Yunotsu Onsen, Shimane
Yunotsu is a tiny port twenty minutes drive from the main Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine area. This quaint, coastal onsen town with its narrow streets and 19th to early 20th century architecture is designated as part of the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine World Heritage site. My favorite town with a population of just 2,000 offers more than historical significance as the main hub for the silver trade.
For one thing, its name is quite puzzling. Yunotsu is written in Japanese 温泉津温泉, so, many people, including myself, simply read the name of the place as Onsentsu Onsen. Onsen-onsen – How else would you read it? As the name indicates, Yunotsu consists of simple and good baths to soak in after a long day. With only a handful of small ryokans and two communal baths, it’s so quiet and just completely the opposite of some of the typical resorts with high-rise, huge ryokan. Even compared to some smaller secluded places deep in the mountains in Tohoku, such as Nyuto Onsen , this little coastal town in Shimane feels smaller, more intimate, and special in its own way. Maybe, because Yunotsu Onsen is not just for tourists, but for locals as well and you touch some aspects of their lives one way or another here.
We stayed at Asagiya right by the port, which is a restaurant and inn. They offer very simple lodging and breakfast for ¥4,200 per person without a bath. They simply ask guests to walk over to the two public baths, Chomeikan or Yakushiyu, which are open from early from around 5 am till 9 pm.
Before dinner at Asagiya , we wandered to Yakushiyu, which offers charms from the early 20th century in the architecture and details. When I went in the small woman’s side, there were only a few local ladies. I guess it was just around the dinner time at the surrounding ryokan. There’s no shower or faucet, so to wash your body, you just scoop some hot water out of the bath tub filled from the gushing mouth of giant catfish in layers and layers of mineral built up all around.
Somehow, one of the ladies started to tell me stories from her childhood–how she thinks of her father who died from over-working and how she wanted to give back to her mom great things her mom had given her, but her mom passed away a long time ago. I still have a vivid picture of this lady with totally gray hair bundled up soaking in the tub, sitting in front the catfish as hot water dripped down with a soothing sound. When she broke into tears, I felt empathy, but at the same time my mind drifted off to a kind of ‘Spirited Away’ feeling as if I was being put under a spell by Yubaaba !
The following morning before breakfast , we took an early stroll around 6:30 am to go to Motoyu/Chomeikan and take another bath. With warm early morning sun light, the charm of the town came to life-golden orange hue shining on the old wooden temple built on the cliff overlooking the town, details of the old storage house by the narrow street, and the sight of curious tourists in yukata bobbing along to the communal bath.
Street of Yunotsu
Old temple on the cliff
in morning sun
Statue of saint or devil?
Ryoma Toji at Kaishun
There was another reason we stayed over in this sleepy town. We wanted to visit Wakabashi Shuzo, the producer of Kaishun. At the brewery, Wakabayashi-san, his son who was home from 3rd grade on spring break, and Ryoma Toji showed us around. At the end of March, they were wrapping up their season with just a couple of moromi left to press.
At the end of the tour, I mentioned the guy we met over dinner at Asagiya last night. “I know him”, Wakabayashi-san said. I guess everyone knows everybody in such a small town. I happily said, “I told him YOU are the reason we came to Yunotsu!” Over dinner, being obvious tourists, a couple curious local guys came up to our table and offered us beers. Instead of accepting this generous gesture, we said “We only drink Kaishun.” The guys’ faces lit up in response to this potentially rather rude comment at discovering we were there to visit Kaishun. That’s their local sake and they all support Ryoma Toji by enjoying his sake everyday!
Now you know why I love this teeny-tiny far western coastal town. People, onsen, and that welcoming “inaka” feel is something that keeps me wanting to go back there. In fact, I am going back next week! So, you will see some more posts about Shimane, soon.
There are two communal bath in Yunotsu locals and tourist go, Yukushiyu and Chomeikan.
Yakushiyu web site in English: http://yunotsu.com/?m=wp&WID=1798 
Motoyu/Chomeikan web site in Japanese: http://www.yunotsu.jp/oyu/index.htm 
The baths are open throughout the year between 5:00am and 9:00 pm and costs are ¥300 for adult. Yakushiyu had a bit more character to it with 1919 architecture.
About Yuknotsu Onsen: http://wikitravel.org/en/Yunotsu_Onsen 
About Asagiya: ¥4,200 per person (with breakfast only), Tel. 0855-65-2126, on the road into town, next to the water on the bend just before the large parking area.
Please visit Tokyofoodcast’s San’in Trip: Day One , Day Two–Follow the Crab , Day Three-Fished Out and Monsters Too , Day Four-A Glimpse of Samurai Culture in Matsue , and Day Four-Izumo-Land of Myth and Faith , Day Five-Historical Silver Town-Iwami Ginzan . For locations of the sites in the post, please visit Tokyofoodcast’s San’in Trip Series  post.