On Tuesday 27th May my Tohoku adventure continued. Just before midday I left Yamagata Station on the Tsubasa shinkansen and travelled north to Shinjo. At Shinjo I changed to the JR Rikku East Line, a local line with small trains full of character. My destination? Naruko Onsen (鳴子温泉).
The journey to Naruko was simply gorgeous. The Tohoku section of my trip was going to involve a lot of train journeys, and I was worried I was going to get bored, but I didn’t even reach for my book. My face was pressed against the window the whole time, just soaking up the beautiful, untouched landscape before me.
Naruko Onsen has been on my list for a long time now. It’s the home of kokeshi (こけし) dolls, which I collect, and therefore I simply had to find my way there someday! I was due to be spending two nights in Naruko Onsen as I wanted to have one full day there. I had arranged to meet a guide for that full day, so on my day of arrival I decided to just have a little potter around. On arrival at Naruko Onsen Station I was delighted to see the two things Naruko is famous for straight away: kokeshi and onsen!
My ryokan (Japanese inn) was just around the corner from the station. I found the Taishokan (大正館) ryokan online, and was only able to book it with a little help from my Japanese colleague. The ryokan don’t usually take bookings from people who don’t speak Japanese, so I was really lucky to be able to stay there.
The Taishokan was wonderful! The staff (who didn’t speak any English) were simply lovely, and although the ryokan was not exactly fancy the amount of care that was taken over everything was touching. The best thing about the ryokan (apart from the lovely owners) was the massive collection of kokeshi dolls.
My room was a typical ryokan room, and only the third of my trip so far. I was welcomed by some beautiful fresh green tea and a Japanese sweet.
The sweet paper had the following writing on it:
“kokeshi no kokoro wa miru hito no kokoro o utsusu kokoro desu”
This translates as “the kokeshi’s heart reflects the heart of the beholder”. I was so taken by this little phrase, and it’s so true. I adore kokeshi, and I just love staring into their faces and seeing what they have to say and what they make me think.
I had a very relaxed afternoon just wandering around the town. Naruko Onsen is a very quiet, sleepy place (well, it was in May, it might be busier in the autumn when the leaves change colour!). There wasn’t much to do in the immediate town, and not even a conbini (convenience store) in sight! But it was nice just to take it easy.
I found a hand bath, so I stopped there for a little while. What an odd concept!
The water was lovely and warm, and made my skin feel very smooth. I felt a little bit strange sitting there on my own, but had I been with friends it would have been a lovely place to just sit and chat whilst soaking my hands.
The best thing I found in town was this fabulous kokeshi post box:
Isn’t it cool?
I didn’t wander too far as I knew I would be exploring properly the following day with my guide. So, I headed back to the ryokan, ate a beautiful dinner made from local ingredients, had a little bath in the shared hot spring, and settled down for the night.
My next post in this series will be about my day with the guide, and my up close and personal experience with kokeshi dolls! またね！