Sunday, April 5, 2015

Hoshino Resort Aomori-ya

We swung by three onsen regions in our trip to the northeastern Japan in late March, and Komaki Onsen (古牧溫泉) in Aomori is the first. After spending a night in Aomori City, we took a 2-hour bus ride to Hoshino Resort Aomori-ya resort not far away from the small town of Mikawa.

Even though the property is managed by Hoshino Resort, the same group which managed the cozy ryokans in places like Kyoto or Karuizawa, Aomori-ya was in a totally different style. To start, the place is HUGE, unlike the small boutique hotels more common for Hoshino Resort group. There were all together 3 connected buildings of rooms of different size and styles, plus a enormous park, a chapel and a walking trail around a lake right behind which was part of the hotel property.

And unlike other Hoshino properties which were perfect for a quiet getaway, Aomori-ya was filled with activities - in a sense almost like Disneyland and Vegas combined. Inside the resort there's a bar, an amusement park and the whole floor of souvenir shop. Our dinner was held in a "theatre hall" in a separate building (connected through underground tunnels). After the food was served there's an hour-long show simulating the traditional Aomori festival celebration, completed with music performance, folklore dances, parade of bamboo floats, by performers in traditional costume. And the end they even invited guests to participate in a dance on the floor.

The onsen was stunningly beautiful. On each side (male and female), there's a spacious indoor bath, plus an outdoor "floating" bath set beside to a lake with fish swimming around inside. At night during winter times, dozens of floating lanterns were set up on the lake and twice every night a flutist will perform from a stage in the middle of the lake - too bad on the day of our visit it's cancelled because of rain.

There's also another onsen - called Moriya (元湯) or the Original Onsen - about 5 minutes away by shuttle or 10 minutes on foot, which offered a more basic and tranquil hot spring experience. There are also outdoor activities during the day too - one could choose to ride on a horse carriage around the park with snacks and drinks served, explore the farm on premise, or go on a guided bus tour to the nearby picturesque Oirase Stream (奧入瀨溪)

The resort provided free shuttle service from Aomori (青森) and Hachinohe (八戶), both of them stops along the Shinkansen train line, so it's quite convenient to get to. That's another advantage for those who didn't drive. And with such big capacity of the hotel I was surprised it didn't feel crowded - true it took a bit longer than normal to check in as we arrived along with the bus-load of tourists, but they put us in a separate sitting area and served towels and tea while we waited, and 20 minutes later everything's ready and they were able to lead us to our room. I was rather impressed with such efficiency. 

I thought this is perfect for family vacation with stuff to do to keep everyone sufficiently entertained. Too bad our onsen visits were disrupted slightly by the rain which started after we arrived and got quite heavy at night, but the dinner show was an interesting experience, and we enjoyed the leisure stroll in the park the next morning.


(Part of the Japan Rail Trip 2015 Series - a journey through the Tohoku region by rail in Spring 2015)

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