On a sweltering summer day, a young women from the local tourism department in Toyama told me, with some reluctance, about a magical volcanic hot spring in the Kurobe Gorge. She said, “It’s not for everyone. Getting there is tricky. Unfortunately, there is no road. You have to walk for an hour from the nearest train station. Once you arrive there, you can dig your own hot bath on the riverbank. It will be something very different and fun.” I didn’t have to think twice- I wanted to go! I found out there were good hiking trails to get there, and you can make a reservation at a nearby family-run mountain hut if you want to stay overnight.
So, several weeks later, I caught a local train and then made the hike to the spot. Soon, I was at the rocky mountain riverbank, digging a hole with a shovel that the hut owner gave me. The key, I was told, was to dig a hole where the hot ground spring water could mix with the cold water from the river to achieve the perfect temperature. It sounded easy, but digging and controlling the water temperature was embarrassingly tricky. Yet, it was a surreal experience to be alone on this beautiful mountain with a big shovel in hand, listening to the rushing river, smelling sulfur from volcanic spring water, and surrounded by steam rising from the ground everywhere around me. In the end, I really didn’t have to dig a hole anyway- the hut where I stayed had three Onsen baths already prepared where I soaked all day!