Aoni Onsen in Aomori, Autumn Wonderland

Aoni Onsen in Aomori

Aoni Onsen located in Aomori made me a devoted Onsen convert. Despite hailing from a country with its own unique and famous bathing culture – Turkish hamam – I am one of those people who finds the flowing water more calming than still water. So my average sitting time in any Onsen is around 2-3 minutes maximum to the great surprise of my Japanese friends.  I absolutely love the traditional atmosphere of Japanese Onsen and will always make sure to visit one or two during any trip. But the water temperature is usually a little too high for me and I start feeling restless pretty quickly.

If it was not for the promise of surrounding fall colors and an Onsen only lit with oil lamps at night, I am not sure if I would find my way to the wonderful Aoni Onsen in Aomori, which really made me change my entire attitude towards Onsen culture in Japan.

My entire stay in Aoni Onsen felt like a scene from one of the novels of Tanazaki taking me visually and mentally back to Edo days of Japan.

Women in onsen in Japan

Where is Aoni Onsen?

Aoni Onsen was my second major stop during my fall foliage trip to Tohoku.  I came across the facility on the official tourism website of Tohoku and I was very surprised when I found a single room on my dates.  The popularity of Tohoku for fall foliage coupled with the then ongoing Go To Travel campaign made it almost impossible to find a room for a single person in the onsen towns such as Nyuko Onsen.  I reserved my room using the Japanese site of Rakuten Travel and paid 8,000 Japanese Yen (after the 35% discount with Go To Travel campaign) for one night stay in a single room tincluding dinner and breakfast and free shuttle between the facility and the nearest bus stop.  

Aoni Onsen in Aomori

Aoni Onsen is close to the onsen town of Kuroishi but enjoys its own secluded location deep in the forests of Aomori. I now realize that the experience can be very different when one stays in an Onsen detached from an Onsen town where there are multiple facilities. I really enjoyed the secluded location of Aoni Onsen where the limited number of buildings and the absence of supporting facilities (grocery store, gas station etc.) allowed a visually uninterrupted connection with the surrounding nature.

Transportation from Aomori City

I spent the night in Aomori city from where I took an early JR train to Hirosaki. In Hirosaki, I changed to local line for Kuroishi.  Since the check-in was not until 3pm, my plan for the day was to fit in a visit to the autumn wonderland of Nakano Maple Mountain (Nakano Momiji-yama – 中野紅葉山) and then catch the free shuttle to Aoni Onsen from the nearby Roadside Station Nijinoko. 

If you plan to follow the same route, you can take bus from Nakano to Nijinoko but I instead walked the distance in about less than an hour.  There was surprisingly a sidewalk covering the whole section (including the 10mn long tunnel section). There are some eateries at Nijinoko along with other rest facilities.

Aoni Onsen in Aomori

The ride from Nijinoko takes around 15-20 minutes on a narrow and winding road.  There is no electricity (recently equipped with the necessary infrastructure but only for the use of the staff) in the facility, nor wifi or a phone connection.  As a result, it is not a place to go for remote working but to fully unplug. I had no complaints.  There are four different baths, some of which are open to mixed use (with lady only hours also reserved) whereas some are gender segregated. 

All of the four baths are special in their own way and I highly recommend that you make time to visit all four – not a difficult task since the area is not too big and they are open all 24 hours. My favorite was Kenkroku-no-Yu with its giant windows overlooking the river and the mesmerizing fall colors.  While the main tub is indoors, it also had a small outdoor tub.

Dining experience in Aoni Onsen

Dinner at Aoni Onsen bringing together all guests in a dimly lit dining room is another unique experience. The dinner starts at 6.30pm and all the overnight visitors (you can also visit the onsen as a day tripper but I highly recommend that you spend the night), hungry after long onsen sessions, start touring in front of the dining hall in their yukatas starting at around 6pm. 

There is a small shop located right across the dining hall where they also serve coffee and tea. While the term “dining hall” may not sound very attractive at first, it is not a very big space and the room is, like the rest of the facilities, lit only with oil lamps offering a as movie like atmosphere as the rest of the compound.   The breakfast is also served at the same dining hall starting at 7.30am. The nearby shop opens at 7am to fulfill your urgent caffeine needs.

If you are looking to experience a novel like onsen experience in the forests of already secluded Tohoku, pack your books (a small clip-on reading lamp would not hurt), change of clothes and head to Aoni Onsen on an empty stomach. It was one of the best experiences I had in Japan.