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  • Writer's pictureDia KL

Satoyama onsen, Kokonoe, Japan 里山温泉 四季彩の湯

After watching the mesmerizing Shonai Kagura dance in Takatsuka Atago Jizo temple, it was time to find a nice onsen to bathe. Ended up in Satoyama onsen (里山温泉 四季彩の湯), just around 24km southeast of the temple, in Kokonoe (九重町) town of Kusu district, Oita prefecture. Kokonoe is a small mountainous town of just around 8500 people so all the onsen are here are low key and local.

For a brief introduction on onsen, the Japanese hot springs, please check this post:

Arriving at the onsen it was still raining, went to the reception to inquire and choose my onsen.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

The reception.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

There are 10 private onsen rooms to choose from, so here you will bathe alone or with your friends / family. There are is no public onsen. You can bathe for one hour and costs ¥1000 for the room, if one hour is not enough you can also extend your time (for more info scroll down to end of the post). The area is beautiful, in a green setting full of trees. At there reception there are the toilets and a vending machine for drinks, there are no toilets in the onsen rooms. You need to have your own towel but if you don't, you can rent/buy a small body towel (in Japan they use it as a sponge to wash the body) or a bigger bath towel. After you pay, you will be given a ¥100 coin which you will need to use soon and it's time to go down the slope to the onsen rooms.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

The onsen rooms down the slope.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

Every onsen room has a name of a flower and it is a separate structure. I had chosen the "rindou" (りんどう) which means "gentian". All the buildings are beautifully made of wood with a high ceiling and opening for ventilation.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan
My onsen "rindou" (りんどう).

Entering the onsen there is a spacious changing room which is separated from the bathing area by a door. Here there is a water basin, a mirror, a hair dryer (free or charge), a place to sit down and baskets to put your clothes and stuff.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan
The entrance door and the wash basin in the changing area.

At the wall of the changing area you will find a clock, a telephone for communication with the reception and a little metal box with a message that you should put in the ¥100 coin you received earlier. Normally in the onsen people bathe in the same water which is maintained clean because people wash themselves before bathing and by the continuous flow of water, plus the cleaning procedures of the reception. Satoyama onsen is one of those special ones that gives every time the chance to bathe in completely new, untouched fresh water flowing directly from the source. Every time somebody has finished using the onsen, the water is drained and the tub and facilities are cleaned for the next people. Now lets go back to the ¥100 metal box. As soon as you put the coin in, the water will start flowing into the empty tab! The flow will be pretty strong at start in order to fill up the tab fast, after the tab is full the flow will weaken but it will not stop, you will have new water flowing in thought out your bath. On the top right side of the box there is a digital counter which will start counting down from 60, which are the 60 minutes time you have to bathe.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

Phone and ¥100 metal box to start the water flowing.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

As soon as I put the the ¥100 coin the sound of the water flowing filled up the onsen room. The tab was medium size, rectangular shape, made of a combination of concrete and stone and had a step on it's edge inside for easier entrance. The water was flowing in from a bamboo faucet. Every room is different so in other rooms there are tabs made of cypress wood, tiles, semi-outdoors etc. There are also two barrier free rooms with handrails designed for easier use of the elderly and people in wheelchairs. Next to the tab there was the body wash area with shampoos, a mirror, a shower phone and stools to sit while washing. Two large windows provided a lot of light in the room and can be opened for more fresh air or to enjoy the view.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

Now lets get a bit more technical information about the onsen, copied from my onsen introduction post. In Japan people care not only in what kind of water they are bathing, but also where and how the water comes from. There are two different categories, with four indications total, which are important.

  1. GENSEN: the onsen facility has the source fountainhead in its premises.

  2. HIKIYU: the onsen is supplied with water thought a pipe from a source fountainhead somewhere out of the premises.

  • a. KAKENAGASHI: the onsen is supplied with water directly from a fountainhead and does not recycle it's water, discharged water that overflows from the tab goes to the drain.

  • b. JYUNKAN: the onsen is supplied with water by a circulatory system which reuses the discharged water after filtering the chlorine which is used for disinfection.

The two categories can get mixed, so you can have (1a) gensen kakenagashi, (1b) gensen jyunkan, (2a) hikiyu kakenagashi, (2b) hikiyu jyunkan. Most people prefer (1a) gensen kakenagashi, as the natural hot spring water that flows to the bath has, until that point, not come into contact with the air. Therefore it has the original color, smell and texture of the water - when water makes contact with the air it gets oxidized and might change its characteristics. On the other hand, in an onsen that its source doesn't provide enough water for continuous flow or the amount of people bathing is very large, then (b) jyunkan might be needed in order to keep the water clean.

Satoyama onsen is GENSEN KAKENAGASHI. The source is at 500 meters depth and the water is gushing out at a temperature of approximately 95-98°C with a flow of 200 liters per minute. They are using a natural cooling device (Yumetake) made of cypress wood and bamboo to adjust the water to 42-44°C, which then flows into your tab. Yumetake is a revolutionary natural cooling device which was originally made in Beppu, Oita prefecture (post: the creation of Yumetake in Beppu - coming soon). It can provide the onsen with water which is cooled down but it is still in its original state without destroying the natural ingredients/minerals or adding cold water. In the last photo above you will notice a blue hose next to the bamboo faucet, this can be used to pour cold water into your tub if the water temperature is too hot for you. This of course will alter the water and negate the positive effects of the yumetake, but since the water is drained and renewed each time, it doesn't matter so much and the most important is for you to enjoy your bath at your desired temperature.

