Do yourself a favor and take a day or two to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and head north to Minakami. Located in Gunma Prefecture, about an hour and a half outside of Tokyo is one of Japan’s top rated onsens/ryokans. It’s tucked away in the mountains and nestled right next to a river and is also a mixed gender, tattoo friendly onsen, both of which are rarities in Japan. Let me introduce: Takaragawa Onsen.
We left from Tokyo and spent one night here during the first week of November and it was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had. The leaves had all changed and there were vibrant colors everywhere you looked. The air was cold, making the rotenburo that much more enjoyable. The staff was attentive and the food was perfectly prepared. It was everything we loved about Japan all in one spot! P.S. Check out our blog post about the top 10 reasons to visit Japan.
Onsens are a must do while visiting Japan, but if you’re looking for a true Japanese ryokan/onsen experience, look no further.
Before you keep reading, let’s have a quick vocabulary lesson so we’re all on the same page.
Onsen = hot springs bath
Rotenburo = open air (outdoor) hot springs
Ryokan = traditional Japanese style B&B
Done! Moving on.
Like I said, Takaragawa Onsen is easily located from Tokyo. We left from Tokyo station on a direct shinkansen to Jomo-Kogen, where we were picked up by the their courtesy shuttle at 13:00. This was easily arranged via email. They do another pick up from Jomo-Kogen at 15:00 and one from Minakami at 15:00, but we wanted to be picked up earlier to allow more time during the day at the rotenburo. The drive from Jomo-Kogen to the onsen was about 45 minutes and when we arrived, we were promptly greeted by staff and given a map, keys to our room, and instructions for the onsen. We even got to choose our own yukata (kimonos) to wear throughout our stay!
We booked the 7 tatami (basically area size) Higashikan river view room for $312/night. This was a splurge for us based on how we usually travel, but we had saved a lot of money couchsurfing in Maui and Tokyo so we decided it was worth it. We were 100% correct.
After getting dressed in our yukata, we started exploring the grounds. Seriously, if you’re in Japan in the fall, I’d make an effort to go here just for photos, even if you don’t stay the night!
Then, it was time to hit the rotenburo. Takaragawa Onsen also has a female only onsen, Traditionally, Japanese onsens are to be enjoyed in the nude and are usually separate for that reason. However, since this onsen is more of a couples getaway, they have mixed gender onsens. The women are given brown dresses to wear and the men use a small white towel to cover themselves with if they wish to do so.
The rotenburo has 3 pools, each varying in temperature. I’d like to note that my sterling silver jewelry was tarnished after being in these pools, so remove your jewelry! I wasn’t expecting that!
After lounging in the hot springs for a bit, we went back to the room to get ready for our 6:30 dinnertime. Our dinner was served buffet style, but I believe if you book separately, you can have dinner served to you in your room.
The dinner was an array of Japanese food. A grill was available for steak and vegetables and you could dip them in an awesome sweet teriyaki sauce. Here you see almond crusted shrimp, fried chicken, sweet and sour pork, pork and potatoes, sushi rolls, spaghetti (I had to, I’m Italian), beef curry, and an assortment of sashimi.
When we returned from dinner, our room had been reset for us to sleep. Japanese sleep on futons and while they look plain, they are actually very comfortable. We slept extremely well!
Since we slept so well, we decided to get up at 6 am for a morning onsen session. It was completely quiet and we had it all to ourselves. Usually the first thing we do in the morning to wake up is pound a cup of coffee, but this was so much better.
A buffet breakfast was served from 7-8:30 and included a mixture of Japanese and Western foods, which we were thankful for. As much as we love Japanese food, we can’t quite exchange miso soup for granola and sushi for eggs.
After breakfast, we packed up our backpacks, checked out, and were transported back to Jomo-Kogen station by their courtesy shuttle. We left with full bellies, feeling rejuvenated and in tune with nature and Japanese culture.
I would highly, highly recommend visiting Takaragawa Onsen to anyone traveling through Japan. If the nightly rate is a little too steep for you, they do allow day passes to their onsen and rotenburo, which is just under $15 USD per person. More information can be found on their website.
Leave us a comment! Have you ever been here? Did this inspire you to go? Have you ever been to an overnight retreat that blew your mind?