Saying a prayer can open a passage between men’s and women’s baths at this Japanese hot spring

Love can start in the tub at this romantic onsen that puts the power in ladies’ hands.

Recently, we spent the night at a ryokan (Japanese inn) called Shosenkaku, located in Nagano. Like a lot of ryokan, Shosenkaku’s most attractive amenities are its natural onsen hot spring baths, including one that allows you to sing karaoke while you’re in the tub.

But for those of you who aren’t into music and/or holding electrical devices while sitting in a pool of water, Shosenkaku has another bath that’s unlike any we’ve ever seen before. So as soon as he got out of the private karaoke bath, our reporter Ahiru Neko put his hotel-provided robe back on and headed to the men’s communal bath.

After undressing in the changing area, he stepped into the inside portion of the bath, which has washing stations and a tub with hot spring water cascading into it. But he skipped the indoor bath, and after scrubbing himself clean he stepped out into the rotenburo, or outdoor bath. For the sake of space efficiency, the men’s and women’s rotenburo at many ryokan are adjacent to each other, with a dividing wall standing between them. Shosenkaku’s is no exception, but it also has one very unique feature.

Built into the wall is a small shrine. Taking a look at the explanation posted above it, Ahiru Neko learned that this is an omiai shrine, with its purpose being to help singles find a romantic partner (“omiai” usually refers to meetings set up by a matchmaker between two singles looking for a serious relationship and, hopefully, a spouse).

The sign included directions on how to use the shrine:
1. Sit in front of the shrine
2. Bow
3. Place an offering of a five-yen (US$0.04) coin on the shrine
4. Clap your hands
5. Wait

Ordinarily, you clap your hands when praying at a Shinto shrine to ensure that the gods hear your prayers. However, despite its spiritual trappings, Shosenkaku’s omiai shrine doesn’t actually rely on divine intervention, and there’s an entirely secular reason for men to clap their hands.

Remember how we said the shrine is built into the wall that divides the men’s and women’s bath? That’s because there’s a door in the center of the shrine

…and you clap your hands to signal to whoever’s on the other side of the wall that you’d like to talk. In other words, you’re not clapping to get the attention of the gods, but of any eligible bachelorettes.

If this system seems like it’d be ripe for abuse by pervy peeping Toms, rest assured that Shosenkaku has thought ahead. The mechanism to open the doors can only be operated from the women’s bath, and even once the doors open, the frosted glass (with a heart-shaped cutout to let you hear each other’s voices) and limited field of view mean that you and your potential match won’t see anything more than each other’s faces, as long as you’re both sitting directly in front of the shrine.

▼ Our reporter Yoshio demonstrates

However, there are no guarantees in the quest for love, and that goes for matchmaking onsen as well. When Ahiru Neko tried out the omiai bath, there turned out to be no women at all using the ladies’ outdoor tub, and so he was unable to meet his soul mate.

On the other hand, he did leave the bath with his psyche relaxed and his skin smooth, both of which ae sure to help his dating prospects. And really, if you’re going to spend time waiting for love to come along, instead of a smoky bar or a noisy club, wouldn’t you rather do your waiting in a soothing natural hot spring?

Hotel information
Shosenkaku / 松仙閣
Address: Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Shinonoi Komatsubara 2475
長野県長野市篠ノ井小松原2475
Website

Photos ©SoraNews24

A private onsen bath with a karaoke machine is two of Japan’s best things with zero embarrassment

Go beyond singing in the shower by singing in the hot spring.

For some people, Japan’s onsen (hot springs) present a problem. On one hand, they want to experience this undeniably enjoyable part of Japanese culture, but on the other, they don’t feel comfortable being naked around strangers.

Luckily, there’s an option that lets you have your geothermally heated cake and eat it too: kashikiri onsen, where you or your group (typically couples or a family) have a private hot spring bath all to yourselves. And if you’re going the kashikiri onsen route, we recommend choosing one that lets you indulge in another fun Japanese tradition that can sometimes feel a little embarrassing for the uninitiated: karaoke.

