A hidden hot spring retreat deep in the holy mountains
Dorogawa Onsen is a tranquil and secluded hot spring retreat nestled at the foot of the sacred Mt. Omine in central Nara Prefecture. This hidden gem offers a serene escape from the bustling city life, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the healing powers of its natural hot springs and soak up the old-town atmosphere. But there is more to Dorogawa Onsen than just its rejuvenating baths. The surrounding area is rich in natural beauty and cultural heritage, making it a perfect destination for those seeking a unique and authentic experience.
How to Get There
Dorogawa Onsen is easily accessible via the Kintetsu Line from Kyoto, Osaka, or Nara. From any of these major cities, travelers can take a train to Shimouchiguchi Station and then transfer to a bus that will bring them directly to Dorogawa Onsen. The train ride from Kyoto Station takes about an hour and 40 minutes, while the journey from Osaka’s Abenohashi Station is approximately an hour and 25 minutes. If you are coming from Kintetsu Nara Station, the travel time is only 50 minutes. It is worth noting that if you are traveling from Kyoto or Osaka, you will need to change trains at Kashihara-jingu-mae, while from Nara, there are two transfers: first at Yamato-Saidaiji and then at Kashihara-jingu-mae. The bus ride from Shimoichiguchi Station to Dorogawa Onsen takes about an hour, allowing you to enjoy the scenic views of the surrounding mountains along the way.
Mild hot springs and a mellow evening atmosphere
The hot springs in Dorogawa Onsen originate from the base of Mt. Omine, a sacred mountain that holds great significance in the practice of Shugendo. Shugendo is an esoteric religion that combines elements of Buddhism, Shinto, and mountain worship and has been practiced in japan since the eighth century. The high elevation of the town and the mild temperature of the hot springs, which is around 26 degrees Celsius, make Dorogawa Onsen an ideal summer retreat. The town itself boasts a well-preserved and quaint townscape, with traditional inns, restaurants, and souvenir shops lining the streets. Walking through the town feels like stepping back in time to the post-war era when Dorogawa Onsen was a popular destination for hot spring enthusiasts.
In the evening, the main street of Dorogawa Onsen transforms into a magical scene illuminated by the soft glow of lanterns. Taking a leisurely stroll along this enchanted street is a must-do activity during your visit. To fully immerse yourself in the local culture, don’t be afraid to follow the lead of the Japanese and venture out in your yukata robe and sandals. The mellow and peaceful atmosphere of the town creates a perfect ambiance for relaxation and introspection.
A center for pilgrimage
Dorogawa Onsen is also a gateway to Kinpusenji Temple, one of the most important temples in the region. Kinpusenji Temple is a center for Shugendo mountain ascetics, who gather here in August to embark on a challenging pilgrimage up Mt. Omine. During this time, you may have the opportunity to witness the lead priests dressed in their distinctive white garb, blowing conch shells and leading groups of pilgrims who carry staffs and ring bells. While the surrounding temples and shrines have lifted the traditional ban on female visitors, Mt. Omine itself remains off-limits to women. This pilgrimage tradition has been passed down for centuries and is deeply rooted in the spiritual beliefs of the local community.
Dorogawa’s lively Gyoja Festival
If you happen to visit Dorogawa Onsen in early August, you are in for a treat. The town hosts the Dorogawa Gyoja Festival, a vibrant celebration that commemorates the legendary return of En no Gyoja, the founder of Shugendo, from his exile. The festival features processions of masked dancers wearing colorful summer robes, adding a touch of excitement and liveliness to the tranquil atmosphere of the town. During this time, you will also encounter many Shugendo mountain ascetics, who come to Dorogawa Onsen to participate in the festivities. The Gyoja Festival is a unique cultural event that allows visitors to witness and experience the rich heritage of Shugendo firsthand.
Further afield: Mitarai Valley and Tenkawa
While Dorogawa Onsen itself offers plenty of attractions and experiences, venturing further afield is highly recommended. Just a short distance from the hot spring town, a 4.5-kilometer walking trail leads to the pristine Mitarai Valley. This picturesque valley is known for its crystal-clear waters and lush greenery, creating a serene and tranquil environment. Exploring the Mitarai Valley is a great way to connect with nature and enjoy the peacefulness of the surrounding mountains.
Nearby, you will also find the village of Tenkawa, a designated World Heritage site. Tenkawa is part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, which is a pilgrimage route that connects various sacred sites in the region. The village is renowned for its superb limestone caves, which attract visitors from far and wide. Exploring the caves is a unique experience that allows you to witness the wonders of nature and marvel at the intricate formations that have been shaped over millions of years.
In conclusion, Dorogawa Onsen is a hidden hot spring retreat that offers a peaceful and authentic experience for those seeking a break from the fast-paced city life. Its healing hot springs, mellow evening atmosphere, and rich cultural heritage make it a destination worth exploring. Whether you are looking to relax in the therapeutic waters, immerse yourself in the local traditions and festivals, or embark on a spiritual pilgrimage, Dorogawa Onsen has something to offer for everyone. So why not escape the hustle and bustle and discover the hidden beauty of this mountainous paradise?
Address And Maps Location:
528-1 Dorogawa, Tenkawa-mura, Yoshino-gun, Nara-ken