Glimpse into the Wild; Hot Springs and Giant Salamanders
I recently went on day trip to Yubara with my Fiance, Saya.The area of Yubara is famous for being a Onsen(hot spring) town.It was once an independent town but now is part of the city of Maniwa in the north of Okayama prefecture. It has a beautiful rotenburo (outdoor baths) called “Sunayu” that both men and women can use for free. Just make sure to wear a bathing suit or wrap yourself in a towel. There are special dresses that women can rent and wear. From my experience, towels are not enough and I saw things that can`t be unseen. There are many inns that you can stay at that have hotsprings you can relax in. The water from the hotsprings in this area is suppose to be good for health especially your skin. There are also plenty of Ashiyu( outdoor foot baths)that you can put your feet in after a long day of walking. But my primary reason to come to Yubara was not relaxing in hotsprings but was in fact to see its Japanese Giant Salamanders.
Japanese Giant Salamanders
My favorite part of Yubara and the reason I came is that is famous for it`s Japanese giant Salamander or as locals call them Hanzaki. They call them Hanzaki, its comes from old belief that they can split in half(han) and form two separate Salamanders. The common name in the rest of Japan is Ōsanshōuo which roughly translates to pepper fish due to releasing a strong black pepper like smelling substance when threatened. Their name makes them sounds more delicious then they probably are. They are third largest salamander species in the world. They have long life spans and can live for over 50 years. They have been designated as a national special natural monument in Japan. They can found in rivers and streams, they may be difficult to spot as they move very slow and their skin is color is similar to that of rocks. Their population has been declining in recent years due to like pretty much every other problem, people. They are near threatened as their population has dwindled due to habitat loss and pollution. The Japanese monster,Kappa is thought to have been inspired by Japanese giant salamanders.
There is a small but really interesting place called the Hanzaki Center devoted to them where you can see live Japanese giant salamanders and learn more about the species and its connection to Yubara. The center breeds them and encourages conservation of the species.There is not much English signage but there is basic information written in English. There is no admission fee. Be sure to check out the garden outside which has lots of cute statues of Hanzaki and other animals. Across the street, there are two giant floats used during the local Hanzaki festival on August 8th. This is the only town in Japan with a festival devoted to these wonderful creatures.
Outside of the Hanzaki Center, Japanese Giant Salamanders can be found everywhere in yubara in the form of statues, decorations, and souvenirs. They are difficult to find in the wild but you can still enjoy them in the both the center and through their image scattered throughout the hot spring town. The town is centered around them and I put photos of some of the representations that you can see below.
There is a cool bakery called the Picnic or Market?. I am not sure why this business is having an existential crisis but it wasn`t either. It was definitely a bakery. My fiancé and I got Hiruzen Milk to drink which comes from Jersey cows which are famous in the area(about 25 minutes north) . We got a variety of different baked goods to eat, my favorite was the Basil Walnut butter cheese bread(get it warmed). Surprisingly, if you go upstairs, you can enjoy your baked goods while putting your feet in footbaths. It also has a nice view of the river. It’s very relaxing despite the presence of strangers` feet. Next door, we got some beef croquettes to eat while sitting on a bench by the river. They even have hanzaki shaped croquettes as well as lamb meat, another famous dish of the area.
There are lots of Giant Salamander themed gifts that you can buy. I bought a small salamander plush and tote back of one eating a person. It`s cuter than it sounds. You can buy products made using the water from the hotsprings which have properties that are good for your body. Finally, you can buy products made from Hiruzen Jersey cow` milk such as pudding, yogurt, or just plain milk. The pudding is really delicious、I highly recommend.
How to get there
From Okayama city, the best way to get there is by car. That`s how Saya and I went. It will take about an 1 hour and half. Tolls will cost you around 2,000 yen each way.You also can take a bus there for 2,420 yen each way.Take an express bus from Okayama station and Transfer at Chugoku Katsuyama Station. Then take a bus and get off at the Yubara Onsen stop. It takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes. If you go by bus, I recommend doing Yubara and Hiruzen Highlands as a weekend trip. There are no train stations near by.
Yubara can also be easily access by car from Tottori city and Matsue,Shimane in one and a half hours.
I attached two links below for more information about Yubara.