To my pleasant surprise, one of my very good friends from university got a job in Tokyo and moved here in the beginning of fall last year. She moved to an area in Western Tokyo called Kichijoji, a quaint neighborhood famous for its big, beautiful park as well as its abundance of places to shop and eat.
On a gorgeous Friday in autumn, my friend invited me to try an onsen (hot spring) called Utsukushi No Yu, or Beautiful Springs. After meeting up with my friend at Takaido station and getting lost for a little while, we found the place we were looking for. Utsukushi No Yu is located inside a swimming club and seemed to be overrun by sprightly old ladies. After placing your shoes in a special locker at the entrance and buying a ticket for bathing at a vending machine, you are given a key card for another locker inside the onsen area, where you get changed and safely store your things. The locker room for the onsen and the swimming pool are the same, so it is a pretty busy place. I have to admit that I felt a little overwhelmed when I first stepped inside, thus it had not been the most tranquil of onsen experiences.
The entrance to the bath is a simple sliding door. Upon opening it, a steam cloud puffs into your face and the sound of bathers chatting happily entices you to come in. There are six or seven different types of baths to choose from, and after washing off with the provided shampoo and soap, you are ready to hop in to any one of them. My friend and I tried the indoor bath first. It was a comfortable temperature and a very spacious tub. The water throughout the baths had a slightly brown hue to it, and the extremely high sodium content makes this one of the saltiest onsens I have ever been to. With low alkaline levels, this onsen is particularly good for physical ailments of the body such as muscle pain or joint stiffness, which might explain why my friend and I were the only ones under 50 years old.
Soaking in the hot outdoor bath under a crisp and azure autumn sky, while red and yellow leaves float gracefully down from the trees above, was such a relaxing feeling. Utsukushi No Yu is typically the kind of onsen I try to avoid when I am alone. I tend to go to older and stinker springs because of the "local" ambiance that comes with them, but every now and then it is good to get away from what you are used to.
This onsen was gorgeous and provided a wonderful atmosphere to catch up while soaking the aches and pains of life away. For 900 yen (weekdays), you get a wide variety of baths to try, shampoo, soap, and a pretty decent powder room. I wouldn't mind coming here again, provided that someone comes with me! The friends who bathe together stay together!