This Gorgeous Japanese Inn Is an Off-the-grid Paradise — With No Electricity, Wi-Fi, or Phone Service
In northern Japan, this off-the-grid hideaway is perfect for the adventurous traveler.
It took seven hours, three trains, and two buses to get to the place my partner and I had booked for our weekend getaway. We were coming from Tokyo to Japan’s Aomori Prefecture, the northernmost region of Japan’s main island, Honshu. I expected Aoni Onsen to be a cluster of onsen ryokans, or hot springs hotels, like other places in Japan, but it turned out to only be one small inn. The name of the ryokan, Lamp no Yado, translates to “the inn of lamps,” a very appropriate name given that the space is fully adorned with oil lamps, hung across the ryokan at sundown to ensure bare minimum lighting.
Lamp no Yado stood out to me, as compared to other onsen ryokans, because it feels completely isolated — there is no electricity, phone signal, or Wi-Fi on the property. With massive winter snowfalls and the biting cold, this may appear to be a problem, but the ryokan mitigates this by getting each room its own kerosene space heater and an oil lamp for light. It’s a no-frills place, where guests are expected to set up their own futons and use wooden buckets to shower.
There are four different onsens: three indoor onsens separated by gender, and one large outdoor co-ed onsen. Mixed onsens, known as konyoku, were the norm in Japan before the hotel construction boom in the ‘70s, which created gender-separate onsens. These co-ed onsens are still relatively common in northern Japan, with some offering certain times set aside just for women, or providing bathrobe rentals for women. It was a strange experience for me at first, and I was apprehensive about getting into a bath fully nude in the presence of total strangers. However, the comfort of the waters and the opportunity to soak with my partner was a huge plus, given that we are usually in different rooms when it comes to onsen time. The total seclusion made for a mesmerizing setting, made even more serene by the contrast of the cold falling snow on the hot water.
The ryokan pulled out all the stops at mealtimes. Each meal featured a variety of dishes all showcasing local ingredients and flavors. They had unwittingly created a sea-to-table concept dinner centered around small plates of seafood, with dishes such as freshly caught river trout grilled on an open fire, and my favorite, the minced squid cutlets, a beloved local dish.
The ryokan is fully immersed in nature, which has its drawbacks. Mini rooftop avalanches due to heavy snowfall startled us at 3 a.m., making it impossible to sleep. Braving the biting cold, we snuck out to the outdoor baths, peppered with lots of conversation, and watched the landscape slowly light up with the sunrise. As someone who grew up in big cities, it’s amazing how quickly our eyes can adapt to different light levels — you can get around without any flashlights, even in the darkness of the night.
Plan your trip carefully, as Lamp no Yado is only accessible via shuttle bus because of dangerous driving conditions. If you miss the shuttle buses, it will be impossible to get there, as the trek would take over five hours, according to the staff.
This ryokan isn’t for everyone — the staff told us about instances where guests took the long trip there, only to turn around immediately after realizing the lack of Wi-Fi and phone signal was no exaggeration. Personally, though, this experience gave my partner and me time to detox from the digital space, and to simply spend time with one another. My stories from my time at Lamp no Yado always start like this: “This amazing ryokan I just went to completely cuts you off from the outside world, but it makes the experience really worthwhile.”
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