686 Mitsumata, Yuzawa, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata
Kaikake Onsen is in the class of hidden hot springs, and is found in the mountains off the old main road between Naeba and Yuzawa. Follow the single track road across the bridge to find yourself at a picturesque ryokan in a hidden valley.
Traditional Wooden Buildings Built to Last
You get a very strong sense of history when you come to Kaikake Onsen, There is even a historical document dating back to the Muromachi Period (c. 1338-1573) documenting the travels of an itinerant monk who visited this hot spring in the mountains. The oldest current buildings date back to the Meiji Period and still retain a wonderful atmosphere. Until the early nineties the ryokan was not open during the winter period as there was too much snow, and the owners never really knew in what state they would find it come spring. The sturdy construction throughout has been specially designed to cope with heavy snow. Throughout the ages being able to get across the river to access the valley has been a challenge with countless bridges having been washed away.
An Onsen in a Secluded Valley
Kaikake Onsen used to be a hot spring deep in the mountains and gradually facilities providing food and accommodation sprung up around it. Eventually the two establishments there merged and started along the path towards becoming the Kaikake Onsen of today. The waters have a reputation for being very beneficial for the eyes and any illnesses thereof. It is not uncommon to see people bathing their eyes at the source or saying a prayer at the shrine in the main building. The water is a little cooler than many onsen which makes it perfect for those that struggle in the higher temperature baths. The water gushes out with a decent amount of force from the spring and is then diverted by a large stone into the various pipes that feed the different baths.
The Nature Out in the Mountains
Kaikake Onsen has carved itself a little section out of nature in the mountains and stands in a national park. The single track access road hints at the seclusion to come. Walking out of the entrance of the ryokan you have a fantastic view of the trees covering the slope that looms up above you. It is a beautiful spot but has made running a ryokan out here a tough challenge at times, though it is certainly worth the effort to make the journey to visit. The size of the icicles hanging off the building in winter never fails to amaze first time visitors.
Explore the life and culture of Yukiguni through one of the unique local experiences available.
Enjoying the Seclusion of Nature
Throughout the year there are occasional tours operated by Kaikake Onsen that give guests the chance to experience the nature in which the ryokan stands. Spring might see a workshop on mountain plant foraging and preparation, or in winter you can head out into the woods on snowshoes with a guide. This is right in the mountains so it feels like a true adventure every time, and enjoying a rice ball lunch by the river in the fresh air will be one of the simplest, tastiest meals you ever consume.
The hidden onsen always took a bit more effort to reach so once there, guests tended towards longer stays. The proprietors made these stays as welcome as possible so plenty of baths, comfortable rooms to relax in, and great food was, and still is, the norm.
An Old Style Japanse Ryokan
Many onsen have their roots in a spa-like existence where people would come to take the waters for a period of time. Kaikake Onsen still has this atmosphere and many guests still come for extended stays. It is an eye-opening experience to see this kind of escape in the modern world. If you are into people-watching it is a great opportunity to see the world of futons, tatami, yukatas, sake, and how the local visitors relax. It is a familiar pattern for guests to come for a couple of nights first and then stay for much longer on their following trip.
Hearty, Local Cuisine
The star of the meals here is the famous local rice, and the rest of the ingredients, also sourced locally, are playing a supporting, but delicious, role. As long stays are common here you can expect daily variations in the cuisine and the way it is presented.
There is a history corner with old photos of some of the bridges that were erected over the years and eventually washed away. (The building of a dam upstream has ceased this worry!) Also photos of people fording the river when there is no bridge in order to get to Kaikake Onsen.
Check out some of the original rooms in the older wing of Kaikake Onsen. Their sturdy construction is necessary to survive the winters and the fact they are still here is testament to the skill of the carpenters. One of the rooms has a metal bowl in the ceiling which was used to heat both the upstairs and downstairs rooms with one brazier.
The shrine is in a quiet corner of Kaikake Onsen where you can say a prayer for the healing of your eyes. It used to be located outside but yearly snow damage led to it finally being moved into a safer spot.
There are koi ponds surrounding the ryokan. There are about 60 brightly colored fish around the premises (local scavengers permitting) and the ponds are fed by the overflow from the onsen.