Japan

Mikurigaike Onsen – Japan’s Highest Onsen

The instructions were: bring your own toothbrush and towel. Soap, bathing facilities, charging outlets provided.

I didn’t read it to the end.

That’s why the rest of my entourage ended up brandishing their toothbrushes glumly at the counter staff. But, they could rent towels for 150¥ apiece – big and thick ones! And yukatas for the same price (150¥)! I almost ditched my small, thin, dry-fit towel and pajamas.

Conclusion? You will be fine with just a toothbrush (and toothpaste).

All Things are Relative 

Japanese Sansōs 山荘 (lit. mountain huts, mountain villas) are truly Only-In-Japan marvels. They have everything even at 8000 ft high: clean slippers for when you kicked off those hiking boots, mattresses, warm blankets, clean sheets, hot warm delicious meals and toilets (some flush-able, and come with toilet paper).

That’s why some are Huts, and some are Villas.

Mikurigaike is a definitely a villa: it has an onsen that pipes naturally heated spring water from the smoking, hot pools of the nearby Jigokudani 地獄谷 (lit. Hell’s Valley). It has bathing facilities (most Sansos don’t) and perfumed shower cream. Get a good scrub, have a thorough soak and enjoy the view from the half-fogged windows.

On second thoughts, I will rate Mukurigaike a Villa+.

The meals were also upgraded fare. Not the typical Sansōs hamburg steak or stew – don’t get me wrong, I loved them hamburgs and stews.

Dinner (1800-1900) was a 6-course meal that looked home-cooked but was very delicious. Breakfast (0630-0800) was a buffet that had enough variety to rival that of a 3-star hotel’s. But nothing beat the rice cooked with sweet spring water and the homemade yoghurt – both were simply divine.

At 2410m above sea level, that was a royal feast.

If I may compare Mukurigaike with Tateyama Hotel (stayed 2013), Tateyama Hotel was a poised tai tai exuding motherly calm in the midst of madness whereas Mikurigaike felt like a retired cigar-chewing recluse living on the edge  – you have to be if you are only 200m away from Hell’s Valley.

Anything Worth Struggling for Needs Hard Work

Here’s the catch. Mikurigaike is a 20-minute trudge on mushy, slushy, melting snow from Murodo Station (it was oh-so-sunny). Not exactly the easiest place to shepherd a family of young and old to, but if you do, it will be a good talking point for years afterwards.

Wear good hiking boots (waterproof), or crampons, or bring walking sticks. Older folks may find this challenging so tread with care. And always be prepared for foul weather.

We had good weather, but that meant the snow wasn’t so good because it had become hardened and was melting under the heat. So our walk stretched from 20 minutes to 45 minutes; partly due to the unforgiving slush, partly due to the distractions.

A strip of turquoise blue waters peeking out from the side of the almost frozen Mikurigaike Pond; a Raichō 雷鳥 (rock ptarmigan) with flaming red coquettish eyelashes doing its birdwalk near the boardwalk. 

A Changed Perspective, A Whole New World 

In 2013, I ascended to Murodo from the Shinano-Omachi station side. We bought our tickets at the station and lugged our hard cases up (not a good idea, courier them to your next hotel). My first wow was the icy cold Kurobe Dam (it was May). My second was being hit face-on by a fierce snow storm at Murodo. The journey from Murodo down to Toyama didn’t feel as memorable because we already had our fill of the snow @ Murodo.

Read about my first alpine adventure here

This time, I ascended from the Toyama side with the Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket (9800¥, buy at the same place where you exchange for the JR Pass). This ticket covered all transport between Dentetsu Toyama Station to JR Nagano Station. The only problem was I had to reach Toyama early and time all the connections in between precisely in order to reach Murodo by 3pm and the Sanso before 4pm.

From Tokyo Station, it was a 2 hr 15 min journey on the bullet train to Toyama then it was a short walk from the JR Station to the Dentetsu Station. Take the Toyama line to Tateyama Station (1 hr 3 min). At Tateyama Station, transfer to the cable car to Bijodaira (20 min), then transfer to the Murodo bus (1 hr 10min). We left Tokyo Station at 0836 hrs only reaching Murodo after 1330 hrs.

Make sure you exchange your Ticket for the actual Pass at Tateyama Station.

The cable car ride was forgettable because we were packed like sardines and once we got into the tunnel, it felt like a black hole. The bus journey was the complete opposite. Lots of stunning views that were good for the eyes.

Anything Massive Is A Festival – Yuki-no-Otani Matsuri

The first thing that we did at Murodo Station was to grab a bite, stuffed our bags into a locker and then join the swelling crowd at the snow wall. The walk (open 0900-1500) was more than 1 km long with the walls rising to an impressive 15m.

Next to the wall on the snow plateau, smaller snow corridors had been carved out for walking. When you tire of gallivanting in the snow, make your way to the viewing platform on the 3rd floor.

The Early Bird Can Be More Relaxed

It pays to be early. The next morning, we left Mukurigaike at 0735, reaching Murodo with time to spare for the 0815 trolley bus to Daikanbo. There were about 10 people at the viewing platform (including us) at Daikanbo and no queue at the ropeway station. Kurobedaira was slightly more crowded but those were headed for Murodo. When we disembarked from the cable car at Kurobe Dam, we were stunned by the long queues waiting to board. Ok, it was a Saturday after all.

The Kurobe Dam still looked magnificent but view-wise, I thought Daikanbo was better. If walking the length of the Dam wasn’t enough, you can climb up to the 1508m high viewing tower for a panoramic view. Be warned that it’s not an easy climb.

I thought the Dam was our last major stop since we were only left with 2 more connections: the Electric Bus to Ogizawa and local bus to Nagano. But there was a change to the bus schedule so we had to kill time at Ogizawa. Finally, at 12pm we were on the Nagano-bound bus. Time to raid the city!

Mikurigaike Onsen: Japan, 〒930-1414 Toyama, Nakaniikawa District, Tateyama Town, Murododaira
Website: http://www.mikuri.com/english/spa.html

Cost per pax (6 to a room): 9300¥
Tateyama Pass: 9800¥

Visited 17-18 May 2019

Categories: Japan, Onsens, Slider

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