While wonderful hot springs can be found all around Japan, the northeastern region of Japan known as Tohoku has almost become synonymous with the word. Onsen, as hot springs are called in Japanese, are destinations for relaxation, but not all hot springs are equal. What makes a great onsen is very much a personal opinion. Do you look for an outdoor bath with a view? A place with a cheap admission fee? Somewhere historical or popular? Or somewhere secluded and quiet? You can experience over 400 hot springs in the town of Naruko in northern Miyagi Prefecture. However, locals and tourists agree that if you had to choose just one hot spring in the onsen town, make it Taki no Yu (滝の湯).
Just a ten minute walk from JR Naruko-Onsen Station takes you to an onsen with over a thousand years of history. It is fun to consider you are resting in the same hot spring samurai, politicians, and humble farmers of old used. As Naruko gets some heavy snowfall in winter, like other hot springs in the vicinity, Taki no Yu is inside. From the street, the wooden structure looks like a regular house or storefront almost, minus the windows. Do step around back to admire the curvature of the roof and the interesting layout of pipe work feeding into the building. Inside you'll take off your shoes and pay 150 yen admission (children 100 yen). The locker room is narrow, and everything is simple. Even where you wash yourself before bathing has no soap or mirrors, though this is reflected in the price. Also, being small there will sometimes be a line. I imagine the owners don't want people grooming themselves too much while others are waiting.
Inside the bath is a famous image you can see on postcards and in tourist pamphlets: a central pool being filled with nearly scalding water cascading down from a wooden shoot. The separated men and women bathing areas are more or less the same. The ceiling, walls, and floors of the onsen are made of wood, creating a pleasurable aroma released by the rising steam. If the main bath is too hot, behind a wall is a rectangular pool with a medium temperature resembling a warm bath. The water is slightly acidic, producing a white, milky color and said to aid healing for various ailments. Given the smaller size of the bath, it is a good chance to socialize, though that is entirely optional. Perhaps not the best place for a long soak, I instead recommend to stop by Taki no Yu for the history, fame, and a quick dip. You are sure to enjoy it.