Tucked away in the Fukushima countryside, perhaps it's no surprise that this hot spring and traditional Japanese inn is overlooked by many people. But it is a crying shame, as – apart from the stunning natural beauty that is Fukushima – the atmosphere of this place is very peaceful and a long way away from the hot springs in the cities.
As I sit here writing this article, I can hear nothing but the chirping of birds and rushing water from the river and waterfall outside my room. Voted number five for "Best Spring Quality" by Isamu Gunji, the onsen champion with experience of seven thousand five hundred hot springs to his credit, it's easy to see why this hidden gem of Fukushima should be on the to-go list of anyone looking for a real hot spring experience.
Nishiyama was built in the year 717, shortly after the start of the Nara period (AD 710 to 794) of Japanese history. It's said that bathing in each one of the onsens here will cure the visitor of any disease. This is why Nishiyama hot springs often referred to as kami no onsen, or "the hot springs of the gods". The hot springs themselves are spaced out and some are hard to find (despite planning to try three, I was only able to locate two in the short time I was there!) There is supposedly a hot spring with a shrine in it, but I never managed to find it. While there are plenty of signs, visitors should be aware that these are all in Japanese.
This is the first bath I visited. Visitors should be aware that the middle one is quite a bit hotter than the other two, although not hot enough to pose a problem. The baths themselves are quite small but large enough to accommodate two or three people comfortably.
The other hot spring I visited was this one. This has a much larger bath as well as an outdoor one in beautiful scenery. Both are lovely but considerably hotter than the first, and the outdoor one was so hot that I was only able to stay in for a few minutes. It might be best to leave this one for winter! There is another outdoor spring in the ryokan itself with a stunning view of the waterfall. This is mixed bathing, but for those of you who might be a little embarrassed, 7-9pm is for women only.
The accommodation is very good, and the landlady Kaneko Sanae is pleasant and speaks reasonable English, so the language barrier won't be a problem. The rooms are clean and airy as well as quiet. There is air conditioning, but with both windows open I didn't feel any need to use it, although it might be a different story in winter. Complimentary yukata and toothbrushes are provided and each room sleeps two, with a small alcove containing a refrigerator, coffee table and two chairs by the window. Most of the drinks in the refrigerator are alcoholic, but there is a bottle of mineral water, and a kettle and traditional Japanese tea set are also provided. For the desperate among you, there is a vending machine in the hallway! On a side note, however, there are no convenience stores nearby so I advise stocking up with anything you feel you might need before arriving unless you plan to rent a car.
Futons are provided along with pillows, but the pillow is a traditional Japanese one filled with something that feels like gravel. It's more comfortable than it sounds, but if you're the kind of person who needs a soft fluffy pillow, you'll either need to bring your own or improvise something with the cushions in the room (luckily there are plenty of these!)
The dinner and breakfast provided is also very good, but traditional Japanese fare, a lot of which is sourced from Aizu itself, such as the grilled chicken skewers (yakitori) and horsemeat. If you love Japanese food or are always up for experiencing a new cuisine, then look no further. If you'd prefer toast, however, this isn't the place for you. Drinks at meals are either tea or water, which are both complementary or alcohol, which will incur an additional cost (bringing in your own alcohol is a definite no-no, although I wasn't able to get the landlady's view on bringing in a Coke or grape Fanta from the vending machine). The drinks menu is only in Japanese; however, the landlady is more than happy to translate for you.
If you're looking for souvenirs, you can buy handmade soap and lotions made from some of the hot spring water. These can be purchased from Nanokamachi Station (JR Tadami Line) and Mishima Inn, or alternatively, you can just order directly from the website.
As a non-drinker, the lack of a non-alcoholic drinks menu was the biggest problem for me, but that aside, this is a fantastic hot spring and traditional Japanese inn combined, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is looking for a taste of authentic, traditional Japan in a peaceful country setting.