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Friday, March 20, 2009

Chill out in Nagano's hot water

Special to The Japan Times

In Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning fantasy "Spirited Away," the main character, Chihiro, survives by working at a sento (bathhouse) bathing spirits. The sento is depicted as a wooden structure several floors high and as a lively, hectic place where creatures take care of the guests, including a stink spirit who drives all of the other visitors out when he arrives for a bath.

News photo
Kanaguya, an onsen in Nagano Prefecture will host the "Onsen Sound & Art Village" ambient music festival in late March.

The Miyazaki sento is based on several buildings spread about Japan. One of those is Kanaguya, a four-story, wooden ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) that will host "Onsen Sound & Art Village," a two-day festival of ambient music scheduled on March 28 and 29.

Kanaguya is in Nagano Prefecture's Shibu Onsen, about two hours by shinkansen from Tokyo. The village has one main road with buildings several centuries old, stone-embedded streets and lantern-lit alleyways. The main road also has various inns and food stands, along with nine outdoor onsen (hot springs) — of which Kanaguya is the centerpiece.

Artists from the Japanese ambient and electronic music scene will be playing on the top floor of Kanaguya. One of the artists, Yasuda Toshiyuki, is a composer, producer and arranger who recently collaborated with world-renowned electronica producer Towa Tei. The acoustic group Coupie will be relaxing the crowd with their guitars, sound-tube effects, and vocals. Also playing will be piano and electric-guitar group Ironomi. Other artists include DJ Meguro Degas, Swasakiyoshiro!, Firo, and PsysEx. In addition, the event includes an optional tour to Hell's Valley Onsen to see the region's famous "snow monkeys" — wild Japanese macaques with a liking for outdoor hot springs.

Kanaguya may have been one of the models for Miyazaki's sento, but let's hope there won't be any stink spirits joining the fun.

"Onsen Sound & Art Village" will be held on March 28-29 in Shibu Onsen, Nagano Prefecture. Two-day tickets cost ¥6,000 to ¥9,800, with 1 day tickets at ¥4,000. www.onsenchillout.com

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