We recently came across this unprecedented combination at Shosenkaku, a ryokan (Japanese inn) in Nagano City. Shosenkaku looks like any other rustic ryokan from the outside, and actually from the inside too, with one exception.

▼ This door, labeled…

▼ …”karaoke (カラオケ) private bath (貸切風呂)”

As one of the employees showed us to our room, she mentioned that the inn’s private bath features a karaoke machine. A lot of onsen resorts have karaoke lounges on their premises, but this was the first hot spring we’d ever heard of where you can belt out a tune while you’re taking a soak, so we signed up for a one-hour kashikiri onsen session right away.

When it was time for us to use the bath, we stepped into the changing room…

…and sure enough…

there was a karaoke machine!

Granted, it’s not a super high-tech unit like you’ll find in the karaoke parlors of downtown Tokyo, but it’s a legitimate karaoke machine, positioned so that you can see the screen/lyrics through the glass that separates the tub and changing area.

The old-school setup doesn’t sport a remote control, so you’ll want to input a couple of songs before hopping in the tub. We picked out a few of our favorites, and with our set list ready to start we headed toward the tub, and…

…the opening notes of our first selection came forth from the high-quality speakers mounted on the walls!

So what’s it like singing in an onsen? Incredible. You know how the echo you get from singing in the shower makes you feel like a pop star in the recording booth? The larger venue of Shosenkaku’s kashikiri bath makes it feel like you’re performing in a full-on concert hall.

Like all kashikiri onsen, Shosenkaku’s can be used by groups, and the maximum capacity of the karaoke bath is six people. But whereas most inns charge a supplementary fee for their kashikiri baths, Shosenkaku’s is free for guests staying at the hotel (which has an English website, by the way).

The karaoke bath is also available to non-guests for 2,000 yen (US$18) for the hour, so whether you’re staying the night in Nagano or just passing through, this is a great place to relax and soothe your travel-weary muscles to a soundtrack of your own making.

Hotel information
Shosenkaku / 松仙閣
Address: Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Shinonoi Komatsubara 2475
長野県長野市篠ノ井小松原2475
Website

Photos ©SoraNews24

Popular anime declares “Boys can be princesses too,” prompts apology from Japanese resort hotel

Pretty Cure encourages boys who feel like it to wear dresses and be princesses, hotel apologizes for not being progressive enough.

As Japan’s most popular currently airing magical girl anime series, Pretty Cure is generally pretty formulaic in its storytelling. Villains appear, and the protagonists change from their ordinary schoolgirl personas into their brightly costumed, superpowered alter egos, with the power of friendship often being the deciding factor in saving the day.

But PreCure (as the series is known to fans) is also willing to deal with social issues, and in recent years the series, which is primarily marketed to young girls, has been challenging ideas about gender roles and identity. The concept that girls can be heroes has always been one of the show’s core themes, and the franchise also seems OK with women loving other women in a romantic sense.

However, the latest episode of Huggto! PreCure (the newest arc of the franchise) takes time to espouse the belief that boys, too, shouldn’t be constricted by traditional gender roles. One of Huggto! PreCure’s supporting cast members is Henri Wakamiya, a blond-haired half-Japanese, half-French boy who’s sometimes depicted wearing a dress, as in this preview for Huggto! PreCure’s 19th episode, which aired last Sunday.

Not everyone is supportive of Henri’s fashion choices, though. His classmate Masato, for example, berates him for “looking like a girl,” eventually prompting Henri to fire back with “So what? I’m dressed the way I want to dress. Putting restrictions on your own heart is a waste of time…and of a life.”

However, during the course of episode 19, Henri winds up getting captured by a monster, while still wearing his dress. When the PreCure girls come to save him, he laments “Wait, doesn’t this mean I’m like the princess in this situation?”

To which Hana Nono, a.k.a. Cure Yell, responds:

“That’s OK! Boys can be princesses too!”

