Omachi Onsenkyo, Gateway to the Alpine Route, Central Honshu, Japan

The Alpine Route, a scenic high mountain pass excursion that involves nine transfers to get from Shinano Omachi station on one side to Tateyama on the other, is considered to be a highlight of the area, one that I will detail in the next post.

Using only English language websites it was difficult to sort out the best logistics and avoid much of the congestion on the Alpine Route. I decided to approach the route from the Nagano side, i.e., Shinano Omachi, rather than the Tateyama side – one, because it fit in our schedule better and two, I thought it might be the less traveled direction.

Then there was the problem of luggage. They have a great transfer service where you can drop luggage before your departure to be collected on the other side. The only problem was that on the Shinano Omachi side the luggage office didn’t open until 8:30 and I wanted to get an early start. I discovered, however, that the hotels in Omachi Onsenkyo, just 13 minutes from the start of the Alpine Route, would forward it for you for about the same price as dropping it off at the station.

Thus we decided on an overnight in Omachi Onsekyo. This town isn’t mentioned in either Lonely Planet or Rough Guide and I can see why. It’s really a winter destination where vacationers enjoy a soak after a day on the slopes. On a beautiful fall day there was no one here in this small enclave of large onsen hotels.

We took the express train from Matsumoto and arrived at the train station in Shinano Omachi at 11AM. There is an easy, well-marked bus transfer just outside the station that left for Ogizawa at 11:20 arriving in Onsekyo at 11:33. From there it was an easy walk, about 500 meters to our hotel, Keisui.

The large Hotel Keisui was dead and dark. Only one clerk was on staff and he spoke very little English. He told us that check-in was at 3PM. After a few days of traveling we are finding that the Japanese are quite strict about the 3PM rule and don’t even try to get you in earlier. He took our bags, gave us some maps and told us where we could get lunch. Much of this he explained in Japanese peppered with a few words in English.

The English map was quite useful and had a couple of walking routes. The first was rather dull, wandering along some cultivated fields and an apple orchard.

The town should be prettier than it is with mountains soaring in the background, wooded areas between the large block hotels and a river that runs along one side of town.

Restaurant

The only restaurant that was open was next to the bus stop and had a window display of plastic food models. The Japanese menu, even the prices were in kanji, had pictures at the bottom but not next to the description.

Fortunately, if you know any Japanese food words this was a fairly easy menu to read and we ordered two bowls of udon noodles with tempura and some kind of fish.

A very Japanese establishment, the rest of the patrons were all local workers, some seated at the counter and others seated at three low tables. It took a while to get everyone served. No problem, we had 3 hours to kill. Lunch was tasty and I was thrilled to actually be using some of the Japanese I had learned.

Walking Course

After lunch we continued our walk, this time on the other side of the bus stop, and stumbled on a billboard with marked walking paths. All in Japanese but I could make out that there were names of walking courses as “courses” was written in katakana.

We followed the 3K route that first followed a shaded track along the river, then through some rice fields to a waterway garden with a lovely wooded path that ran along a stream. A delightful surprise.

Hotel Keisui

We arrived back at the Hotel Keisui at just after 3PM. The new clerk greeted us in English. We arranged to have our bags forwarded to the Tateyama train station the next morning. He explained the meals, and onsen bath and took us too our room.

A lovely huge room that turned out to be the biggest room we had in Japan. It was even huge by American standards. The window seating area had views overlooking the river. All the basic amenities including -a water boiler, bath products and safe in the room. The futon, laid out after dinner, was thick and comfy. Great sleeping under the down comforter with the window open on a cool night.

The onsen is a sizable public bath with a large area with seated showers for washing up before entering the indoor and outdoor soaking pools. A sauna is also available. There were few women in the large space while I was there.

Kaiseki Dinner

Dinner is served in private booths in their dining room. The server spoke good English. It turned out she had previously lived in California and Connecticut. They also had an English menu that you can take with you.

The kaiseki dinner, a traditional multicourse meal, started with the usual beautiful presentation of appetizers – small bites of this and that, nothing terribly remarkable.

The sashimi selection was two types of a firm white fish and tuna.

The beef shabu shabu, Japanese hotpot, was quite good. The cut of meat wasn’t the best but still it was tender and delightful with the vegetables -mostly cabbage and mushrooms. 

Other smaller dishes included – grilled rockfish, steamed taro potato buns with conger eel garnished with wasabi, cheese in a baked apple pot and a steamed savory egg custard called chawan mushi – meaning, “steamed in a tea cup” – but our favorite was the large mushrooms cooked table side in a spicy miso.

When I saw the container of large mushrooms sitting on our table I thought it was a decoration. It wasn’t until the server started cutting them apart that I realized that they were dinner.

Dinner ended with the usual trio of miso soup, steamed rice and pickles followed by small sweet bites for dessert – a small light cake served with cream, pineapple and a goji berry.

The next morning we left before breakfast so I had requested a bento box instead. It was waiting for us when we checked out.

I wouldn’t make a special trip to stay here but if you are in the area it is not a bad choice. Catering more to Japanese clientele, it’s a little funky and feels more authentic.

September 26, 2017

For links to all the posts in this series see the Japan page.