Minakami Onsen Weekend Getaway
Minakami Onsen, a region in Gunma Prefecture, about 150 kilometers northwest of Tokyo is the perfect place to do some great and challenging hikes during the day and relax at night, as this place hosts some of the best Onsen resorts in Japan. Go soon to enjoy the last of the autumn leaves!
We stayed at the Tenjin Lodge, a simple Bed & Breakfast with western and Japanese style rooms, about five kilometers from Minakami village. The place is run by Kieren and Bo, an American-Korean couple. Our pick turned out to be a stroke of luck. Not only are the two great hosts providing their guests with helpful hiking advice, but also is their lodge the perfect departing point for some of the best trails.
Day one – Tanigawadake and Takaragawa Onsen:
Mount Tanigawa belongs to the “Hundred famous Japanese Mountains”, and that’s why it can get quite crowded during high season. Make sure you are equipped with appropriate hiking gear, the hike is more than just a stroll in the woods! (Even though you will just do around six hundred meters difference in altitude, some parts of the trails are quite tricky). Keep in mind that Tanigawadake is commonly called the mountain of death, all over the trail you will find commemorative plaques for those who have died on the mountain. (Luckily I got to know about this only after descending into the valley). Stay on the trail, take your time, and you will be fine.
If you are staying at the lodge, walk up the hill a few hundred meters and take the Tanigawadake ropeway (¥1200 one way). Tanigawadake is the mountain on your right hand side, take the trail and follow it to the top (1.963 meters). Just below the peak there is a small mountain lodge run by a local; Baba-San. You can buy food and drinks there and even stay overnight.
Not that Tanigawadake consists of two peaks, continue on the same trail which leads you to the second summit. Take a break and enjoy the fantastic mountain ridge top views. If you want to do it the Japanese way, take a gas cooker and prepare yourself some cup noodles (or buy them at Baba-San’s mountain lodge). Don’t forget to purchase a pin of Tanigawadake (¥500). At least for Japanese tourists, this is a must do souvenir.
Take the same way trail back down – unless you are a very experienced hiker with a high level of fitness. (remember: Mount Tanigawa is called the mountain of death.)
After all of that you have earned yourself some Onsen time: Drive to Takaragawa Onsen (admission ¥1000, open from 9am until 5pm) and dip into the stunning outside pools with amazing river views. All of them are mixed, which makes it great for couples. No place for prudish people though. The small towel at the size of a fig leaf, which men will be handed at the entrance, shows more than it hides. Good for you if you are female: women get a bigger towel.
Day two – Mount Shiragamon and Onsen Theme Park Ryuudou:
Your muscles are still hurting from the previous hike? Get over it, Mount Shiragamon is worth some more suffering! This mountain is less famous (as it does not belong to the Hundred famous Japanese mountains) and therefore less crowded. This is the perfect hike if want to get off the beaten track, but be aware that there are some climbing parts. If departing from the lodge, cross the street until you arrive to the parking, the trail starts right there. Allow between three and four hours for the rough way up. Be rewarded with breathless views across the valley to Ichinokura and Tanigawadake.
You still did not get enough? Continue another two hours on the same trail to Mount Asahi (1945 meters). Otherwise take the same trail back to the valley.
A half an hour drive from there is the onsen theme park Ryuudou, still a well kept secret due to its off-the-beaten-track location . Admittedly the name sounds a bit like an amusement park, but only in name. This quiet place is probably to most outstanding Onsen I have ever been to. Prepare some Japanese however, the staff speak hardly a word of English. Ryuudou offers 20 private Onsen (admission is ¥1000 per person for 10 Onsen, and ¥2000will allow you to use all of them), the larger ones beautifully arranged along the river, the smaller ones built in small wooden huts. The system is quite simple: Pick the one you like, grab the key from a black board, dip into the hot water, lay back, relax your worn muscles, then pick another one. You have got four hours.
Day three – Yubiso river walk:
Before heading back to Tokyo go for a small morning walk – no worries, no climbing involved this time. Cross the street from the lodge until you hit a dirt road. Follow it parallel to Yubiso river. At any junction turn left towards the mountain. Then the trail moves sharply uphill. From the top you get spectacular views on Mount Ichinokura and the glacier. Walk back along the road, pass by the ropeway before arriving back at Tenjin Lodge.
If you believe Kieren, the owner of Tenjin Lodge, Minakami is where you get the best powder in Japan. Even better than in Hokkaido. As for myself: I will be back in January to check that out!
Address: 20-4 Yubiso, Minakami, Gunma, 379-1728
Please note: Tenjin Lodge will be closed for holidays from middle of November until middle of December.
Address: 1899 Fujiwara, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun, Gunma Prefecture 379-1721
open daily from 9am until 5pm
Onsen Theme Park Ryuudou:
Address: 6192 Fujiwara, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun, Gunma Prefecture,
open daily from 10am until 7pm