Nono’s words were powerful enough that they’ve prompted an apology from the lakeside Ike no Taira Hotel in Shirakaba, Nagano Prefecture. For the last few years, the hotel has been offering a PreCure-themed hotel room, aimed at families traveling with young kids who are fans of the anime. The hotel also has a Kamen Rider-themed room, decorated with artwork from the popular live-action martial arts franchise, and in one of its commercials, the hotel proudly touts “For girls, Huggto! Pretty Cure, and for boys, Kamen Rider Build!”

However, on June 12, two days after Pretty Cure declared that “boys can be princesses too,” the Ike no Taira Hotel issued an apology through the official Twitter account of its mascot character, Pota.

“Recently, we have received complaints that the statements made in a TV commercial for our character-themed rooms has made some people uncomfortable. We regret offending our customers, and deeply apologize.”

While the tweet doesn’t mention PreCure specifically, the timing makes it difficult to see the hotel’s message as referring to anything other than its tie-up with the magical girl anime. In a follow-up tweet, the hotel also said it will be taking the ad out of circulation, and will bear in mind the feedback it received in designing future advertisements.

Online reactions have been mixed, with some applauding the move and others saying it’s an overreaction to baseless complaints, as the hotel doesn’t seem to have had any policy barring families with boys from staying in the PreCure room. Still, the hotel wants to make doubly sure that people know it supports young boys who find Pretty Cure’s sparkling aesthetics (and the merchandise that comes with a stay in the room) alluring.

Meanwhile, the hotel is mum about all the legal trouble Kamen Rider has been getting into lately.

Source: Twitter/@ikenotaira via Hachima Kiko
Top image: YouTube/プリキュア公式YouTubeチャンネル

Terahaku aims to be the Airbnb of Japanese temples

Experiencing life in a Buddhist temple in Japan is about to get a whole lot easier.

For a long time now, several Buddhist temples around Japan have offered accommodation for tourists interested in the aesthetics and lifestyles of these traditional establishments. However, it’s that same traditionalism that has made them relatively difficult to locate and communicate with in the information age.

▼ Don’t hold your breath looking for free wi-fi.

It was also a complicated matter for the temples, since laws made it tricky to use a religious institution as a commercial accommodation. However, with the advent of services like Airbnb, there has been a big push to deregulate this, and it has resulted in the Residential Lodging Business Law that goes into effect on 15 June.

This law will grant temples more freedom in offering their spaces for paying guests, and to further this freedom a new service called Terahaku will also open for business this June. Terahaku is an online search and reservation system devoted to temples all over Japan.

Using this, travelers can easily find, view, and book temples near them from the comfort of their own smartphone or computer.

And if you’re searching from overseas, fear not, because Terahaku will also be working with popular services Booking.com and Airbnb for multi-language support and convenience.

▼ Although more work on their end, you the customer
can use Airbnb just as easily as using Terahaku itself

It is a great idea for tourists, as a temple combines the ambiance of old-world Japan with unique activities like writing out your own Japanese sutras and artwork to make your stay in Japan truly memorable.

Terahaku

Not only that, but an increase in temple visits from both domestic and foreign tourists will also help revitalize rural areas that in some cases desperately need economic activity.

In these final days leading up to Terahaku’s launch, they are currently compiling a list of temples looking to offer their spaces. They expect to have 100 locations available upon launching including the very historical and beautiful Mii-dera (formerly Onjo-ji), near Japan’s largest lake Biwa-ko and the fourth-largest temple in the country.

Wikimedia Commons

Throughout their long history in Japan, temples and shrines have survived by adapting to a variety of purposes from schools to mental hospitals. If services like Terahaku continue to grow, we may see yet a new evolution as temples become popular centers of hospitality.

Source: TerahakuJapaaan
Images: PR Times 1, 2

Japanese hotel’s amazing mechanized bed rises to the ceiling to give you more floor space【Video】

Japan has a reputation for cool gadgets and efficient interiors, but this is on a whole new level!

