Snow Bathing: The Japanese Winter Onsen Experience at Takaragawa

I got the chance to visit one of the popular onsen in the Kanto area called TAKARAGAWA ONSEN 宝川温泉 recently.
It’s located in Gunma prefecture about 2 hours by bus and train from Tokyo.
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It’s become quite famous with foreign tourists because of the proximity to Tokyo, the traditional style and an English website.
http://takaragawa.com > Click “English” for the English site.
Actually, I’ve been going here for years. My first visit was in 1999 and since then, the number of foreign tourists visiting has been steadily increasing.

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In the winter, Takaragawa Onsen becomes a really beautiful place with the snow blanketing everything in white.
The cool air contrasts perfectly with the hot water. It’s a royal soak.
When snow falls, it seems like paradise.
Just … it seems a little weird to be in the water not to mention naked.

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So, what’s up with getting naked and bathing outside with a bunch of strangers?
People have been hitting the hot springs since Roman times as a place to relax and rejuvenate the body.
In Japan, it’s just part of the culture. You don’t have to walk around like an ape though — men can hold a towel in front to be polite.
At Takagara Onsen, women can also enter the same bath as men. Of course, they don’t go in naked! A brown gown is provided to cover up.

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Normally, men and women separate at the baths.
This makes Takaragawa unique.

It’s possible to visit this onsen on a day trip, but it’s best to spend the night (or the week if you can afford it).
Guests have 24 hour access to the baths, 2 fantastically prepared traditional meals and a comfortable tatami room with a beautiful view.

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In the morning, there’s even Japan’s famous natto, fermented soy beans. It’s mixed with a mustard and soy sauce to give it a nice flavor.
Don’t know it unless you tried it — and even then, it might take a few times before you start to love it.

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At night, you can have the baths all to yourself!
It’s kind of creepy, but wandering in the snow to get there is part of the experience.

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The area is known for its wild bears, but don’t worry — they’re probably hibernating until spring.
There’s a pet bear in the cage, and bear is also on the menu in the form of a sukiyaki. It’s tough meat but quite good.

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If you get a chance to visit Japan in the winter, make a stop at a countryside onsen!
It’s worth the experience!

Notes:

Book at least 3 weeks in advance for weekdays and 1-2 months for weekends.
The staff speak a little English so calling is okay, but using the online English reservation page is best.
You have a choice of western or Japanese food.
There’s a bus from Minakami Station to the Onsen once a day. The public bus runs once an hour and a taxi costs between 2000-3000 yen.
Tattoos are not usually welcomed at any spa in Japan, but if you cover up small tattoos, it should be okay. Women wear a gown so you’re covered from knees to shoulders, not arms. It’s possible to use a long towel.

 

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