Gunma, Japan – the ultimate onsen destination for après ski soaking

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Takaragawa Onsen. Photo: Shutterstock

For serious powder snow lovers who want an authentic Japanese experience, Gunma is a must-ski stop with big mountains yet to be discovered by the tourist masses, and geo-thermal volcanic springs that feed some of the best onsens in the country.

You’ll find an old-world Japan in Gunma, filled with small-town charm, centuries old heritage culture and big powder snow that falls by the metre load.

Boasting over 20 ski resorts and a plethora of onsen towns, Gunma prefecture is a mere hour by bullet train from Tokyo in the northern Kanto region. Take the train or do a road trip to explore the uncrowded, under the radar ski resorts and soak your nights away in the country’s famed hot springs filled with centuries old history.

Tick these seven onsen areas off your list.

Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu Onsen
Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu is perhaps the most famous onsen town in all of Japan. Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort is also one of Japan’s first resorts and is just 1.5 km from the town with a free shuttle that connects the two.

When you arrive in town, you’ll immediately notice the Yubatake, which feeds over a hundred onsens. Check out Toki no Niwa, a ryokan where all rooms have private open-air onsen baths, or the baths at Ohtaki-no-Yu (sometimes spelled “Otakinoyu,”) which get progressively hotter as you move between pools.

There are also a few free public onsens near the town square to explore as well.

Minakami Onsen

Ryokan Tanagawa
Ryokan Tanigawa

Backcountry skiers who base themselves near Mount Tanigawa, Gunma’s 1,977-meter-high peak, will love Minakami Onsen, a town nestled amongst the mountains.

Once you’ve worn yourself out in the powder, head to the Tanigawa Onsen at Ryokan Tanigawa, where you can sip local sake and taste ice cream as you soak deep inside the Joshin’etsu Kogen National Park.

Or try the small luxury inn Kanzan in the Minakami area, an authentic boutique hotel with just six perfect rooms, and a hydrogen rich onsen with breathtaking views of Mount Tanigawa while you soak in the mineral rich waters.

Shima Onsen

Shima Tamura

The town of Shima Onsen is home to some of Japan’s oldest hot springs and is filled with historical charm with onsens that haven’t changed since the 1600s when travellers would descend upon the town for the healing effects of the waters. Considered an ailment for cuts, skin conditions and fatigue, the hot spring waters here are also good for the stomach with many offering safe water for drinking.

There are many onsens in the town along the river, and most of the ryokans also have their own since the whole landscape is bubbling (literally) with hot water. Consider taking a day off from skiing and tending to sore muscles with a day spent soaking at Shima Tamura. It was founded in the mid-1500s and has seven forested hot springs with waterfall views.

Kawaba Onsen

Kawaba Yutorian Onsen

You’ll find the thatched roof traditional village of Kawaba Onsen not far from Kawaba Ski Resort, a boutique ski field with views to Mt Fuji and some excellent backcountry terrain.

There are five different springs in the area—Sakuragawa, Kawaba, Koju, Shiogawara, and Hotaka—which supply the nearby onsen.

Kawaba Yutorian Onsen is famous among locals for being one of the best places to retreat into rich tradition and culture. Located downtown in the ancient Kawaba Village, you’ll discover beautifully preserved Kayabuki houses and traditional rice fields. You’ll also enjoy the range of natural free-flowing hot spring, with the historic Hotaka Shrine from 1755 within sight.

Manza Onsen

Manza Onsen
Onsen Nisshinkan

The first thing you’ll notice in Manza Onsen is the sulphur with over 20 different kinds of sulphur spring water to try after a day on the slopes at the boutique Manza Onsen Ski Resort. Take on the cute as a button ski resort with a handful of runs and then spend your night in the rotenburo outdoor baths with mountain views by star and moon light.

Take your pick of nine onsens at Onsen Nisshinkan in the Joshin’etsu Kogen National Park – expect onsens filled with aromatic bamboo leaves and an open air onsen for late night soaks. You can even rent a private onsen for you and your ski crew. 

Takaragawa Onsen

Osenkaku Ryokan

Boasting some of the most picturesque baths in Gunma, Takaragawa is a must-see onsen, even if you only have a day or two in the region. It’s accessible by public transport, and even if you don’t stay at the luxe on-site Osenkaku Ryokan, you can still soak in the natural onsens built into the river.

You’ll have a half-dozen ski resorts within a half-hour drive of the Ryokan, including family-friendly Minakami Kogen Fujiwara Ski Resort and Tanigawadake Tenjindaira Ski Area (often just called “Tenjin,”) a resort well-loved by international skiers for its exceptional backcountry terrain.

Ikaho Onsen

Moriaki Ryokan
Moriaki Ryokan

Head to the 2000 year old Ikaho Onsen for the dark red iron rich waters known as Kogane No Yu and soak your feet in the road side foot onsens. Climb the 365 steps of the famed stone stairway with onsens on either side – you’ll find a public onsen at both the top and the bottom and private ryokans along the way.

While you’re there take the Ikaho Ropeway to the summit of Mount Monokiki for stunning mountain views or sip the healing qualities of the mineral waters at the Ikaho Onsen Drinking Area.

You’ll find the Moriaki Ryokan moments away from the Ikaho stone steps. The inn, founded in 1868, blends old world charm and contemporary design with Japanese hospitality. The private onsens here are both indoor and outdoor with stunning local views and meals are served in degustation style.

Read more about Gunma’s onsen towns here.

*This is a sponsored post in partnership with Visit Gunma.

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