Choosing a hotel is often a matter of compromises. For example, the GR Hotel Esaka, located in Osaka Prefecture, is a manageable seven-minute walk from the nearest train station, and rates for its single rooms start at just 3,000 yen (US$28) a night, making it a great travel bargain.

However, those single rooms, as pictured above, aren’t exactly spacious. They’re only 12 square meters (129 square feet), and most of the floor space is taken up by the semi-double bed.

But before you write the GR Hotel Esaka off, take a closer look at that picture. Notice those two posts rising from the corners of the bed? They’re way too big to be part of the bedframe, and in fact, they have a completely different, totally awesome purpose. As shown in this video from Japanese Twitter user @k_me0x0, at the push of a button…

the bed rises up to the ceiling, giving you more space to move about and relax until you’re ready to go to sleep!

The hotel says almost all of its “Single Type A” rooms are equipped with these beds (which don’t actually move as quickly as in @k_me0x0’s time-lapse photo series). Even in space-efficient Japan, this is an extremely rare amenity, and other Twitter users were left in awe of the clever technology (though one concerned commenter compared it to a booby trap from the Resident Evil video game series).

Unfortunately, the bed likely isn’t designed to support a person’s weight, so riding it probably isn’t a good idea (and since it rises up right to the ceiling, you’d end up banging your head anyway). Still, it’s an awesome feature that’ll have you wanting to invite all your friends to your tiny little hotel room to see it, before heading to the in-hotel hot spring for a relaxing soak.

Between the GR Hotel Esaka and 8,000-yen hotel in Shizuoka with the unlimited crab and alcoholic drinks, we can’t wait for the next three-day weekend so we can stay at both.

Hotel information
GR Hotel Esaka / ジーアールホテル江坂
Address: Osaka-fu, Suita-shi, Esaka-cho, 2-1-63
大阪府吹田市江坂町2−1−63
Website
Reservations (Jalan)

Sources: Twitter/@k_me0x0 via Hachima Kiko, Jalan
Featured image: Twitter/@k_me0x0
Top image: GR Hotel Esaka
Insert images: Jalan/ GR Hotel Esaka, GR Hotel Esaka

Japanese hotel has rooftop hot spring bath, unlimited sushi and alcohol, costs less than 80 bucks

Oh, and there’s also all-you-can-eat crab as part of the deal at this hotel in the coastal onsen resort of Atami.

During Japan’s Golden Week vacation period, our reporter Seiji Nakawzawa found himself feeling the need to get out of the big city for a while. With the hustle and bustle of Tokyo wearing him down, he decided to take an overnight trip to Atami, a hot spring resort town on the coast of Shizuoka Prefecture, about an hour and a half outside of Tokyo.

However, since he’d put off making plans until the last minute, Seiji braced himself for astronomical hotel rates, especially since he was looking for a room on the last Friday night of Golden Week. So imagine his surprise when he found a hotel with its own outdoor hot spring, and dinner included, charging just 8,574 yen (US$79) for him to stay the night.

So Seiji made his reservation and rode the train to Atami. Once there, he hopped on a shuttle bus that took him into the main part of the town, and after a short walk from the bus stop, found himself in front of the Uomisaki Hotel.

▼ The hotel is across the street from a seaside park that borders the bay.

First things first: The Uomisaki Hotel is not a new or fancy hotel. In fact, the whole place has a very late ‘80s, early ‘90s vibe, and the interior is sort of dingy. Somehow, though, the old-school atmosphere filled Seiji with a retro-relaxed sense of calm as he sat in his mixed Japanese/Western-style room and stood on its veranda, almost as though he’d come to a vacation home he’d bought during the boom times of Japan’s bubble economy.

But really, it’s not the rooms that make the Uomisaki Hotel a great place to stay, but rather everything else. That included dinner we talked about? It’s actually an all-you-can-eat buffet, and until the end of May, it includes an unlimited amount of crab!

