Matsukawa Onsen ‘Bonnet Bus’ a Hachimantai must do

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Matsukawa Onsen is a wild experience. Nothing much beats soaking outdoors in a milky natural onsen after a huge day charging the #hachipow at nearby Shimokura. But riding the funky 1968 ‘Bonnet Bus’ takes that next level.

The Matsukawa Onsen Bonnet Bus in the snow
Since 1968, over 50 years and counting for the mighty ‘Bonnet Bus’ © Owain Price

This is one crazy ride up a rugged snowy gorge to the gorgeous Matsukawa Onsen.

Even with the wiper flapping the driver could hardly see through the falling snow, but he must know the road so well it hardly matters – unless you happened to be driving the other way on the hairpin bends anyway.

We thought it looked a bit deep, but he didn’t even bother with chains. Which looking at the size of the chains lying on the floor made me think I wouldn’t bother either, unless it got really bad.

Driver's view inside the cabin of the Bonnet Bus to Matsukawa Onsen, Hachimantai
I couldn’t see 10 metres standing behind the driver, but he was unfazed – chains, what chains? © Owain Price

Known as the ‘Bonnet Bus’, for obvious reasons, it runs from the Hachimantai Mountain Hotel & Spa up the gorge into the national park when there is snow – usually from December to March – for ¥280 each way.

After 20 minutes or so you pull up at the traditional ryokan at Matsukawa Onsen. If you want a complete getaway then a night here would be ideal, but a dip in the outdoor onsen and tea by the fireplace was enough for us.

Matsukawa Onsen in winter
It’s the real natural hot tub deal at Matsukawa Onsen © Owain Price

There’s mixed or ladies onsen options, but it was only me in there anyway when we went.

Some days a group may come over from Appi to Matsukawa Onsen, but I just soaked alone and caught snowflakes on my face. The milky green water is awesome, providing a full recovery session for the morning’s powder adventures at Shimokura.

For more on other attractions in the Hachimantai area check their official tourism site here.

Enjoy some tea after © Carmen Price