Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Aoni Onsen - Authentic Japan?

On the final weekend of my winter break I went to Aoni Onsen, the little onsen resort set in a valley a few miles out from Kuroishi city. It was all I'd been told to expect, and all that I should have expected from a Japanese hotel. Aoni Onsen is hailed as Aomori ken's most authentic and oldy-worldy kind of onsen/hotel set up. I was told that I'd get picked up from the main road and whisked into the valley on the back of a snow-mobile and then spend the night in a thoroughly authentic Japanese hotel. I wasn't disappointed.

I wasn't disappointed because I've been in this country long enough to know what to expect from an authentic Japanese experience. The location of Aoni Onsen is fantastic. It took the shuttle bus (not snow-mobile) a lot of time and effort to make it down the steep and narrow road that connects the resort with the rest of the world. It felt really remote.

The scenery was amazing too. These first few photos were taken from our hotel room, which was a very basic, but ample space with futons and a kerosene lamp for lighting. One of the attractions, and marketing points, of Aoni Onsen is that there is no electricity and everything is run on gas or wood fire. This isn't actually true. The cash register is run off electric and the drinks machine is a dead give away. However, the rooms are all kerosene heated and are fitted with gas lamps. The biggest giveaway was the long electricity cable that ran alongside the road on the way down.

The above shot was taken from the outdoor onsen area.

Snow covered rocks in the river.

This is the kind of thing I expected most from my experience of authentic Japan. Plastic coating over a little wooden bridge and a traffic cone warning folks of some potential danger. I've talked about my idea of authentic Japan before on this webpage and this is an illustrative supplement to what I said before. It just seemed wrong to infuse such traditional design and architecture with plastic and traffic cones. Not postmodern, but wrong, plain and simple. It was only a matter of seconds though, before I managed to reconcile the traffic cones and plastic with creaking pinewood and rocks and rivers, as I reflected on what I'd learned until now about Japanese culture: leave conventional notions of authenticity at home before you board the aeroplane.

This is the main outdoor bath. I had it all to myself the following morning which was a real treat.

On the way back to the main road we passed some hunters on snow-mobiles. They had a hard time getting past on such a narrow little track.

All in all, I'd recommend anyone go to Aoni Onsen because it's a great place to relax. Although the dining hall was ridiculously hot and cramped, the rooms were good. And with the sound of the river in the background I slept better there than I have done in ages. It costs roughly one man, or, about fifty quid. But it's money well spent.

The next day I was up at Hakkoda with 85cm of fresh snowfall. What more can I say?