Japan 2014: Naruko Onsen (Part 1)

On Tuesday 27th May my Tohoku adventure continued. Just before midday I left Yamagata Station on the Tsubasa shinkansen and travelled north to Shinjo. At Shinjo I changed to the JR Rikku East Line, a local line with small trains full of character. My destination? Naruko Onsen (鳴子温泉).

Yamagata to Naruko Onsen

Yamagata to Naruko Onsen

The journey to Naruko was simply gorgeous. The Tohoku section of my trip was going to involve a lot of train journeys, and I was worried I was going to get bored, but I didn’t even reach for my book. My face was pressed against the window the whole time, just soaking up the beautiful, untouched landscape before me.

JR Rikku East Line train at Shinjo Station

JR Rikku East Line train at Shinjo Station

Travelling from Yamagata to Shinjo


Travelling from Yamagata to Shinjo

Just beautiful…

Travelling from Shinjo to Naruko Onsen

Even more beautiful…

Naruko Onsen has been on my list for a long time now. It’s the home of kokeshi (こけし) dolls, which I collect, and therefore I simply had to find my way there someday! I was due to be spending two nights in Naruko Onsen as I wanted to have one full day there. I had arranged to meet a guide for that full day, so on my day of arrival I decided to just have a little potter around. On arrival at Naruko Onsen Station I was delighted to see the two things Naruko is famous for straight away: kokeshi and onsen!

Naruko Onsen

なる子ちゃん (Naruko-chan)

Naruko Onsen - Kokeshi in the street

Kokeshi line the street heading away from Nauko Onsen station

ぽっぽの足湯 (Poppo-no-ashiyu) - the station's foot bath!

ぽっぽの足湯 (Poppo-no-ashiyu) – the station’s foot bath!

My ryokan (Japanese inn) was just around the corner from the station. I found the Taishokan (大正館) ryokan online, and was only able to book it with a little help from my Japanese colleague. The ryokan don’t usually take bookings from people who don’t speak Japanese, so I was really lucky to be able to stay there.

Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

Taishokan (大正館)

The Taishokan was wonderful! The staff (who didn’t speak any English) were simply lovely, and although the ryokan was not exactly fancy the amount of care that was taken over everything was touching. The best thing about the ryokan (apart from the lovely owners) was the massive collection of kokeshi dolls.

Kokeshi at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

Kokeshi collection

Kokeshi at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

Who’re you lookin’ at?

Kokeshi at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

You lookin’ at me?

Kokeshi at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

No-Face in the crowd

Kokeshi at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

Kokeshi clan

Kokeshi at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

Cool kokeshi

My room was a typical ryokan room, and only the third of my trip so far. I was welcomed by some beautiful fresh green tea and a Japanese sweet.

My room at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

My room at the Taishokan

Tea at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

Fresh green tea

Sweets at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

A delicious sweet

The sweet paper had the following writing on it:


“kokeshi no kokoro wa miru hito no kokoro o utsusu kokoro desu”

This translates as “the kokeshi’s heart reflects the heart of the beholder”. I was so taken by this little phrase, and it’s so true. I adore kokeshi, and I just love staring into their faces and seeing what they have to say and what they make me think.

Kokeshi at the Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

Looking into the kokeshi’s heart

I had a very relaxed afternoon just wandering around the town. Naruko Onsen is a very quiet, sleepy place (well, it was in May, it might be busier in the autumn when the leaves change colour!). There wasn’t much to do in the immediate town, and not even a conbini (convenience store) in sight! But it was nice just to take it easy.

Kokeshi, Naruko Onsen

Naruko Onsen – a little sleepy

I found a hand bath, so I stopped there for a little while. What an odd concept!

Yumeguri Kairo Hand Bath, Naruko Onsen

Yumeguri Kairo Hand Bath

Yumeguri Kairo Hand Bath, Naruko Onsen

A hot spring for your hands!

Yumeguri Kairo Hand Bath, Naruko Onsen

Mmm… nice.

The water was lovely and warm, and made my skin feel very smooth. I felt a little bit strange sitting there on my own, but had I been with friends it would have been a lovely place to just sit and chat whilst soaking my hands.

The best thing I found in town was this fabulous kokeshi post box:

Kokeshi Post Box, Naruko Onsen

Oh wow! Kokeshi post box!

Isn’t it cool?

I didn’t wander too far as I knew I would be exploring properly the following day with my guide. So, I headed back to the ryokan, ate a beautiful dinner made from local ingredients, had a little bath in the shared hot spring, and settled down for the night.

Taishokan, Naruko Onsen

おやすみなさい! Goodnight!

My next post in this series will be about my day with the guide, and my up close and personal experience with kokeshi dolls! またね!

6 thoughts on “Japan 2014: Naruko Onsen (Part 1)

  1. That does look like a lovely ryokan you stayed in. I love the simplicity of places like that 🙂 I adore the kokeshi post box! I think people would write more letters if all post boxes were as sweet 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s