visit takaragawa onsen hot spa

Minakami Travel Blog

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bullet train from Tokyo to our first transfer
Thanks for Fio on travbuddy who wrote the first review on Takaragawa onsen hot spa, we booked a room at the guest house and totally enjoyed our stay there.

We didn't have very good internet connection last night or this morning, so I wasn't able to upload my photos. We had a similar breakfast from the bakery, packed and left for the train station. The loop line took us to Tokyo station, and since we scouted yesterday, we were able to find our connecting bullet train (Shinkansen) which would take us to Takasaki, it was less than 1 hour ride. The green reserved car we had had roomy seats, although if you had anything larger than a carryon suitcase it would have been hard to fit in the space overhead.
kevin and our train, green car is "first class" with bigger seats
At Takasaki we changed to a local train bound for Minakami. The local train stopped at every stop and no reserved seats, less leg space between seats facing each other. About an hour later we arrived at Minakami where we would board a bus for Takaragawa, a resort in the Japanese Alps where we would spend the next two nights. I saw a review here on Travbuddy about this onsen (hotspring resort) and it looked really pretty with open air baths by the river. I had been to Hokkaido in 2004 on a reunion tour of my junior high school. There were many hot springs baths places we visited there, but all were inside the hotel, not in any natural settings, so I thought this would be a good change.
nice and comfy
After reading up on Takaragawa, it sounded like a real good place to visit, my worry was if it would be easy to get to. It was not a no-brainer, since we had to change trains, and then take a bus, but we made it there without problems. Trains were on time of course, and the buses were too.

Outside Minakami station (which was a pretty tiny station), we found the bus depot, numbered spots marking the routes of the buses. We had a few minutes, so I walked down the street and bought a boxx of choco cake for snacks. They had a sample box showing what you would get, and you may have seen all those plastic sample foods at Japanese restaurants, so in the random bakery store, they also had samples so you can see what you will be getting. Of course we couldn't taste it before buying. But now many choco cakes later, I must say it was awfully tasty! Basically bite-sized chocolate cakes with a small filling of melted chocolate.
the bus stops at Minakami, snow on the ground, only at 491m high
The price was reasonable too, a box of 10 cost 530 yen.

The bus left the train station and headed into the mountains. Ah, I forgot to say that there was snow on the way into Minakami, and snow on the ground in Minakami, and all the way up. Not very high, Minakami was at 491 m, and we went up perhaps to 2000 feet, We passed a couple of ski and snowboard resorts on the way, a dam with iced surface and along the river which fed into the dam. All along the drive it was very scenic, with snow and leafless trees going up the steep slopes. We arrived at another bus station where the driver told us was our stop, and we saw a shuttle from the onsen waiting. So we got to the Osenkaku guest house/hotel, at the entrance, we left our normal shoes, and changed into sandals to wear inside the hotel.
The check-in process was simple enough, (another side note, neither this nor the hotel in Tokyo took a credit card when we checked in, this is different from hotels in the USA and elsewhere). We were given instructions on how to wear our Japanese robes, which we pick out at the lobby, left side over right, tie the sash on, don't flap your robes while wallking. etc. We were told that people were expected to wear the inside robes in the hotel, and there was an outer robe which we could wear when we go outside to the hot spring baths. A map was given showing the 4 baths along the river, 3 were mixed sexes for both men and women, and one for women only. The setting of this place could hardly be more beautiful, the mountains covered in snow, the river flowing right next to the hotel, we had our Japanese room overlooking the river, and could hear the water flowing.
view of Minakami train station (right) from across the street, near where I bought the yummy "choco cake"s
After putting our bags in the room, we changed into robes and went for the baths.

First you had to shower and clean yourselves, using either private bath in the room or the public bath. Watch out for the men vs women sign on the curtain leading to the showers. The public baths in the hotel had indoor hot spring too, so it was real steamy inside. A row of shower stations were against the wall, where shower gel, shampoo and conditioners were provided along with special carbon or charcoal soaps which seemed to be a specialty of the hot springs. After cleaning up, we put our tobes back on and went out to the open air hot springs. First we had to change to outdoor sandals before going out, over a bridge, along a path by the river. Many shrines and statues of buddhist deities were found along the way.
a drawing showing Minakami (foreground) and Takaragawa in the mountains where we were headed.
Then at the changing rooms near the hot spring, you put your robes in a basket and go out with a little towel to cover yourself. They actually gave out regular bath size towels and some women wrap themselves up even in the hot springs. Most other people had tiny white towels maybe a square feet in size. Anyway, you ease your way into the hot spring and find a rock underwater to sit on. You had to watch out for these platforms, Kevin stubbed his toe on one and now had a bruised toe. The water temperatures went from lukewarm to really hot, and depends on where in the pool, the water may be hot or not too hot. It was very calming and relaxing to sit in the water, rocks covered in snow surrounding the pool, which were on the banks of the river. After roasting a while, you can move to cooler waters, and come back again when you got cooler.
view from our guest room in Minakami
It was hard to walk fast with the robes, and after soaking in the hot springs, one is even less likely to move very fast. Everything seemed to be slowed down, which was just great! The hot springs here are open 24 hours a day, except for cleaning time, when some of the pools would be unavailable.

Dinner was quite an experience too. We were served dinner in our room. Sitting on the tatami and low chairs, a table is set in front of each of us, and a lot of various foods were provided. The waitress had to give instructions on which was what and how to eat them, dip in this sauce or that one. How to turn our fish on a stick on the small bbq stove. It was all very tasty and fun. We even had “bear soup” which was supposed to be a specialty of the area. Hmm, well, I didn't expect that, but ate my piece of bear meat, which was a different color dark meat than beef or pork and tasted a bit gamy.
View from our room down to the river.
I don't think I would be seeking that out back at home. There were more than enough to eat, and the variety was great too. We finished with a small dessert of strawberries and whipped cream.

After a rest to digest dinner, we set out for the hot springs for another soak. You warm up enough that when you come back from the hot springs, the single cotton robe was plenty in the night air. With the snow on the ground, it was a little strange to not be wearing a big jacket but we didn't need it.


portia says:
It's really easy to use the train system, the Shinkansen is real slick, although it's so far ahead of the USA, it has been around a while!
Posted on: Mar 23, 2008
aoisoba says:
i would like to try riding the shikansen :)
Posted on: Mar 23, 2008
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bullet train from Tokyo to our fir…
bullet train from Tokyo to our fi…
kevin and our train, green car is …
kevin and our train, green car is…
nice and comfy
nice and comfy
the bus stops at Minakami, snow on…
the bus stops at Minakami, snow o…
view of Minakami train station (ri…
view of Minakami train station (r…
a drawing showing Minakami (foregr…
a drawing showing Minakami (foreg…
view from our guest room in Minaka…
view from our guest room in Minak…
View from our room down to the riv…
View from our room down to the ri…
Interior of our guest room toward …
Interior of our guest room toward…
another view of our guest room tow…
another view of our guest room to…
Dinner is served in our guest room
Dinner is served in our guest room
another view our our dinner, there…
another view our our dinner, ther…
a fish and some beef were cooked o…
a fish and some beef were cooked …
Minakami Hotels & Accommodations review
The best hot spring experience in Japan
Ever since reading Fio's review about this place I have been intrigued. It looked so beautiful. Now that I have been there, I am not disappointed! Def… read entire review
Minakami
photo by: portia