Ohata River in the valley
The Yagen Valley (薬研渓谷, Yagen Keikoku) is a remote mountain valley in the middle of the Shimokita Peninsula, in Aomori Prefecture, Japan.
There are only two tiny settlements in the entire valley: Yagen Onsen (薬研温泉), a tiny hot-spring hamlet, and Oku-Yagen (奥薬研), population zero but featuring some more hot springs.
There are two paved roads into the valley. The main route from Ohata (15 km away) and Mutsu has one bus per day at 8:40 in the morning, while the shortcut connecting to Mount Osore has none. A dirt trail, navigable by 4x4 in summer, traverses through the valley to the remote west coast.
Oku-Yagen and Yagen Onsen are just two kilometers apart and connected by a paved road and a forest trail. Most of the time it will be faster to walk than wait for the bus.
Oku-Yagen has no less than three excellent open-air hot springs, all offering views of the Ohata River rushing through the valley:
- Meoto Kappa-no-yu (夫婦かっぱの湯), near the end of the paved road, is a modern state-funded operation offering gender-segregated open-air baths with dressing rooms and showers. Open 8:30 AM to 6 PM daily except Tuesday. Entrance fee is only ¥200 for adults.
- Fūfu Kappa-no-Yu (夫婦かっぱの湯) is the original hot spring, past the bridge at a fork of the river at Okuyagenshukei Park. The baths consists of two bare-bones dressing cabins and a large rock pool of hot water. No services, but no entry charges either and always open.
- Oku-yagen Hot Spring (奥薬研温泉かっぱの湯) is on the river side of the road before the other two, unmarked except for a "ゆ" scrawled on a roadside post. A path leads down to two concrete tubs, one filled with warm water, the other filled with (very) hot water. There are no dressing rooms or other concessions to modesty here, but the views of the Otaki rapids are unparalleled and more often than not you'll have it all to yourself.
Pretty much the only other form of entertainment is hiking. A very picturesque forest trail, Ōhata-Hiba Segyōjikkenrin (大畑ヒバ施業実験林) runs along the side of the river between the two hamlets, partly on the tracks of an old mining railroad. The fall colors in the valley are particularly famous.
Eat, Drink and Buy
The local speciality is wild boar (inoshishi). There are precisely three (3) places to eat, drink or shop in the entire valley:
- The Meoto baths have a simple noodle shop selling, well, noodles... and, perhaps more importantly, cold beer.
- The souvenir shop in Yagen Onsen sells souvenirs, drinks and more noodles.
- The liquor store in Yagen Onsen, open intermittently, sells booze.
Most visitors eat and drink at their own lodgings. If you're camping, bring your own supplies.
- Yagen Campground (薬研野営所, Yagen Yaeijo), at the entrance to the valley within walking distance of the springs, offers lawn space for ¥500 per person, toilets and little else. An excellent budget option if you're self-contained.
Yagen Onsen has several midrange minshuku/ryokan, offering a tatami for the night and two meals from ¥8000. Many close for the winter season.
- Yagensō (薬研荘), ☎ 0175-34-2779, . Open April to November. ¥8400/4500 with/without meals. edit
- Guesthouse Asunaro (民宿あすなろ), 2-10 Yagen, Ohata, Mutsu, ☎ 017-534-3951, . A budget hot spring place with included meals. From ¥7500 with meals. edit
- Mount Osore - The gateway to hell of Japanese myth, is a half-hour ride away on a squiggly mountain road.