Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Sukawa Kōgen: Ichinoseki’s Best Spot for Onsen and Hiking

Sukawa Kōgen (須川高原) in Ichinoseki is the plateau halfway up Mt. Kurikoma (栗駒山). You can find the unique volcanic landscape at Sukawa Kōgen, including lakes, marshes, wetlands, and alpine plants. The hot spring gushing out here has a strong acidity but is said to be effective for gastrointestinal issues and skin diseases. In autumn, the vivid color that spreads across the mountain is another thing that attracts visitors to Sukawa Kōgen.

The onsen was discovered in the second half of the 9th century. Although there are only a few hot spring ryokans, it has been a popular hot spring medical treatment destination since at least 873 in the Tōhoku Region. Although it might not be effective in treating diseases if you only spend a night here, the onsen certainly can help you rejuvenate from a day of exploration.

Ⓒ 岩手県観光協会

A unique thing at Sukawa Kōgen is a gigantic rock called Dainichi-iwa (大日岩) at the back of Sukawa Kōgen Onsen ryokan. The rock that is a small hill was created by the lava flow ages ago. From some of the rooms in the ryokan and the female open-air onsen pool, Dainichi-iwa is in your face! At night, the rock is also illuminated.

There is a small Onsen Jinja Shrine (温泉神社) at the foot of the rock. It is the guardian shrine of Sukawa Onsen. The shrine also marks the starting point of Sukawa Kōgen’s mountain trails.

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How to Get to Sukawa Kōgen by Public Transportation

  • From JR Ichinoseki Station (一ノ関駅), take Iwateken Kōtsū’s Sugawa Onsen Line (須川温泉線) and get off at Sukawa Onsen (須川温泉).
    • Refer to HERE and scroll down to “須川温泉線” for the timetable in Japanese. “平日” means weekdays, and “土日祝日” means weekends and public holidays.
    • You can also use one of Japan’s Transport Apps to plan your visit.

Important: The Sukawa Onsen Line usually only operates from the end of May to early November.

Sukawa Kōgen Onsen (須川高原温泉)

Because Sukawa Kōgen’s hot spring contains sulfur, it has a pH value of 2.2. The temperature is usually between 47 and 49 degrees. Although the spring source is in high mountains, 6,000 liters of onsen gushes out per minute!

Sukawa Kōgen Onsen is the representative hot spring facility in Sukawa Kōgen and has been a ryokan for medical spa treatments since it was opened. Even nowadays, a part of it is still dedicated to long-term guests, where almost everything is self-served. While the buildings show signs of aging, the staff do a great job keeping everything clean and tidy.

Ⓒ 岩手県観光協会

Sukawa Kōgen Onsen’s Famous Oiran Bath (おいらん風呂)

If you plan to enjoy the hot springs at Sukawa Kōgen Onsen, try their Oiran Bath. It is similar to a sauna. Around 100 meters up from the back of the inn, there is a small wooden hut. To get the maximum benefits of the Oiran Bath, lay a Goza mat on the ground, lie down, and cover yourself with a towel. This way, your whole body is in the steam from the hot spring source!

The space in the hut is divided and separated by curtains to create a space for each individual. Artificial grass is laid in each area, so lying on it is more comfortable. Be careful not to sit on the round steam hole on the ground. The brick is placed for you to lift your body so that the steam has somewhere to go and can fill the space under the towel covering your body.

Most people choose to put the brick underneath their hip.

Sukawa Kōgen Onsen’s Outdoor and Indoor Onsen Pools

Ⓒ 一関市観光協会

Sukawa Kōgen Onsen doesn’t have any private hot spring tubs. Instead, its outdoor onsen pools are so spacious that they can fit more than 50 people!

  • Oiran Bath can be utilized during the daytime before sunset.
  • The outdoor public bath is open from 6 am to 9 pm.
  • The indoor public bath is open from 9 am to 8 am.

You can enjoy Sukawa Kōgen Onsen’s hot spring facilities as a day visitor.

  • The cost is 700 yen for adults and 350 yen for children.
    • Note admission to indoor and outdoor pools are charged separately.

Things to Note Before Booking Your Stay With Sukawa Kōgen Onsen

While there are no air conditioners in the guestrooms, the breeze from the window in summer is the best cooler. The good news to those who don’t find the futon bed comfortable is that there are guestrooms with Western beds. This allows you to stay in a Japanese-style room whilst having a good night’s sleep (^_-)-☆.

