Okutsu Onsen Hostel Okayama: stay and play with locals

The story of Okutsu Onsen Hostel, a delightful small hostel in the hot springs mountain town of Okutsu in Okayama Prefecture (famous for Okayama Castle and Korakuen Gardens), starts over 30 years ago.

The Okutsu Hot Springs are a favorite destination for Japanese visitors as well as foreigners. Even the Emperor visited these beautiful hot springs, which have an ideal temperature of 42.5° C

Wim Ooms, who opened Okutsu Onsen Hostel with his wife, told Japanezy.com the story how an expat Dutch IT guy eventually settled down where his Japanese wife’s family came from.

Okutsu Onsen 'Laundry Dance' , washing clothes in the river hot springs
Watch the local ladies do the “Laundry Dance” in the springs on weekends © Okutsu Onsen

It all started many years ago in 1989, when I was in Tsuyama for the birth of my first son. During the 6 months in Tsuyama I got to know Sakate-san, a good friend of my wife.

We investigated the opportunity to set up some Indian restaurants in the area. After some serious deliberations, I decided that my future was more in Australia and Europe than in Tsuyama.

As an IT professional I worked in Europe, the USA and Australia, with some activities in between like building my own house, becoming a commercial chef, and running an Air B&B.

And we made many visits to Tsuyama and surroundings to visit Obasan (Aunty) and the rest of the family. During the winter we drove to the Onbara Kogen snowfields (a small family friendly ski area) to drop off the children, who enjoyed themselves snow boarding. My wife and I then retired to the lovely hot springs in Okutsu for some relaxing. 

Fast forward to 2019 visiting my family in Tsuyama I received a phone call of my good friend Sakate-san, who invited me for a lovely dinner.

He told me about his purchase of a property in Okutsu and how he restored the beautiful Japanese garden. Afterwards we spent the days exploring Okutsu and surroundings.

His property is a community hall in the main street, with a large kitchen with the capacity to cater for more than 100 people. He is cleaning up and restoring his beautiful Japanese garden, and has been working on a 5 year long project to clean up the Yoshii River which flows through Okutsu.

Okutsu Onsen Hostel tatami mat room
All the rooms and dorms at Okutsu Onsen Hostel feature tatami mats © Okutsu Onsen Hostel

We met our friendly neighbour, who owns a lovely older farmhouse with a modern bungalow. This farmhouse was not used anymore and our ideas for stimulating tourism to Okutsu became suddenly more a reality. We could transform this into a nice hostel because the hotels in the area do not cater for other types of visitors.

Our aim is to work with the locals to attract a diverse group of visitors to revitalise Okutsu. So we started with the renovation of the hostel, using my building experience and help from our friends. We also got the necessary licenses, explored the Okutsu surroundings for activities our guests can enjoy, and secured hot spring water for our properties.

Kanpai from the Tiger Bar © Okutsu Hostel

I started my mornings drinking coffee with the locals in Mariko’s restaurant down the road. Downstairs there is the restaurant and upstairs was a disused bar and two more rooms, which we were allowed to use as we wished.

So as part of our project we developed the ‘Tiger bar’, and converted the rooms into Air B&B, which are both a part of the hostel now.

When our friendly neighbour visited the hostel after the renovations he was totally surprised, he didn’t expected such a beautiful transformation. 

Then in February came the Covid-19 hysteria and I had to leave in a hurry for Australia. Sitting out my time till the World comes to its senses again and we are free to travel. Many of my international friends are eager to come for a visit and experience Okutsu and surroundings.

As soon as we can we will be back and open again. Please come and visit us at Okutsu Onsen Hostel and discover more of what Okutsu offers. Don’t miss the local ladies doing ‘the laundry dance’ on weekends – this is better than the hot wash setting on your washing machine!

Not such a hard dance to learn © Okutsu Onsen Hostel

The Okutsu Onsen Hostel accommodation offers a mix of dorms and private rooms. All rooms have tatami floors and your bedding is an original Japanese futon, warm and cosy.
In style of a traditional Japanese house the rooms are separated with fusumas (Japanese sliding doors). The dorms are female only or mixed.

They have private rooms for 2, 3 or 4 people in the main building or annexes. Groups up to 30 people can be accommodated.

The hostel has 2 well equipped kitchens for travellers who like to do their own cooking. Across the road their very cosy ‘Tiger bar’ serves light snacks and drinks.

For more info and bookings check the website here

Trveling on a budget you can use the kitchen to self-cater © Okutsu Hostel