Wakayama: Natural open-air riverside bath opens for winter season

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors enjoy an open-air riverside bath at Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture.

TANABE, Wakayama — A huge open-air bath located at Kawayu Hot Spring has opened for the winter season in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture.

The Sennin Buro riverside bath consists of a pit that is filled with natural spring water when part of the Oto River is dammed. The Kumano Hongu Tourist Association and other local groups have operated the Sennin Buro bath annually since 1985. Usually open between December and March, the bath’s opening was slightly delayed because heavy rain caused a bridge to collapse.

One of the origins behind the name of the open-air bath comes from the legend that the hot spring was discovered by a prophecy of a mountain hermit — sennin in Japanese. The spring water is mixed with river water to lower the temperature to a comfortable 40 C.

An opening ceremony for this year’s season took place at 10 a.m. on Dec. 4. Sacred sake was poured into the pit to pray for safety. Tourists enjoying the first bath of the season would switch between the hot spring and the river to bathe in both hot and cold water.

“It’s hot at first, but once you get used to it, it’s just the right temperature,” said a third-grade elementary school student visiting with her family from Kameyama, Mie Prefecture, as she soaked up to her shoulders.

Her father said: “I didn’t expect the bath to be this big, and the sense of openness is amazing. It’s interesting that there are cold and hot places in the bath.” The bath opens from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Bathing suits are required.