The Story of the Onsens

by Kazuo Uehara, a local editor

Photo credits: Shinichi Kubota

Legend of Discovery

At Kumanotearayu (one of the natural onsens in Nozawa) the following scripture can be found: "Once in the Nara period, a hunter followed an injured bear and discovered it running onsen water over its wound." The people living there long ago probably believed that the onsen, a source of warm water blessed with special powers, was a gift from the gods. Other than this legend that the onsen was discovered thanks to animals, there is also a legend that a famous monk named Gyoki visiting the nearby Mount Kosuge discovered the onsen and then shared this knowledge with others. Another legend says that a yamabushi (mountain priest) discovered the onsen during his practice.

In the past, people were living a little to the west of the current village, in the area called ”Furuyashiki” (meaning ”old palace”), and migrated after the onsen was discovered. They say that ancestors of the Kono family migrated to "Tearayu," locally referred to as "Terayu," and ancestors of the Tomii family settled in Oyu.

Loved by Warriors

In the early years of the Kamakura period, the warrior w~o was ruling this land, Ichikawa, a land name related to the onsen "Yuyama," appeared in the records. The same place was also called ''Yuzawa" due to the geographical features at the foot of the mountain. It was an

important place for warriors who went there to heal their wounds.

After that, during the Sengoku period, Uesugi Kenshin from Echigo (Niigata Prefecture) and Takeda Shingen from Kai (Yam anash i Prefecture) engaged in a number of battles, the so-called Battles of Kawanakajima, in the area surrounding Kita-Shinano.

In 1557, Uesugi Kenshin advanced to liyama Castle to fight with Takeda Shingen, but before that he visited Kosuge Temple and offered a prayer:

''There is an onsen in those northern mountains.

It can heal a supporter in Nozawa, named Ichikawa Towaka."

It seems that Uesugi was aiming for that location, as there is a letter saying, "It's a great achievement to have defended the "Nozawa baths" from the army of Uesugi, and beaten them back to liyama." This was the first mention of " Nozawa baths" in the records.

This was one of the "Battles of Kawanakajima" in the area around the onsens. Being able to heal the wounds of their warriors in onsens was very important for Sengoku generals, to keep them ready for battle at any moment.