Within toe-dipping distance of Tokyo, Gunma’s onsen haven is the perfect bathing escape.
Less than two hours from the dazzling neon of Tokyo, the scenic mountains of Gunma prefecture are practically overrun with hot springs; there’s Takaragawa onsen, with its picturesque open-air baths along the river which allow mixed bathing, and beer; Kusatsu onsen, which spurts out around 4000 liters of sulphuric spring water every minute; Sainokawara onsen, an enormous outdoor bath with space for 99 other people; and Hoshi Chojukan, a remote inn deep in the mountains with secluded outdoor baths that you can have all to yourself.
The yubatake in Kusatsu distributes hot spring water to the surrounding public baths.
The best introduction to Gunma’s onsen is at Kusatsu which boasts the highest amount of hot spring water in the country. In the town center, the yubatake (hot water field) uses wooden troughs to cool down and distribute the hot water to the surrounding public baths and inns. You can also witness the yumomi where local women stir the hot spring waters with large wooden paddles while singing and dancing traditional songs.
Hike around the epic Mount Tanigawadake region.
Gunma’s diverse landscape means you don’t have to spend all your time bathing. In Minakami, you can take a break from luxuriating and do some extreme sports instead – the area is packed with organizations offering outdoor activities from rafting to bungee jumping in the summer, and skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Mount Tanigawadake has some great hiking from July to November and transforms into a fun ski resort in the winter.
It’s a popular place for seasonal workers from overseas so many companies offer services in English too.
The bullet train runs from Tokyo to Takasaki, the gateway to Gunma prefecture. On your way, pick up a traditional daruma doll, of which Takasaki is a leading producer. The dolls are used for making a wish by coloring in the left eye, and then coloring in the right eye once the wish has come true.
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