When Brian and I were in Tokyo, we snuck away with our business partner, Bill, and his partner Masami, to an onsen.

An onsen is a Japanese inn and hot spring. The volcanic archipelago of islands that make up Japan are covered in naturally occurring hot springs and onsens are popular among the Japanese. They vary from simple to luxurious in accommodation.

We visited Sekiyou, an hour outside of Tokyo by way of bullet train and short taxi ride that winds up a lush mountain while monkeys watch from the roadside. A grandmotherly hostess showed us to our sparse and spacious eight tatami mat room complete with it’s own wooden soaking tub, then handed us kimonos and waited while we changed.


Bill and Masami gave us the low down on how the baths worked. There were two separate baths, one for men and one for women.


Guests always scrub up before immersing in the steamy water. Washing stations line the wall with short wooden stools and detachable sprayers.

I was thankful no one was using the bath when I, the uninitiated, entered and clumsily sprayed myself down at the washing station, not sure just how much scrubbing was expected. The hot springs bath was outdoors, surrounded by dense shrubbery but with a view of misty mountains in the background.

Soaking was lovely.

We met up with Bill and Masami in their room later for dinner, which was delivered one course at a time by a hostess in traditional formal wear. 

The menu.

First course is served to Masami and Bill.




Broth with clams and sugar snap peas


Beef with farro and fiddlehead ferns and mountain vegetable

Jellyfish and mushrooms


Ending with citron gelatin and a mochi covered in roasted soybean dust.

The food was amazing. I was blown away by the detail and time and care required to prepare every single dish. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the best of notes. I’ll blame it on the unusual setting, or maybe it was the sake or shochu (a spirit distilled from rice), or beer.

Later when we returned to our room, futons were unrolled on the floor and beds made up.

Just as we started to settle in, our hostess let herself in, offering to help us get ready for bed.  We bowed in thanks and shooed her toward the door.

We considered sliding the futons together to make one bigger bed, to sleep together like we usually did. But we thought better of it. Not at the onsen.

Check back next week for details about breakfast.

Head over to Wanderfood Wednesday for more travel and food stories!

For more posts like this, check out these:

Cooking school in Japan: main courses

Tokyo: a chef’s tour

Urban Tokyo goes rural