebrate during the deep winter then the Bridegroom Throwing Festival and Ash Smearing is definitely something to witness. Recent bridegrooms are paraded through the town and then thrown over a steep snowbank from the local shrine. It is a sight to behold and the whole town is out to cheer them on. It apparently has its origin in the locals getting some light-hearted revenge on someone taking away one of the daughters of the town. After each bridegroom has been disposed of, there is a huge bonfire close by and everyone smears the cooled ashes over each other's faces. You’ll be needing an onsen once you have finished with this, but the smiles that shine through the ash-darkened faces will remain with you for a long time.
The Blessing of a Curative Onsen
Matsunoyama Onsen has long had people traveling there to experience its onsen and its curative effects. It was common to have people staying for a week or two to take the waters. This water comes out of the source at a piping 96 degrees and is packed full of minerals which makes it so good for healing, especially for problems related to the skin. It is said to come from seawater from 120 million years ago that is trapped underground and now making its way to the surface. The waters are very hot, and salty to the taste. Recently it has been put to a more modern use and is being used to generate electricity.
Explore the life and culture of Yukiguni through one of the unique local experiences available.
A Foraging Tour of the Local Mountains to Harvest Local Staples
The mountains around Matsunoyama Onsen have always provided extra sustenance for its residents and guests. Mountain plants in spring after the snows melt, fruits and mushrooms in fall, and game from the hunters. You can experience foraging with a local and marvel at the work that used to go into food gathering. At the same time you come to understand the joy of the freshest of flavors as you prepare your haul in a converted folk hut and enjoy it in the company of the locals and their stories.
Hinanoyado Chitose is a very well appointed ryokan in the traditional style with stylish modern rooms. It is a great location from which to explore the local region, and after a busy day you can enjoy the waters before (and after) a sumptious feast in the dining room.
Snow, Star, & Mountain Gazing from an Outdoor Onsen
The outdoor bath at Hinanoyado Chitose is often photographed as an incredibly scenic rotenburo. You can laze in the waters and enjoy the view of the local mountains or stars as your body soaks up the benefits. In winter it is especially beautiful. It is an unforgettable experience to feel truly warm in spite of the chill air and watch the gentle snowflakes drift down from the sky as those healing waters go to work on your body.
Matsunoyama Onsen’s Traditional Food Culture
The food culture of Matsunoyama Onsen is a story in itself. For much of its history the town was effectively cut off once the winter snows fell, so preparations of food stores were essential. Many dishes find their roots from this time using locally sourced ingredients either found wild or grown in the fields during the rest of the year. The kitchen at Hinanoyado Chitose turns out a true feast perfectly presented. In amongst the items are some old local favorites and classic combinations from the past. Also the heat of the onsen waters have been used for cooking which has turned out some amazing treats, both modern and classic. The food here has a real sense of terroir and is closely tied to the way of life.
A stroll round the town to see the shrine, some artworks from the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale, the steam from the onsen source, and the old style shops is a must. The old town was razed to the ground in a fire sixty years ago and the popular three storey wooden buildings were all lost. Notice the snow melting sprinkler pipes in the road which are only a recent addition. About forty five years ago the town was inaccessible to vehicles in winter and all snow clearing was done by hand.
The nearby rice terraces that have played such an important part in the existence of the town cling to the side of the mountains making usable space on the long slopes. Hike the terraces with a local guide for a close up view.
Bijin-bayashi is a pretty forest of native beech trees close by which is a wonderful walk throughout most of the year and also the venue for a nature hike on snowshoes over winter. Close by is the Kyororo Matsunoyama Museum of Natural Science.