Chugu Onsen is a natural hot spring with no need for additional water or additional heat, which is unusual in Japan. Of course, there’s no filtering and no added chlorine. Chugu first opened in 1869. There used to be many more hot spring resorts around here, but now there are only two. A lot of natural hot water now flows straight into the river. This seems like quite a waste to me.

Chugu is hidden away up in the mountains, so it takes about a hour to drive there from Kanazawa. Follow Route 157 along the Tedori River. On the way there’s Shirayama Hime Shrine and Ichirino Hot Springs Ski Resort. Unlike the River Sai and the Asano River, which gently flow through the city, the Tedori River is wild and natural. The Tedori River Valley is a must-see natural wonder.

After passing the town of Tsurugi and going about 15 minutes more, you’ll see a shop called Negoro come up on the right. You should seriously consider stopping for some delicious “kusamochi” (a chewy rice cake treat). I always stop. You never know, I tell myself, we might need an emergency food source if we run into problems up in the secluded mountains…. Just past Negoro, there’s a restaurant called Tedorigawa (Tedori River) on your left. This is our last chance for food, so I always stop for tempura soba. It comes with two big fat shrimp, piping hot country-style soba, and even a little soba chaff. It’s 860 yen and very tasty.

The journey from here on follows a winding mountain road, and we see small villages with few people. Some have no obvious signs of life, and they make me think that this must be what Japan looked like long ago. Today we also saw several wild monkey troops.

The hot spring water at Chugu is naturally cloudy. I’ve been coming here for nearly 10 years now, and it seems to me that I see fewer customers coming for the health benefits. The last few years I haven’t seen that many other guests during my soak in the tub. At times I’ve had the whole communal bathtub to myself. I have mixed emotions – appreciative but apprehensive.

Chugu Onsen Ryokan Nishiyama, member of the Association to Protect Japan’s Secluded Hot Springs
* Closed from late November to late April
Chugu Onsen, Hakusan City, Ishikawa Prefecture, 920-2324
About 50 km from the center of Kanazawa
Tel: 076-256-7219 (main number)
Fax: 076-256-7643
Toll free: 0120-86-721
For for non-overnight guests, the baths are open every day from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm
Bath fee: adults 550 yen