Massaging waterfall-type onsen feels more like a martial-arts pummeling.

When you’re looking to soothe sore or stiff muscles, one of the best ways to do it is with a soak in a hot spring. Of course, some people swear by massages too, which is why some hot springs in Japan give you a way to do both at once, with what’s called utaseyu.

As seen at the time queued in the video above, utaseyu, which literally means “striking bath water,” is a set-up in which hot spring water comes out of a pipe above your head. The stream of water picks up momentum as it falls, turning it into a warm liquid massage for your neck and shoulders.

On a recent trip through Yamaguchi Prefecture, we heard about an especially vigorous utaseyu in the town of Shimonoseki. It’s found at the Ichinomata Onsen Grand Hotel, which we arrived at after hopping on the free shuttle bus that runs from the Ozuki train station on the JR Sanyo Line.

Like a lot of onsen (hot spring) hotels, the Ichinomata Onsen Grand Hotel’s baths are open to non-guests for a fee. With a sign at the entrance proclaiming it “the best beautifying bath in West Japan,” we felt confident that it would be worth the 1,100-yen (US$10) entrance fee, and strode into the changing area for the men’s bath (the women’s facilities/bath types are identical).

After soaping ourselves up and rinsing off, we took a short dip in the indoor bath. Thanks to its alkali content, the onsen left our skin feeling silky smooth, but before long we stepped into the rotenburo/open-air hot spring area.

There’s a shallow onsen pond with ruggedly elegant rock formations, a wooden covering providing some shade from the sun, and plenty of lush greenery. But what really catches the eye are a pair of gigantic pipe structures at the edge of the bath.

These are for the utaseyu, but they’re far more massive than the pipes ordinarily used for this purpose. Somehow, they give off an almost sinister aura, like a gallows or guillotine.

Another unique point is that unlike most utaseyu, where the hot spring water flows out in a continual stream, at the Ichinomata Onsen Grand Hotel you have to push a button when you want to use the utaseyu.

▼ The utaseyu button

So we stood underneath the pipe, pressed the button, and…

…were immediately pounded with a powerful cascade of hot spring water that smacked us forcefully on top of our head!

Like we said, the whole point of utaseyu is that it’s supposed to have some weight to it, to produce a massaging effect. But this felt less like a session with a masseuse and more like a bout with Fist of the North Star anime martial artist Kenshiro and his Hundred Crack Fist.

▼ “You are already dead.”

But maybe part of the problem is that we simply weren’t ready for so much force right from the start? If we brace ourselves, or bear with the onsen attack long enough to get used to it, maybe it’ll be more relaxing, right?

Nope. No amount of mental fortitude or physical conditioning is going to make a jet of water so powerful it creates a halo from the water bouncing off your skull seem tranquil.

That said, the Ichinomata Onsen Grand Hotel’s utaseyu is definitely invigorating, and seriously good for a laugh too. We’re not sure if it actually made us any more beautiful or not, but it’s an onsen experience we’ll never forget, and a reminder that sometimes Yamaguchi can be both awesome and terrifying at the same time.

Onsen information
Ichinomata Onsen Grand Hotel / 一の俣温泉グランドホテル
Address: Yamaguchi-ken, Shimonoseki-shi, Toyota-cho, Ichinomata Yunohara 15
Hot spring baths open to non-hotel guests 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Hotel website

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