Nestled on a slope in the Aso province lies a wonderful little escape from the challenges of city living, Kurokawa Onsen. The Kurokawa Onsen is a welcome reprieve from the grind of the city life and is located around three hours away from Kumamoto City by bus.
There are several different ways to get to the onsen, where can only be reached by either a taxi (which can get very expensive), a car, or by bus. Coming from Kumamoto City, there is only one bus which leaves the Kumamoto Traffic Center (the Kumamoto Kotsu Center) at 8:16 in the morning （2017 time table）that goes to the hot springs. However, one can also take a train until the Higo-Ozu station then take a bus to the hot springs.
The Kurokawa Onsen is made up of different ryokans or Japanese inns that each have their own attached hot springs. The hot springs have different kinds of water some with calcium, some sulfur, others just generally more acidic or basic. Their website provides a lot of very useful information about the different hot springs that they have including when certain hot springs are closed for cleaning.
One of the ryokans available is the Wakaba Ryokan which is located near the entrance of Kurokawa Onsen from the highway. Most of hosts at this ryokan are foreigners so they have an English-speaking staff member but all the onsens in the area have at least one English-speaking staff member. Wakaba also has a Chinese speaking staff member on hand if needed. They handle a lot of tourists throughout the year and is often fully booked even during the off-season so booking quickly is a must.
Wakaba is one of the most traditional looking ryokans of the area with Japanese style rooms and two Japanese style fireplaces. If one is looking for a nice mix of Western and Japanese styled rooms, Wakaba also offers two rooms with beds but also a little Japanese style tea table to the side and an en suite shower and toilet. The Japanese style room only have an en suite toilet.
he Japanese rooms have futons on tatami floors for sleeping which truly immerses one in the Japanese ryokan experience.
The ryokan treats its guests to true Japanese hospitality starting from when you open their door.
The staff greets you and offers to take your shoes off as you can put on your provided slippers which you wear everywhere inside except for inside your room. They then offer to take your luggage up while you sip hot tea by the lit traditional Japanese fireplace. If you’ve opted to reserve a breakfast and/or dinner in advance, one of the members will ask your preference for dinner and/or breakfast time as well as if you would like to reserve a bath.
After, the staff will escort you to your room which has been beautifully set up. They will show you the available facilities in your room and leave you with your complimentary green tea and wagashi, a traditional tea snack. You can change into yukata following the easy instruction attached. If you have trouble with wearing it, you can call a staff member to help you dress.
The little village-like resort has a wonderful Japanese charm to it, arranged almost in a fairytale like manner. The river divides the resort between some of the ryokan and the main village. The beautiful river is lit up with lights during the winter season and in the summer months, is a listening point for Japanese frog songs.
There are many shops for tourists to check out and nearly all can process your tax-free transactions. Shops range from specialty stores like honey or souvenir food shops where you can try traditional Japanese snacks such as senbei, a traditional Japanese rice cracker or some dorayaki which is a sweet pancake-like cake with red bean paste in the center.
The restaurants are dotted along the street and sell traditional Japanese food including some of the prefecture’s specialties – dago jiru, a dumpling soup with vegetables and chicken, pork cutlets from black pig, horse meat, among others. The meals are not too expensive and some even serve dessert that is made from locally produced milk in Aso which is one of the region’s most famous products. However, if you are missing more western style food, there’s a café on Sakura street, above the main street that serves hamburgers and hotdogs. For the adventurous, there is the “Kappo Zake” Bar Hopping pass (available only to those who are 20 years old and above – Japan’s legal drinking age) which one can get from any ryokan reception for around 1500 yen. You can try a cup of sake or shochu and a Japanese style bar snack at up to three of the participating ryokans in Kurokawa from 3 PM to 9 PM.
Lastly and most importantly, the onsens in the Kurokawa Onsen resort have great variety, value, and overall service. They have onsens with different kinds of waters; sulfuric springs, mildly acidic springs, mildly alkaline springs, hydrogen carbonate springs, chloride springs, sulfate springs, ferruginous springs, and stronger acidic springs. Each of the springs have different properties which have skin and health benefits. For first time onsen users, the staff at the onsenare happy to help with instructions or local bathing etiquette. It is important to note that those with tattoos should check in with the staff before joining a public onsen. There are also private onsens if public baths sound unappealing which are around a thousand yen for an hour.
For maximum relaxation, there is the Onsen-Hopping Pass at only 1300 yen per person for up to three different hot springs baths between 8:30 AM to 9 PM. There is an English Onsen-Hopping Guide available.
Overall, Kurokawa has a serene traditional beauty in its resort and the surrounding area which is lined with trees. One of the best weekend getaways easily accessible from Fukuoka or Kumamoto and definitely one of the places you can experience true Japanese hospitality and traditions.