Tips:
☛ Let the ryokan know if you have special dietary requirements. They will try their best to accommodate.
☛ If you are a ryokan guest, you should be able to utilize the hot spring facility at Kurikoma Sansō (須川温泉 栗駒山荘) for free! Remember to get a ticket from the staff.
☛ As the outdoor hot spring pool doesn’t have a shower facility, use those attached to the indoor pool or the ones at Kurikoma Sansō.

Important:
☛ Sukawa Kōgen Onsen is closed from early November to early May.
☛ Some guest rooms don’t have a window. If this is essential to you, reserve a room with one.
☛ The ryokan isn’t for you if you are after something fancy. It is a place for someone who wants some calmness and quietness and enjoys Japan’s rural area.

Kurikoma Sansō (須川温泉 栗駒山荘)

© 一般社団法人東北観光推進機構

Kurikoma Sansō is another ryokan in Sukawa Kōgen. Although it was named Sansō, the facility quality is similar to that of a proper hotel.

The shop in the lobby has a wide variety of items, including snacks and local specialties in the Tōhoku Region. In the morning, there might be a small fresh produce corner at the shop, too. Compared to Sukawa Kōgen Onsen, it offers a better view from its open-air onsen tubs. Note that the hot spring source is closer to Sukawa Kōgen Onsen, so the hot spring there is fresher.

The meals at Kurikoma Sansō are more delicious, and you can enjoy the incredible scenery from the restaurant’s large window while eating! As the breakfast and dinner menus differ every day, even if you spend a couple of nights here, you won’t be bored of the food!

  • Lunch is also available at Kurikoma Sansō’s restaurant from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm.
  • On weekends, it offers lunch until 3 pm.
  • The last order is taken 30 minutes before closing time. Note non-vegetarian broth/sauce is used for the light meal dishes.

Tips:
☛ Kurikoma Sansō holds trekking tours from time to time. Check with the staff if any events are on during your stay.
☛ Reserve early, as Kurikoma Sansō is popular.
☛ If you plan to stay at the ryokan, let them know if you have dietary requirement. They might be able to cater.
☛ If you are a ryokan guest, you should be able to utilize the hot spring facility at Sukawa Kōgen Onsen for free! Remember to get a ticket from the staff.

Sennin no Yu (仙人の湯)

© 一般社団法人東北観光推進機構

The hot spring facility at Kurikoma Sansō is called Sennin no Yu. Opening the door next to the indoor onsen tub, you will find a rectangular open-air bath built along the building’s external wall. Located on high ground, the natural scenery from Senin no Yu is spectacular. Like Sukawa Kōgen Onsen, a pure hot spring without recirculation, disinfection, heating, and dilution is used here.

Sennin no Yu is also open to day visitors. The cost is 750 yen for adults and 400 yen for elementary school students.

The facility is open except for the below time slots.

  • 9 am to 10 am for cleaning.
  • 12 am to 4 am to refresh the hot spring in the tub.

Tip: Coin-operated lockers are available.

Important:
☛ Kurikoma Sansō is closed from early November to late April.
☛ Because it uses private power generators, there are no air conditioners or refrigerators in Kurikoma Sansō’s guestrooms. The large windows can’t be opened, so the fresh, cool air won’t be able to flow in.
☛ WiFi is not available at Kurikoma Sansō.

Mt. Kurikoma (栗駒山)

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Mt. Kurikoma is a volcano with a height of 1,626m that spans across Miyagi, Iwate, and Akita Prefectures. The mountain that is a part of the Ou Mountains (奥羽山脈) is known for the amount of alpine plants blooming in spring and summer. Two of the nine Mt. Kurikoma hiking trails have their starting point at Sukawa Kōgen.

Tip: The alpine plants sprout from early May. The remaining snow usually fully disappears in the second half of June.

  • Sukawa Route (須川ルート) is the harder trail passing Shōwa Lake and is for more experienced hikers.
    • It is a route full of a variety of terrain that will keep climbers from getting bored.
    • Refer to Iwate Prefecture‘s official website HERE for information about whether this route is accessible. You can translate it using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
  • The Ubunuma Route (産沼ルート) passing Ubunuma swamp is suitable for a family trip.
Ⓒ photo-ac.com
Ⓒ photo-ac.com

The summit area is spacious. It offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Mt. Zaō (蔵王), Mt. Akita-Komagatake (秋田駒ケ岳), and other surrounding mountains. This is why Mt. Kurikoma is a popular hiking destination.

