Tucked deep in Kumamoto’s valley is an onsen town where time has stood still.
- Dondoya Fire Festival: Jan. 14, 2020
Home to a history that goes back 1,800 years, Tsuetate Onsen was once known as ‘Kyushu’s inner sanctum’ in a previous life it boasted a bustling luxury travel economy. A spot where the wealthy came to wash away their worries, this high-society history of the town is still visible, although a little tired, but that’s part of its charm. Take a walk through the town’s backstreets known in Japanese as sedoyas and you’ll find photos of the glory days hung along the building walls like a public Showa-era gallery.
Home to a number of festive celebrations throughout the year, it’s a great place to pop by in January for the fire festival or the colorful carp streamer festival in April and May.
As you approach the valley, billowing clouds of onsen steam are the first signifier that you’ve made it to Tsuetate Onsen. It’d be a crime to visit the area without getting a closer inspection and soak in some of these historic hot spring baths.
Pumped fresh from the source it’s said the water is literally over 100 degrees, but don’t worry, it’s been cooled to more habitable temperatures, so you won’t be boiled alive like a piece of human nabe.
The area is home to an eclectic array of baths, indoor, outdoor, public, local favorites, teeny tiny small foot spas, and private family baths, meaning that no matter your plans there’s always time for a soak.