There’s also all-you-can-eat sushi, karaage fried chicken, curry, tempura, hamburger steak, yakisoba stir-fried noodles, salad, and desserts.

And if you’re more focused on beverages than food, you’ll also be happy to know that the buffet features all-you-can-drink alcohol such as Asahi Super Dry draft beer and whiskey highballs.

Like we said, Atami is an onsen town, and the hotel features two hot spring baths. The indoor one is located on the eight floor, but the real star is the rooftop outdoor bath, which offers gorgeous views of the surrounding sea, city, and mountains.

▼ The view from the rooftop bath

So while it might seem a little weird to strongly recommend a hotel despite having extremely average rooms, all of the other amenities combined to create an extremely enjoyable, and affordable, stay.

Hotel information
Uomisaki Hotel / ウオミサキホテル
Address: Shizuoka-ken, Atami-shi, Wadahama Minamicho 7-2
静岡県熱海市和田浜南町7-2
Telephone 0557-86-2211
Website

Photos ©SoraNews24

Travel back in time to this timeless Japanese hot spring inn from the Taisho period【Photos】

You can practically taste the nostalgia permeating this Taisho-era ryokan in Kagoshima Prefecture.

We’ll never get tired of visiting ryokan, or traditional Japanese inns. An overnight stay at a ryokan can be not only one of the most rewarding experiences of your trip to Japan, but of your entire life. The inns typically come with attached hot springs, traditional futon-style bedding, some of the most amazing hospitality imaginable, and luxurious multi-course meals utilizing only the freshest and most seasonal of ingredients.

Ryokan come in all shapes and sizes, and many pride themselves on a signature quality or service. For one particular ryokan in southern Kagoshima Prefecture called Ichihino Onsen Midoriya, that special trait happens to be its remarkable architecture and furnishings from the short-lived Taisho period (1912-1926), a period characterized by a unique mix of traditional Japanese and newly introduced western aesthetics following the opening of Japan to foreign countries after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. In fact, the Taisho influence is so strong at Midoriya that travelers may feel they have been spirited away to a different age and place immediately upon entering the building, as shown in these photos by recent guest @goshuinchou.

▼ “The inn I’m staying at tonight is the best. It’s a building from the Taisho period.”

In a fun connection to the ongoing societal changes of the Taisho period, Midoriya has another unique claim to fame–Akiko Yosano, one of the most prominent (and controversial) authors, poets, and feminists of the time, once rested within its walls.

▼ “Apparently Akiko Yosano stayed in my room. Just as I was thinking that it would be nice to have a mysterious space called a ‘hiroen’ [veranda] by the window, I was ecstatic to find that there was one already independently built-in.”

The Twitter user also expressed gratitude for the inn’s timeless Taisho aesthetic coupled with its modern conveniences:

▼ “The place is called Ichihino Onsen Midoriya in Kagoshima’s Satsumasendai City. The three-story inn from the Taisho period has been preserved through continued maintenance. It’s a hot-spring inn which boasts a history of Akiko Yosano staying there in Year 4 of the Showa period [1929]. The food was also delicious. Even with Taisho era-architecture, it’s great that you can also use wi-fi.”

Here are a couple more snapshots taken by other Midoriya guests:

According to this former guest, the inn’s staff will even present you with some hot spring water on your departure!

If history is your hobby and you’d enjoy the feeling of being transported to another age, then you should definitely soak in the atmosphere at Midoriya on your next travels around Japan. Might we also suggest that you pack one of these “Taisho Roman” ensembles to enhance your experience?

Inn information
Ichihino Onsen Midori-ya / 市比野温泉 みどり屋
Address: 895-1202 Kagoshima Prefecture, Satsumasendai, Hiwakicho Ichihino 2582
895-1202 鹿児島県薩摩川内市樋脇町市比野2582
Telephone: 0996-38-0002

Source, featured image: Twitter/@goshuinchou