Jan 25, 2009

Kawarayu Onsen Gunma Pref. (2)

Public Baths

There are three wonderful public baths at Kawarayu Onsen. Highly recommended for soak addict.

The Syotensama Rotenburo. Looks like a small hut on a hill.

■Syotensama Rotenburo(聖天様露天風呂)
Located up on a hill, this male and female mixed open-air bath has no changing room. There are roof, wood deck, shelves, a clock, fee box, and some bowls besides the bath itself. That's all. Soaking towels into the bath and wearing swim suites are prohibited.

No walls, low fences. Too open?

It's embarrassing for most ladies to soak themselves in. As for me, I visited in the early morning in March, fortunately I didn't meet any other visitors.

Dressing & undressing space.

Admission fee is JPY 100. Opens 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, until 8:00 PM between Apr. and Nov. Smoking, eating and drinking are strictly prohibited in and around the bath, also at the other public baths.

Near the Syotensama Rotenburo, this small simple and neat (at least inside) public bath has ladies' and men's space separated. Mainly for local residents, but open to visitors as well. Admission fee JPY 300. Opens 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, until 6:00 PM between Apr. and Nov.

The character "ゆ" means hot water.

The ladies' bath.

The men's bath.

This is the biggest of the three, and there is a manager at the entrance to collect admission fee. It has Uchiyu indoor bath, and Rotenburo open-air bath (unfortunately this Rotenburo isn't so open). Both have men and ladies separated baths. Usually at other places, the Uchiyu and the Rotenburo are connecting, but they are separated here. Each has their own dressing room, and you have to put on cloths before moving to the other. Admission fee JPY 300. Opens 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, until 6:00 PM between Apr. and Nov. Closes on New year's day and 20th. Jan.

The most touristic place among the three.

The Uchiyu, indoor bath.

The Rotenburo, open-air bath is small, and not so open as the Syotensama Rotenburo.

Travel Tips
The Kawarayu Onsen is in Gunma Pref, Kanto area. It's within a day trip distance from Tokyo if you want. The express train "Kusatsu" from Ueno will directly take you to the Kawarayu station in two and half hours. You can drop in on the way to/from the Kusatsu Onsen. It's an easy walk from the station to all of the public baths I mentioned above. If you choose local trains, first go to Takasaki(高崎) with Takasaki-line, then change trains to Agatsuma-line(吾妻線). The Agatsuma-line trains serve every hour or less.

An Agatsuma line local train near Kawarayu station.

There is a tourist information center in front of the Kawarayu Onsen railway station. (I doubt they speak English.) They serve Japanese noodles and buns. There is only a few places to eat in the area. The 40 year-run Furusato restaurant near the entrance gate is closing down at the end of Jan. 2009.

Jan 24, 2009

Kawarayu Onsen, Gunma Pref. (1)

[update] After the DPJ's landslide victory over LDP at the general election in Japan Aug. 30, 2009, future of the Kawarayu Onsen gets unpredictable, as the DPJ has promised to suspend constraction of Yamba Dam, which was going to submarge the Kawarayu Onsen.

The Yamba Dam construction plan first made public about 60 years ago. The residents of Kawarayu Onsen accepted the plan in 2001 after severe opposition activity against the construction for several decades, and before the election, they were supposed to move alternative site, "New Kawarayu Onsen" in a few years. (Sep. 3, 2009)

The entrance gate of Kawarayu Onsen.

Onsen without Future

No wonder Kawarayu Onsen(川原湯温泉) is getting deserted year by year. A planned flood prevention dam will submerge the area under deep water in the near future, maybe in 6 to 7 years. The officials decided replacing the Kawarayu Onsen to near area as "New Kawarayu Onsen", some of ryokans(Japanese inn), shops, and restaurants have already closed down.

It says "Welcome to the Kawarayu Onsen, the town sinking into a dam".

In spite of more than 800 year history, same as the nearby Kusatsu Onsen, the Kawarayu Onsen's popularity is far behind. But this forgotten Onsen fascinated me. It's so quiet. I can't help but feeling the sorrow of falling places every time I visit.

The water itself is quite hot, originally more than 70 degrees Celsius, 158 degrees in Fahrenheit. There is a hot spring well providing newly dug New Kawarayu Onsen beside the Onsen Shrine. You can make the Onsen Tamago, or hot springs boiled eggs here for free.

A basket tied to a stick is ready. Put eggs in the basket and soak for about 20 -25 minutes to make Onsen Tamago.

Yukake Matsuri

The Yukake Matsuri or the Splashing Spring Festival is held on January 20 every year. It starts around five o'clock in the morning. Many men wearing traditional Japanese underwear splash the hot spring each other. It has about 400 years history, supposed to continue at the replaced new site.

Useful Words:
Kawarayu Onsen (Kawarayu Hot Springs) 川原湯温泉
Kusatsu Onsen (Kusatsu Hot Springs) 草津温泉
Onsen Tamago (Eggs boiled by hot springs) 温泉卵
Yukake Matsuri (Splashing Spring Festival) 湯かけ祭り

Continue to Kawarayu Onsen (2)

Jan 17, 2009

Funsenchi, Gero Onsen

[update] The Funsenchi hase changed very much since I've written following post. The bath is surrounded with primitive walls, and all soakers regardless gender and age are required to wear swimsuites. Swimsuites bathing is in transition period now and you have to wear them from Feburary 1, 2010. (1 Sep, 2009)

Only five minutes walk from Gero railway station of JR Takayama-line, the Funsenchi (噴泉池)or spouting spring pond, a symbolic open-air bath of Gero onsen lies just beside Masuda river. Although there is no changing room, swim suites allowed for ladies.

Admission free. Needs boldness, not money. Supposed available anytime anyday, but when I visited early morning in March 2008, the tub was almost empty as shown below. There is a basic restroom under the bridge.

Gero onsen is in Gifu Pref, Tokai Region. It takes about an hour and half by express train from Nagoya to Gero.

Useful words:
Gero onsen (Gero hot springs) 下呂温泉
Funsenchi (spouting spring pond) 噴泉池
Msuda River 益田川