Home of rustic onsen and fighting demons.
Visiting Yunotsu is like jumping into a photograph from the 1900s—a time when Japanese houses didn’t have baths, so hot springs were the only bathing option. The sole street of this western district of Shimane Prefecture’s Oda city is lined with ryokans and hot springs. Some even date back to 1,300 years ago.
Together with Iwami Ginzan old silver mining town—on the other side of Oda— it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 for its preservation of history. Commonly referred to as Yunotsu Onsen Town, it offers a low-key and truly authentic hot spring experience. Yukata-clad bathers can be seen going from one hot spring to the next.
Bathe like a local
The town has many bathing facilities to choose from, but here are a few recommended locales.
With two baths, one at 44 degrees and the other at 46 degrees, the naturally brown mineral-rich water at Moto-yu Onsen heals all aches and pains.
The locals take the bathing protocol very seriously here: you have to immerse yourself up to your neck immediately rather than trying to adjust to the temperature slowly. Do this three times for a few minutes each to enjoy the bath like a pro. The locals cheering you on to endure the boiling hot water is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Right across the street is Yakushi-yu, which offers a colorful rooftop view of Yunotsu. After bathing, grab a coffee next door from Cafe Kuranojo. The beautifully preserved wooden building is actually a former bathhouse that was built in 1919.
Experience the wicked clash of good and evil that is Iwami Kagura every Saturday night at Tatsu no Gozen shrine. Kagura is Japan’s oldest performance art depicting traditional Japanese folklore with Iwami Kagura being a faster-paced style native to the Chugoku region. Iwami Kagura stories typically culminate with a lively battle between the demons and hero of the story.
The performers don intricate costumes and recite their lines in explosive chants as they dance around each other. As the taiko (Japanese drum), flute, and cymbal ensemble upstage increases the speed in which they play, the elaborate choreography becomes more frantic, riling the audience up for the finale. Audience members are encouraged to cheer and root the heroes on.
A classic Iwami Kagura story is Orochi-the eight-headed serpent who has eaten seven young women. Spoiler alert- the main character Susanoo no Mikoto beheads the monster after tricking it into drinking poisonous sake.
It’s amazing the performers can see let alone move around in the heavy serpent head with a 17-meter-long tube strapped around their bodies.
Behind Tatsu no Gozen Shrine sits a large rock formation resembling a dragon with a gaping mouth- it’s the perfect setting for such an explosive performance.
We recommend visiting Yunotsu after you’ve taken a strolling hike in Iwami Ginzan. Your tired feet will thank you.