Do you know what this is? No, it’s not a petrol station - it’s a self-serve onsen (hot-spring water) station!
The Serigasawa Onsen hot-spring station in Chino City, Nagano Prefecture, is where you can, with a prepaid card, purchase up to 4,000 litres for 2,000 yen (ie, 50 yen per 100 litres).
There is a little basin behind the stands where you can actually have a look, taste, and smell of the hot-spring water on offer. According to the information board, Serigasawa Onsen station serves alkaline hot-spring water at 52.1 degrees Celsius. When used for bathing, it can apparently provide relief to people who suffer from a host of different illnesses and ailments including chronic muscle and joint pain, diabetes, and poor circulation.
Hotels and inns that feature hot-spring baths normally have the hot-spring water pumped directly to their properties or trucks will come to deliver the water. This is another option available when onsen water is need in a pinch, and one that regular folk can also take advantage of whenever needed.
There was a charming little shrine next to the station devoted to the local mountain spirit (山の神) and I also found some plump mushrooms that looked like freshly baked bread sprouting out from the station’s wooden fence. What I didn’t expect to find though, were signs asking male patrons to not pee on the wall behind the self-service stands!
Have you ever lived in or visited a town in Japan that also has self-serve onsen stations?