Genuine, luxurious, hot spring-fed onsen experiences are scarce in Tokyo, with the onsen experience being something reserved for trips out of town. Right under the noses of many unsuspecting Tokyoites however, in the Itabashi district, is an authentic, resort-style onsen that boasts both extensive facilities and enchanting Japanese tradition in spades.
Saya No Yudokoro, an eight-minute walk from Shimura-Sakaue Station on the Toei Mita metro line, is located within a renovated traditional Japanese residence built in 1946. Set inside tranquil landscaped grounds, it is a true oasis in the heart of the concrete metropolis. Supplying the onsen’s array of baths, and what has made it possible at this location, is a direct, non-stop feed of water from a natural hot spring some 1,500 meters beneath the ground. This water, which has a distinctive olive-green tint thanks to a rich sodium chloride content, simultaneously moisturizes and removes toxins from the skin, and is also believed to have anti-aging properties.
The baths here constitute something akin to a ‘Japanese Bathing 101’, with no less than 14 different types present and correct. Indoors can be found a sizable bath fed by highly concentrated water for heightened effectiveness, and with a design that incorporates natural stones, shaped into suitable form by decades of exposure to the elements, that bathers can ‘massage’ themselves against. Also indoors a private bath is available for hire, but note that under Tokyo city law even here men and women may not bathe together (perhaps another reason Tokyoites usually head to out-of-town onsen!). An hour in the private bath is charged at 2,000 yen on top of the standard admission fee.
Outside await further baths, in our experience the most enjoyable. Don’t be put off trying these in winter: the effect of repeatedly soaking oneself in the tub then cooling off in the cold air is both a pleasurable sensation and one that has a healthy, invigorating effect on the body’s circulation. Open-air baths include compact pot-shaped affairs for one or two people; lie-down baths; and the undoubted highlight of the circular rotenburo. This has a traditional design recalling the baths of centuries past, and allows bathers to gaze contemplatively out upon a zen-style ‘karesansui’ stone garden flanked by ample greenery.
Elevating Saya No Yudokoro to resort-style level are additional health and wellness-related facilities, and a Japanese restaurant. The former includes saunas of both the dry and lie-down ‘bedrock’ kind, and therapeutic services such as Japanese-style temomi massage; Korean akasuri body scrubs; and aromatherapy. The elegantly traditional restaurant meanwhile, with seating on tatami matting, again possesses a view of the karesansui garden, and serves seasonal dishes alongside its signature Juwari Soba (in which the noodles are made with 100% buckwheat flour).
Rounding out this extensive roster of attractions are a handful of private, ryokan (Japanese inn)-style rooms which can be rented for two-hour slots of undisturbed relaxation (prices from 2,060 yen; note that these are not for overnight accommodation).
Saya No Yudokoro is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 1 am, and costs 870 yen for adults and 550 yen for children on weekdays, going up to 1,100 yen for adults and 750 yen for children on weekends and public holidays.