Lamp no yado – the oil lamp inn of Aoni onsen♨

Hidden in a secluded valley in the middle of Aomori prefecture, Aoni onsen (青荷温泉) is set along the mountain stream of Aoni, in the the southern Hakkōda mountain range. Although it is known throughout Japan for the many oil lamps which are lit as soon as it gets dark, only few manage to venture into the densely tree-covered mountains to find the “ranpu no yado” (ランプの宿 lamp inn) a very traditional ryokan which is know as “the lamp inn” because for a long time, they operated without electrical power and burned oil lamps for lighting.
Niji-no-ko (虹の湖 rainbow lake) where we left our car, is the closest you’ll get to the the inn during the winter months, as for the last kilometers you’ll have to take the shuttle bus provided by the inn keepers. After reluctantly changing the vehicle and leaving the cozy car behind, the skilled driver took us up and down on a winding road through a seemingly never-ending winter wonderland with tall growing hiba (檜葉 hinoki cypress). As we sat there, admiring the beauty around us but wondering if we were going to die, it became clear why the narrow road was closed to private vehicles. Almost half an hour later we had safely made it to the lamp lodge where a few over night guests were waiting for the shuttle to accompany them back.

Romantic getaway in the mountains of Aomori

Although I usually prefer outdoor baths as the air can get very steamy and thick in indoor baths, the main reason of our visit was the kenroku-no-yu a large wooden bathhouse made of hiba (which is known to have anti-bacterial and anti-mold properties) with impressive floor to ceiling windows. While my boyfriend was sharing the bath with some other visitors, I was lucky enough to hear their occasional chattering and laughter while enjoying my privacy on the other side of the wooden wall that separates the male from the female bath. The water was so hot that the room steamed up entirely what made it almost impossible to see the scenery outside the windows. I didn’t mind though as the steam also provided some kind of visual cover. Part of me was nervous of someone to come in and see me standing there naked, taking pictures of the bathhouse but some other part of me was totally relaxed as I’m used to Japanese bathing culture.
After the photo-journalistic activity I had a great time all by myself which left me deeply content and.. oh well, you must experience it first hand to get an idea of what I’m talking about. If you’ve had enough of the steam you can exit the wooden kenroku-no-yu hall through a sliding door on the right, to enjoy the sound of the river and magical forest all around while sitting in the open, in an earthen barrel filled with hot water.

Enjoy a relaxing bath in an earthen barrel! Ladies only ;)

Founded in 1929 the Lamp no yado Aoni onsen can accommodate up to a hundred guests and has different communal as well as private rotenburo (露天風呂 open air bath) and uchiyu (内湯 indoor bath). When we visited in late December there weren’t many guests though and the few that had stayed over night were probably enjoying their private baths in the picturesque lodges. Settled in between snowbound cottages and trees, the rotenburo which is partially covered and protected by a roof and straw mats, is completely made out of stone and a good choice if you want to cool down a little. The water of the outdoor bath is definitely not hot enough for my taste but I guess that in spring it’s just perfect. It takes a little courage to walk through the snow from the kenroku-no-yu (an indoor bath) to the rotenburo (outdoor bath) and I honestly can’t remember how we did. The outdoor bath didn’t have a changing room I think, so that would mean that we went there wrapped in our towels.. Anyway, the good thing about being all to yourself, is that nobody can see you creeping around in towels in the middle of snow. I wonder if we maybe had a yukata? Not that it would have changed a lot, and frankly I don’t think they provide bathing guests with yukata, but only their over night guests.

Rotenburo 露天風呂 of the Lamp no yado

Meals are served in the communal main hall where guests can enjoy traditional Japanese countryside style cuisine which is mostly vegetarian with different mushrooms, roots and greens and very tasty. A few other guests were scattered around the large tatami room with beautifully painted fusuma (襖 sliding doors ) and a nice obāsan (おばあさん grandma) offered us tea. The set we ordered was satisfying and the atmosphere with the few other guests quite nice. We ate up every single grain of rice and had one or two more servings of tea which made us feel all fuzzy.

Ohiroma (お広間 spacious hall) is where the guests gather for lunch, dinner and breakfast

Visiting this remote onsen may take some effort, especially if you don’t have a car but if you happen to be in Aomori prefecture and have some time I would totally recommend it. It’s magical during winter but as a matter of fact all seasons are breathtaking in Japan and while the river is surrounded by flowers and hydrangea bushes during spring and summer, the autumn scenery alongside the riverbed is probably what I’d want to see next here. Here’s a link to the English website of the Lamp no yado – Aoni onsen where you can find information about the different lodging possibilities and on how to get there: Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen

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