The region of Tohoku is known for its harsh winters, rich traditions, abundant natural scenery, and hot springs. For hot spring lovers, a visit to northern Miyagi's Naruko is a must. The city is known as an onsen machi or hot spring town. It has a huge variety of hot springs and it seems each one is famous for its own reason-- whether that be its history, founder, extreme temperature, smell, or chemical composition. While most onsen involve stripping down and rinsing yourself before going in for a full body soak, I have also come across the ashi no yu foot bath. This is usually just a pool where several people gather and soak their feet and lower legs. Often the feet are not rinsed off before put into the pool. You can see two of these pools at JR Naruko-Onsen Station and use them free of charge. Just one block away from the station however was a first for me and my Japanese traveling companion: a hot spring for your hands.
Now a hot spring hand bath may not sound very impressive. And in reality it isn't. Whether hot mineral water fills a tub at foot level or hand level is something that can be easily changed. But it is the uniqueness and perfect location that makes this a memorable stop.
There, in an open area at the main intersection of the town, is a brown building. In front of the entrance a sign tells you this is Yumeguri Kairo Hand Bath in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English. Free admission, curiosity, and a little time to kill met I strolled right in. Chairs line the corridor, facing the wall of windows overlooking the open area and street view. Two school girls were chatting at one end, while a taxi driver appeared to be resting during a break nearby. Behind the seats were some glass case cabinets filled with books and Japanese comics. Anyone can read these as they rest at the facility. Turn the corner and there is the main attraction: four elderly grandmothers.
Oh wait, it is behind the gossiping aged beauties for what you seek. A raised pool being filled by a gift of hot water from the Earth welcomes you with a hint of its sulfur musk. Pull up a stool and dip your hands in to let the heat melt away your stress. The half of the table where water enters into the hand bath is noticeably hotter, so do move to the other end if you can't handle the heat.While soaking and laughing with the locals I let my eyes wander towards the ceiling, admiring the wooden handiwork. Then, to my surprise, I see a kamidana or small shrine used to enshrine a local deity. Be sure to thank this spirit of the hand bath for that silky smooth skin feeling you'll experience.
The Yumeguri Kairo Hand Bath is easy to find and a relaxing stop for a few minutes or even half an hour. You can meet and chat with locals, catch up on some reading, or just relax sitting and soaking in a rare hand bath. The bath is open daily during daylight hours.