Hijiori Onsen, Okura-mura, Mogami, Yamagata Prefecture
Approx. 50 mins drive from Shinjo city. Approx. 100 mins drive from Yamagata city.
1 hour by bus from Shinjo Station (新庄駅前) to Hijiori Waiting Area (肘折待合所). Buses run 5 times a day during weekdays and 4 times a day during weekends and national holidays. Please consult the Yamako Bus Company for details regarding the bus schedule.
Open all year round. Hijiori Akari Festival is usually held from the last week of July to the middle of September.
Experience the rich culture of Japan in the picturesque hot-spring town of Hijiori Onsen! Named for a monk in the middle ages whose broken elbow (hijiori 肘折) was said to be miraculously healed by bathing in the spa, Hijiori Onsen has been open for over 1200 years
to travellers looking to rest their weary bones. For many years, the sleepy mountain village has been a popular destination for visitors engaging in Touji (湯治), the practice of moving to a hot spring retreat for an extended period of time in order to have body and soul restored by the healing waters.
In the early years of Hijiori Onsen, the visitors were largely local farmers who travelled on foot through the mountains to while away the winter months until spring came and melted the snows, but the town eventually became widely known beyond the Mogami region for the therapeutic properties of its baths. Nowadays, visitors tend to stay for a weekend, sometimes only going to Hijiori Onsen for a day trip-and more often than not they travel by car. However, the narrow, shambolic Meiji-era streets speak to the needs of the spa town's early visitors. Many of the ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and other buildings have been standing for hundreds of years on top of a hot spring source that has been maintained for over 1,000. This village, nestled between the trees and mountains, is steeped in rich history and culture.
Hijiori Onsen is host to a range of hot-spring baths maintained by a guild made up of the landlords and landladies of the local family-owned ryokan. There are foot-spas (ashiyu 足湯) lining the streets of the town, which are the first port of call for guests who have walked through the mountains to get there.
Each ryokan bath in the town has its own particular colour, scent and healing properties, but there are other unique features in the town worth exploring: in the ryokan "Matsuya", there is an onsen bath dug at the bottom of a cave (anayuあなゆ); by the Hijiori Dam there is a bench around a concrete dome warmed by the hot spring source it sits atop, where travellers can heal their lower backs (koshiyu 腰湯); and on the other side of the river, there is an onsen which is said to have beneficial effects on the digestive system when drunk (insen飲泉). The waters of Hijiori are as varied and fascinating as they are plentiful. So if you are au fait with onsen or looking for somewhere to experience onsen for the first time, there are few towns better than Hijiori Onsen.
Speaking of food and drink, Hijiori Onsen boasts a great variety of treats for visitors to enjoy, including sparkling cider made from the potable hot spring water mentioned earlier (Hijiori Caldera Cider 肘折カルデラサイダー). The local fare heavily relies on vegetables grown in the local mountains (mushrooms, bracken, etc.) that are picked by hand by the townspeople, sold at the daily early-morning markets (asaichi朝市), and often served with the town's highly nutritious soba noodles. For those with a sweet-tooth, we recommend sampling the delights of Hijiori Dango, sweet dumplings made from rice flour and covered in either sesame seed paste, edamame bean paste, or a soy sauce jelly.
Besides delicious things to eat, Hijiori Onsen is packed with interesting things to do. The town is home to its own unique style of kokeshi wooden dolls that you can either buy as gifts or try your hand at decorating yourself under the guidance of master craftsmen. The town is also surrounded by incredible scenery for nature-lovers and photographers to enjoy- including the Komatsu-buchi Abyss, a split rock formation said to have been created during the epic battle between a warrior and a giant snake that was plaguing the nearby village. The highlight of the town's social calendar is the Hijiori no hi Lantern Festival in the middle of summer. Guests in the town painstakingly craft beautiful and artistic paper lanterns by hand to be lit throughout the streets of the town. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the cultural atmosphere as guests of the local ryokan stroll around the town in their yukata robes and wooden sandals, guided by lanterns the local people have made.
With so much to see and do, Hijiori Onsen is an ideal location for people to get back in touch with nature, recharge their batteries and get an authentic Japanese experience. Whether you stay for the whole winter, for a weekend, or just for a day, Hijiori Onsen is a must-see for all those who want a glimpse of the real Japan.