Very soon my tab was full and I was ready to enjoy the perfect onsen. Outside the window was a cherry tree which had just started blooming (being late March), I could only imagine how beautiful it would be when its fully bloomed.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan
The cherry tree outside my window.
Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan

Satoyama onsen, with a pH value of 8.7 is classified as an alkaline chloride spring. Among its minerals is worth to mention its abundance in metasilicic acid, which is a natural moisturizing ingredient. Metasilicic acid (H2SiO3) is recognized if the onsen contains more than 50mg in 1kg of its mineral contents. At 50mg it gives a beautifying effect on your skin. Satoyama onsen contains around 4 times the standard level of metasilicic acid with an average of 196mg. Combined with the high pH of 8.7, it is guaranteed that your skin will be really smooth after bathing. Further more it has an excellent effect on improving your physical condition and recovering from fatigue.

After I enjoyed bathing, I unplugged the bathtub plug for the water to drain as instructed by the reception, checked the onsen information paper and left feeling very relaxed, clean and energized. On the way up to the friendly reception I had a glance on the other rooms, all the facilities were excellent, very clean and well maintained.

Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan
Outside my onsen room.
Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan
Some of the other onsen rooms.
Satoyama onsen hot spring, Kokonoe, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Japan
The onsen information paper, found inside my onsen room.

Every onsen is required by law to have an information paper posted. It is always only in Japanese, so I will translate here the important info with some additional info added.

  • Source name: Shikisai no yu (the full name of the onsen is "Satoyama onsen Shikisai no yu", which indicates that the onsen is gensen, it contains the source fountainhead).

  • Spring quality: sodium chloride - alkaline/hypotonic, high temperature spring, gensen kakenagashi

  • Source temperature: 98.2°C - temperature in use (at the tub): 42°C

  • Amount of water: 220 liters/min

  • Components/minerals: Lithium ion, sodium ion, potassium ion, calcium ion, strontium ion, aluminum ion, fluoride ion, chloride ion, bromide ion, sulfate ion, bicarbonate ion, carbonate ion, metaarsenite, metasilicic acid, metaboric acid

  • Indications for bathing: Neuralgia, muscle pain, joint pain, frozen shoulder, motor paralysis, joint stiffness, bruises, sprains, chronic digestive diseases, hemorrhoids, sensitivity to cold, recovery period after illness, recovery from fatigue, health promotion, cuts, burns, chronic skin diseases, weakness

  • Contraindications for bathing: Acute illness (especially if you have a fever), active tuberculosis, malignant tumor, severe heart disease, respiratory failure, renal failure, bleeding disorders, severe anemia, other common illnesses, and pregnancy (especially in the early stages and final stages).

  • Date of info: 17th of November 2015 (Japanese calendar Heisai year 27), published by the director of Oita prefecture western health center.

And some more general information about the onsens operation:

  • Name: Satoyama onsen 里山温泉 四季彩の湯

  • Address: 2174-1 Machida, Kokonoe, Kusu District, Oita prefecture 879-4723

  • Telephone & fax: 0973-78-8126

  • Parking: 25 units, free of charge

  • Operating hours & days: weekdays 12:00-21:00, last entry 20:00. Weekends and public holidays 10:00-22:00. Closed every Wednesday (noted from September 2023), unless Wednesday is a public holiday (New Years day, Golden Week, Obon etc.) which will operate normal.

  • Price: one onsen room for 60 minutes ¥1000. Extension fee is ¥400 for up to 30 minutes and ¥800 for each additional hour after than (in case of extension please contact the reception through the phone provided)

  • Amenities: body shampoo, shampoo, hair dryer, body towel (charged), bath towel (charged)

  • Notes: coin timer usage which fills the tub with hot water, pets are strictly prohibited from entering the onsen room, please take your trash home with you, when leaving the room please unplug the bathtub plug, no reservations first come first served

  • 10 onsen private rooms:

  1. Sakura (さくら cherry blossoms, wheelchair accessible)

  2. Suisen (すいせん daffodil, wheelchair accessible)

  3. Renge (れんげ renge, cypress wood tub)

  4. Botan (ぼたん peony)

  5. Ajisai (あじさい hydrangea)

  6. Cosmos (コスモス cosmos)

  7. Rindou (りんどう gentian)

  8. Tsukimikusa (つきみ草 tsukimi grass, semi open-air outdoor)

  9. Sumire (すみれ violet, cypress wood tub, semi open-air outdoor)

  10. Sazanka (さざんか camellia sasanqua)

Leaving the onsen I was hungry so to end the day with a full stomach I found myself at an Italian restaurant named "Pisolino Akeno" (イタリア厨房ピソリーノ 明野店) in Oita city. Among the service it had robots which delivered the dishes to the tables autonomously, it was quite fascinating but I was too busy enjoying the food so I didn't take any footage.

Pisolino Akeno Italian restaurant in Oita city, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Pisolino Akeno Italian restaurant with robots serving food.

Pisolino Akeno Italian restaurant in Oita city, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

It was a great day starting early in the morning in Takatsuka Atago Jizo temple to watch the Shonai Kagura sacred Japanese dance, bathing in Satoyama onsen and dinner at Pisolino Akeno Italian restaurant :)

Additional information

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