Trip Taken: 2007
Besides the indoor baths in Kyoto and Arima, I have yet to have an outdoor onsen experience. I decided to do a little research on where to go before I came up with Takaragawa onsen in the Gunma prefecture, approximately two and a half hour train ride from Tokyo.
I woke up extra early to get spend as much time as possible in the hot springs I was going to. So early in fact that the hostel breakfast wasn’t even set up yet. Instead of the hostel breakfast, I bought a yakisoba and mango tea from the local Lawson’s (Note: Lawson’s and 7-11 make an excellent cheap alternative to a meal in a restaurant). With my Japan Rail Pass in my hand, I headed to Tokyo’s main train station to wait for my train to Minakami.
I arrived in Minakami about two hours later and set off to find the bus that will take me to the onsen. Hurray! More transportation. This one was a little easier to find as there were signs posted. I waited and got on the bus, which took another fifteen minutes before we approached the onsen. This place is in the middle of nowhere. The road there winded through some forested roads on a hill. We finally arrived in a valley between two hills and, voila, there is a shop and inn.
The thing that struck me most about this place was the amount motorcycles here. Either a lot of Japanese people ride bikes to onsens or I was there on a day with a lot of yakuza. I headed in unfazed by the thought and paid my 1500 yen entrance fee. I also got a free mug as part of the experience. Walking through the onsen complex, you will see some curious things. There is a shack full weird antiques that are on display for the visitors to look at and there is a baby black bear in an enclosure. What a bear is doing out here is beyond me, but it was cute.
The first thing you do at Takaragawa is find a locker. There are so many people going in and out of the locker room that the turnover is pretty fast. Have your towel ready to cover yourself. It is a co-ed bath after all. Wash yourself before you get into the hot springs. There are shower stalls outside where you can clean yourself. It is part of the procedure so you don’t spoil the waters with your unholy dirt brought from the city.
I headed straight for the big bath on the other side of the river. It is a strange feeling walking around an outdoor bath complex with little to cover yourself in. I spent a good two hours in the various baths until I looked like a red California raisin. Most of the time was spent in the warm baths since I get lightheaded if I stay in the hot ones. The range of people were mostly young, middle-aged couples. I saw a few tattooed visitors. Yakuza maybe? Who knows, but even gangsters need their R&R and what’s it to me to spoil that?
After cleansing myself and taking in the scenery, I changed and headed back towards Minakami. The area around the train station had a lot of souvenir shops. I bought some sake and plum wine to take back home. There were also other sweets for purchase but I think alcohol lasts longer. (Sorry! No pictures of the baths with naked people.)