Hot spring hop and hike along rivers and through gorges
The 1,000-year-old Naruko hot spring area is one of the largest in Japan, boasting some 400 springs. The compact town center of Naruko Onsen welcomes visitors with a mix of craft shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The surrounding mountains offer many pleasant hiking trails, particularly colorful in autumn.
- Try on a yukata and go hot spring hopping around town like a local
- Paint a one-of-a-kind wooden kokeshi doll for a personalized memento
- Follow in the footsteps of master haiku poet Matsuo Basho on the "Narrow Road to the Deep North"
How to Get There
The Naruko area can be reached by JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo with a change at Sendai.
From Tokyo, it takes around 120 minutes to reach Sendai Station by shinkansen. You can transfer to the Yamabiko Shinkansen to Furukawa Station, then take a local JR train to Naruko-Onsen. It takes about one hour from Sendai Station.
There are also local trains from Sendai Station, however, bus is the cheapest and easiest way to reach the Naruko area. Take a Miyako highway bus to Naruko Onsen at bus stop number 24 in front of Sendai Station. The journey takes around 90 minutes.
Relax and renew the senses
The Naruko area is divided into five hot spring regions, but most visitors focus on the central area, simply known as Naruko Onsen.
Exploring the town
The central part of Naruko is sandwiched between the serene Oyagawa River and thick green forest. Two narrow streets snake through town, lined with small shops, cafes, and restaurants. Most places can only accommodate a few customers at a time, creating an intimate atmosphere.
The subtle smiles of wooden kokeshi dolls greet you from the windows of the local shops and craft ateliers. These simple wooden dolls are a traditional souvenir from the Tohoku region. The Naruko version is characterized by its chrysanthemum patterns and the squeaking sound made when you turn the neck. Try painting your own kokeshi at several shops including Sakurai Kokeshi.
Trekking the mountain trails
The surrounding mountains offer easy trails and lovely views. The 1.3-kilometer Katanuma lake trail is a flat dirt trail circling a crystal clear lake, where Naruko hot spring water was first discovered during a volcanic eruption in 837. No swimming is allowed, but you can rent paddle boats. Local restaurants serve grilled lamb for a hearty lunch.
Steam from the center of the earth
Feel the heat at Jigokudani (which translates as "Hell Valley"), in the Onikobe area. Hellish scenes of steam shooting from the rock walls and boiling water bubbling up from the depths dot an otherwise peaceful stream in the forest. Take the bus from Naruko-Onsen Station to the Onikobe Geyser stop. You can pick up a walking trail to the valley (around 30 minutes) from near the bus stop.
Challenging and inspiring paths
Challenge yourself with a more intense 8.9-kilometer hike on the Oku no Hosomichi trail, which traveling haiku poet Matsuo Basho used in 1689 to traverse Shitomae no Seki and Sakaida in Yamagata Prefecture. Hunt for the historical markers along the way. The hiking trail stretches roughly from Naruko-Onsen Station to Sakaida Station.
Nothing can beat viewing the fiery gold and red leaves that adorn Naruko Gorge each autumn. Several surrounding walking paths and the short trail at the bottom of the gorge offer postcard-worthy views of the bridge and surrounding foliage.
Too many baths to choose from
Enjoying the hot springs is easy. The hard part is choosing from among the 400 options. Most hotels offer public daytime use of the hot springs. Around town, you will find free hot spring footbaths, called ashi-no-yu. Also, if you prefer to bathe in private, most hotels offer private baths that you can reserve for an hour.
Hot spring hopping
Wash, soak, and repeat among several smaller and less expensive baths such as local favorites Taki-no-Yu and Waseda Sajiki Yu. Stroll around like a local in a yukata and wooden sandals, which you can rent at the tourism center at Naruko Onsen Station.