Musashi Koyama Onsen – Historic Onsen in Tokyo
One of the Japanese people’s favorite past-time pleasures is dipping into a hot spring bath or onsen. When they take a few days off to go out of town, the most common destination is a nice rural town with onsen facilities or a ryokan inn that has an in-house onsen. People who live in big cities, such as Tokyo, always seek this opportunity to relax in a good onsen town—popular ones being Hakone, Atami in the Izu Peninsula, Kusastu Onsen in Gunma, Kinugawa onsen in Tochigi, or Gero Onsen in Gifu, among others. After all, the Japanese bathing culture has existed as far back as the 6th century with the introduction of Buddhism that professed the importance of purification.
Therefore ritual bathing was foremost a means to cast off impurities, especially the seven ailments that hinder the seven blessings in Buddhism–Mindfulness, Investigation (of nature or reality), Energy, Joy, Relaxation (of both body and mind), Concentration, and Equanimity (calm acceptance of reality without aversion)–more than to clean the body. Many temples before and after the Edo period had baths for this purpose.
Today, the ofuro or bath is a typical amenity in a Japanese home, but many still prefer to go to a sento public bath in their neighborhood or take weekends off to dip in a natural onsen. In fact, you don’t have to travel too remotely outside Tokyo to fully enjoy this luxury. One of the rare onsens in Tokyo with natural hot spring water can be found in Musashi Koyama, Shinagawa. Shimizu-yu or Musashi Koyama Onsen not only provides two types of natural hot springs: kuroyu or black spring water and kogane-no-yu or golden spring water, but is also a historical gem that has been running its hot spring baths since 1924.
Shimizu-yu has been well preserved by three generations of the Kawagoe Family. The first generation, Jitsugi Kawagoe was born in Musashi Koyama. He and his wife first established the public bath in 1924 when the town was merely a rural landscape filled with bamboo forests. However, public bathing slowly declined in the succeeding years when the economy gradually flourished and built homes with private baths.
The second generation Satoshi Kawagoe revived the public bath with much determination despite opposition from the family. Black hot spring water was said to flow through Ota ward, but not through Shinagawa, until in 1994, kuroyu was excavated finally in Musashi Koyama, much to the family’s surprise, and became the primary attraction of Shimizu-yu, accelerating the business three-fold.
The third generation Taro Kawagoe, pursued the renovation of the onsen and promoted the concept of contributing to the community and respecting the needs of the residents. In 2007, the golden hot spring water was discovered, making Shimizu-yu today one of the prominent medical spas in Tokyo.
The source of the kuroyu black hot spring water is 200 meters deep. It is characterized by a clear, dark brownish color and fine texture, which is noted to be rich in humic acid, minerals and ions. The freshness of the mineral components is stored perennially. The water is particularly effective for softening and moisturizing the skin, and soothes headaches, irritation, fatigue, and lack of sleep. It is said to be a universal hot spring water that practically prevents all diseases, including neuralgia; muscle, joint and shoulder pain; paralysis; bruises, cuts and burns; chronic digestive tract disease; hemorrhoid; cold; chronic skin disease; diabetes; gout and others.
The kogane-no-yu or golden hot spring water is sourced much deeper than the black spring water, around 1500 meters deep. A high temperature of 38 degrees is said to be very rich in iodine that comforts cuts and abrasions, and sore throats. The water is claimed to be very effective for healing muscle and joint pain, fatigue, improving post health recovery, body weakness especially among children, and chronic gynecology, among others.
Musashi Koyama Onsen can be reached in 5 minutes on foot from Musashi Koyama station on Tokyu Meguro line, East exit. Upon entering the bathhouse, there is a vending machine for buying tickets. Ordinary entrance fee for adults is 460 yen, for junior high school students 300 yen, and for children 180 yen. Sauna is 400 yen and the bedrock bath (for women only) is 1,350 yen. The ganbanyoku or bedrock bath is located on the second floor, and is made from natural ore originating from Mt. Woraksan in South Korea. This special bath promotes homeostasis, improvement of nerves, blood flow, mental stabilization, restful sleep, metabolism and even anti-aging.
The general bath on the ground floor has one indoor black hot spring bath and a cold bath, and 2 rotemburo outdoor baths with both black and golden hot spring water. Shimizu-yu recommends to start with the golden hot water bath first, then the black hot water bath. The outdoor bath on the first level is filled with natural black hot spring water with jet bubbles. Stone steps lead you to the other outdoor bath on the second level, filled with golden spring water from Izu natural stone. Water temperature is generally set to 42 degrees, which stimulates the acupuncture points on the back of the head and the full body. In the women’s bath, this round bath is a bit small just right for about 6 people.
The ochre-colored seawater is known to be quite rare in Tokyo. Beside it are also reclining lounge chairs, which are absolutely perfect for a small nap after dipping. Being outdoors surrounds you with a mountain spring-like atmosphere. You can feel the historic air surrounded by rocks and the cool breeze of bamboo leaves. The pools come with jet baths, like a Jacuzzi, which are perfect for body massage. The odor of the water is also very comforting. Most Japanese dip into the cold bath water set at 18 degrees after several immersions in heated water to prevent faintness. After plunging into the several baths repeatedly, you would wish to never leave the place. The effect of the medicinal water rests on the skin that suddenly feels like a creamy, smooth sensation.
In the lobby, there are vending machines selling milk, beer, apple vinegar drink and soft drinks. You can also watch television in the open lounge. On the second floor, apart from the bedrock bath are also massage chairs and a resting room. One must note that the bathhouse does not provide shampoo, conditioner, soap, towels and other toiletries; hence, you are expected to bring your own or buy from the reception. Whether in summer, spring, fall or winter, a side trip to Shimizu-yu Onsen is definitely worthwhile for that much needed calmness, composure, and cleanliness of the body and mind.
There Are Other Onsens Within Tokyo That You Can Enjoy
- Niwa no Yu and Hisamatsu-yu, Nerima
- Tokyo Somei Onsen Sakura, Sugamo
- Spa LaQua, Suidobashi
- Times Spa Resta, Ikebukuro
- Fuku no Yu, Sendagi
- Maenohara Onsen Sayano Yudokoro, Itabashi
- Hot Land Midoriyu, Akabane
- Mikokuyu, Ryogoku
- Seijo Spa, Chitose-Funabashi
- Thermae-Yu, Shinjuku
- Yukemuri no Sato, Sengawa (with 12 different baths)
- and many more
Shimizu-Yu Musashi Koyama Onsen
- Monday-Saturday & Holidays 12: 00-24: 00
- Sunday 8: 00 -24: 00
- Closed on Mondays except for holidays falling on Monday
- Adult 460 yen (standard bath)
- Junior high school students 300 yen
- Children 180 yen
- Infant Free (until 2 infants)
- Bedrock bath 1,350 yen (women only)
- Sauna 400 yen
5-minute walk from Musashi Koyama station, Tokyu Meguro line