If you live in Nagoya, and travel by train a lot, you’ve probably noticed the huge red neon sign of this onsen at some time. To be honest, despite the bright lights, I was putting this one off, since my trusty guide tells me that it was built in 1972, and from the view from my train window, it didn’t look like much had changed since then.
As it turned out, probably nothing much has changed since then. A renovation or two, perhaps, a lick of paint, but the place remains steadfastedly retro and the customers clearly love it. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them had been regulars from the first day.
Dai Nagoya Onsen deserves their loyalty, as it has something I have never encountered in the city before – an actual onsen. Not one of those tricky ones, where the water is trucked in, or brought up in pipes and then chlorinated to be safe, or any of the other variants that exist in Nagoya. This water is just hot spring water – simple alkaline water, to be precise – salty, greenish water put straight into a big indoor bath, and a smaller outdoor bath, its natural temperature of 42.5 degrees (108.5 Farenheit) occaisionally regulated – to keep it warm, I guess.
A huge pool dominates the indoor space. It has a couple of jet baths, an electric bath and a bubbling bath on the side, but mostly it is just one big expanse of water. The water is quite deep – it came up to my waist – and it seems that the thing to do here is to take slow aquatic strolls. There’s even a section solely for walking. One woman was doing what looked like ballet exercises in the water. There’s a view out to a Japanese garden, for those of a more contemplative bathing tendancy.
It is very steamy indoors – there was even a little steam rainbow in one corner – so before long I headed out. The rotenburo is a medium sized round bath, with little in the way of adornement. Overhead was a wooden roof, and to either side were the turrets of the indoor baths – they look a little like a wedding chapel. It was silent, apart from the occaisional ‘yoishou’ from one of the old women as they raised or lowered themselves in the bath. Birds flew overhead, and the echoey noise of the inside was drowned out by the plashing water flowing into the rotenburo.
The group in the bath changed, and so did the atmosphere. Tranquillity was replaced with a cosy, villiage pump gossip. It seemed that most of them either knew each other or had seen each other here often, so Dai Nagoya had a friendly feel about it.
After our baths, my husband and I sat in the restaurant for a bit, watching the karaoke and eating soft serve icecream (I can recommend the chestnut flavour). There were a few groups sitting around drinking beer and singing old songs. One couple got up and sang a duet, holding hands. We smiled, warm inside and out. Dai Nagoya might be on the older side, but, like it’s customers, it’s aging well.
Getting there: Dai Nagoya Onsen is next to the Shonai River. If you’re up for a twenty minute walk, catch the subway to Takabata (Higashiyama Line), get out from exit one, turn around and then walk towards the river on the right hand side of the road. Turn right just before the bridge over the river; go straight until you pass under the railway tracks and the onsen is on the left hand side.
Alternatively, catch a city bus (22 or 23) from Nagoya Station. They leave about every half hour. Get off at Nakamura Juutaku and head left and towards the river. There’s a map on their website, or ask the bus driver to point you in the right direction.
You could also catch bus 22 in the direction of Hatta from Takabata station or walk 15 minutes from Hatta station (on the JR Kansai line).
Opening Hours: 9 am to 10 pm. Closed every Monday.
Price: 850 yen; 550 yen after 4pm.
Services: Soap, Shampoo/Conditioner provided free, as are hairdryers. Massage chairs. Japanese style restaurant with public Karaoke. You can also stay the night at Dai Nagoya Onsen – one night, including two meals, costs from 10 000 yen.