On my last day, I finally find the courage to visit Hoheikyo. Sayaka is right – it’s a charming onsen: a barn-like, old-world building surrounded by manicured Zen gardens of fir and birch trees and perfectly arranged stones. The facility features a network of indoor and outdoor baths connected by creaking hallways, and it’s large enough to accommodate a whopping 200 bathers. “Elderly people come here, and when they leave, they are often feeling so great that they forget their walking sticks,” Junpei Baba, the energetic manager of the onsen exclaims as we walk past the facility’s restaurant.
Like Kasho Gyoen, what makes the springs here so special is that they’re not temperature controlled or filtered in any way, and rather than being stored in a tank, their waters flow straight from the source. The PH-neutral waters, rich in calcium and sodium chloride, have even eroded the rocks into incredible floral patterns and textures. I arrive right at opening time and, lucky for me, I have the place completely to myself.
Sinking into the huge, steamy outdoor onsen, I soak in the panoramic views of the undulating mountains and close my eyes. Before I know it, almost half an hour has passed – yet it seems like it’s been mere minutes – and other bathers start to arrive. Liquid-limbed, I climb out of the bath and head back inside. Delicate, soft snowflakes drift from the sky, landing on the heated rocks and gently melting into shimmering puddles. Perhaps I’ve immersed myself in hot water for too long and am lightheaded, or maybe time really does slow down in Jozankei.
Stay active on your trip – be it summer or winter – with these three activities
Located about an hour away from Jozankei, the town of Niseko boasts four interlinked resorts and is known for its consistent quality of powder, tree runs and open powder bowls. The particularly long ski season lasts from November to April.
From December through to March, travellers can try horse riding at Wild Mustang’s ranch, taking in the snowy scenery beneath Mount Hakkenzan. The ranch has beautiful Dosanko horses, a sturdy breed with thick coats that is indigenous to Hokkaido.
The Toyohira River is a popular water sport destination in the spring and summer. Gliding down its upper streams, you can see gushing hot springs on either side of the river, and the waterway hits a valley so deep that it can’t be accessed by road.
Singapore Airlines will operate seasonal flights to Sapporo from December 2019 to January 2020. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com
This article was originally published in the October 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine