Photo by Roger Smith
Photo by Natasha Fox
Photo by Natasha Fox
Akiu is a popular getaway tucked away in the mountains of western Sendai. The area exudes a relaxed, unfussy warmth and hospitality emblematic of the Japanese countryside. It is home to a number of worthwhile sights and experiences. One of my favorite budget-friendly ways to spend a day in Akiu is with a visit to Tenshukaku Gardens and Ichitaro Hot Spring. A combination ticket for both costs just ¥1,730 and includes a hearty lunch at Soba Ichitaro.
Enjoy a leisurely walk through the Tenshukaku property, a traditional Edo-style strolling garden set against the natural backdrop of the nearby mountains. Because the paths are paved and have no stairs, the gardens are accessible and enjoyable even for people with mobility challenges. The deftly cultivated Tenshukaku Gardens showcase the transient beauty of nature and the four seasons. The most remarkable feature is the natural boulder garden, the resting place of dozens of massive rocks that have tumbled down from Mount Osawa over the centuries due to volcanic and seismic activity.
The paths wind past a koi pond, hot spring footbaths, and groves of bamboo, maples, pines, and other flora. At a leisurely pace, one could easily spend an hour or more enjoying the gardens.
Autumn brings richly colored foliage to the gardens and the mountain backdrop, warm hues that contrast nicely with the gardens’ green moss. The gardens also host an award-winning illumination event every autumn.
After strolling the gardens, warm your body to the core at Ichitaro no Yu, a day-trip natural hot springs facility in the woods next to the gardens. There are two outdoor baths and one large indoor bath (all gender separated). The outermost bath has a nice view of Mount Osawa. Lucky bathers may even catch a glimpse of rare kamoshika (Japanese goat-antelopes) roaming wild on the mountainside.
The onsen water at Ichitaro no Yu is tawny with silt and weakly alkaline, leaving skin feeling clean and silky. The bathhouse itself is redolent of the cypress used in its construction, with high ceilings and large windows that provide ample natural light. Body soap, shampoo and conditioner are provided in the washing area.
Soba Ichitaro is conveniently located in a rustic wooden building next to the gardens and hot spring. This casual restaurant serves hot and cold country-style soba and udon noodles. The lunch set included in the day-trip package is a choice of hot or cold soba or udon accompanied by tempura and a grilled rice ball. The broth accompanying the hot noodles is a traditional katsuobushi- and kombu-based dashi. The tempura comes crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, just as it should. I’m also fond of the local apple juice sold here—it has a tart sweetness that brings back memories of my childhood in Oregon.
January 24, 2019
Available separately or as a package, the park access, hot spring bath, and delicious lunch are all priced quite fairly. Visitors to Akiu, particularly those on a budget, will be pleased to discover this little gem of a spot.