Note the mountain trails are congested during the autumn foliage season. It is best to allow plenty of time if you plan to climb Mt. Kurikoma from late September to mid-October.

Discover Other Attractions in Ichinoseki

Of course, Mt. Murone isn’t the only recommended spot in Ichinoseki to visit. The city has a wealth of beautiful natural landscapes and is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway from the big city’s hustle and bustle.

So refer to our article on Ichinoseki to further plan your visit!

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Click the photo for more information about Ichinoseki’s attractions!

Sukawa Visitor Center (須川ビジターセンター)

The hut across Sukawa Sukawa Kōgen is the Sukawa Visitor Center. Although all the exhibits are in Japanese, you can still get a rough idea of the native plants and animals and Mt. Kurikoma’s geographic information. Mountain climbing maps can also be found here. If you plan to hike Mt. Kurikoma, ensure you speak with the staff at the center for tips and what to look out for during the hike.

Tip: There is a mountain stream fountain close to the visitor center. Feel free to fill your water bottle there before hiking.

Important: Remember to submit your notice of climbing at Sukawa Visitor Center if you plan to hike to Mt. Kurikoma’s summit for your safety.

  • Sukawa Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 4 pm from late May to early November.
  • From JR Ichinoseki Station, take Iwate Bus’s Sukawa Onsen Line and get off at Sukawa Onsen.
    • The bus trip will take around 90 minutes.

Hiking from Sukawa Kōgen

If you love hiking, one of Mt. Kurikoma’s trailheads is next to Sukawa Kōgen Onsen (須川高原温泉). Shortly after the trailhead, the road soon splits into two. We recommend staying on the road you walk on instead of turning right so you can walk past Nagorigahara (名残ヶ原). There will be another two intersections before reaching Nagorigahara. Both of them are fine to embark on.

Ⓒ 岩手県観光協会

Although in Japanese, refer to HERE for Mt. Kurikoma’s hiking map for the two trails from Sukawa Kōgen. The numbers marked between the intersections are the travel time required. If you read Japanese, you can also refer to HERE or HERE for Mt. Kurikoma’s hiking map containing all nine trails.

Road signs are placed at each intersection. While some have English notations underneath, it is best to download the map in case you want to check where you are. A one-way trip will take around 2.5 hours to reach the summit.

After you get back to Sukawa Kōgen Onsen, how about following suit and soaking your feet in this natural foot spa maintained by the ryokan?

Note the trail from Shōwa Lake (昭和湖) to the summit consists of a steep slope. It usually takes around 30 minutes to complete this leg of the hike. This course may be inaccessible due to the high volcanic gas concentration surrounding the trail.

Important:
☛ The trail mainly consists of earthen roads. Wearing a pair of sneakers or hiking shoes is best.
☛ If you plan to hike to the summit, appropriate hiking gear is required.

Nagorigahara (名残ヶ原)

Enjoying Sukawa Kōgen’s nature doesn’t mean you have to climb to the summit. The Nagorigahara Wetland course can be done in just 60 minutes. The wetland is dotted with small ponds, and in the summer, it becomes a treasure trove of alpine plants.

Late September to mid-October is the best time to visit Nagorigahara. When the alpine plants turn yellow and orange, the color is so enchanting that the locals call it The God’s Carpet (神の絨毯)!

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Shōwa Lake (昭和湖)

Shōwa Lake is a crater lake created by a small phreatic eruption in 1944. It is filled with emerald green, highly acidic water. Due to the eruption of volcanic gas (bubbles), please stay away from the lake’s surface. In fact, the mountain trail to the lake is often inaccessible because of the gas.

Discover Other Attractions in Ichinoseki

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Click the photo for more travel ideas in Ichinoseki!

Ichinoseki is a city with a wealth of beautiful natural landscapes perfect for a weekend getaway from the big city’s hustle and bustle. Besides Sukawa Kōgen, a couple more spectacular spots await your discovery. You will also be amazed by the city’s unique mochi culture!

So refer to our Ichinoseki article to discover what more the city can offer!

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