Wow! Gorgeous! Stunning! This is definitely a must see winter onsen destination. I was lucky enough to be introduced to this destination through a friend and decided to book a full weekend away to make the most of this remote scenic location. Located about 3.5 hours from Tokyo, it is a village deep in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture, well beyond the touristy Nikko region. It was perfect timing to visit as I was longing for an outdoor bath in the snow, and as a bonus I also discovered my visit coincided with the famous Yunishigawa Kamakura festival.
A little about Yunishigawa Onsen
As with so many of the regions visited to date, Yunishigawa Onsen has a fascinating story to tell. This area was a remote hidden settlement of the Heike clan refugees who settled to heal their wounds after their defeat by the Genji clan in the Genpei war. Legend has it that the Heike clan went to great lengths to preserve the secrecy of their location even banning chickens (due to their crowing noise) or the boys day festival koinobori streamers (due to their bright colours). To preserve the unique history of the area, the Heike Folk Village, which has about 12 historical old homes, was built. It is particularly gorgeous in the winter with the snow on the traditional thatched roofs.
Yunishigawa onsen is renowned for its irori cuisine served around a traditional fire place, including fresh river fish, sansai ( wild mountain vegetables), venison and bear. Miso pasted glutinous rice grilled on a stick is also a specialty. During the Yunishigawa Kamakua festival, visitors can also make reservations to have BBQs in the kamakura (snow huts) which is a really cool experience (no pun intended!).
Yunishigawa Onsen is classified as alkaline simple hot springs, well known for its curative effects for neuralgia, rheumatism, skin disease, gastrointestinal issues or general fatigue and stiff shoulders. Due to its stunning location in the mountains, one’s spirit is also automatically lifted by the beauty of the scenery. Over the course of the day I visited 2 onsen – both with gorgeous outdoor baths in the snow.
1. Yunishigawa Hana to Hana
This was a beautiful ryokan with gorgeous day visit facilities which I was thoroughly spoilt to have mainly to myself all for an entry charge of 1000yen. How true that pictures speak louder than words…
Indoor bathing area….
2. Local hotel rotenburo
A mini adventure awaited me at the next onsen as the rotenburo was located down a few steps away from the main building of a local hotel (bath fee 500yen). Again, I was very lucky to have the bath to myself which allowed me to sneak a few pictures which for obvious reasons are not usually permitted! Undressing fully outside and carefully placing my clothes in the basket under the little shelter was a delicate operation avoiding the melting drips of snow!
From late January to early March each year, approximately 1200 mini snow huts are lit up along the river as a part of the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival creating a truly magical view. What a way to end a spectacular day prior to boarding the local bus to head back down the mountain to my overnight destination of Kinugawa Onsen – the next onsen adventure!
Getting there from Tokyo
Take the express train from Asakusa to Shimoimachi and transfer to the Tobu Kinugawa line to Shin Fujiwara followed by the Yagan railway to Yunishigawa Onsen station. From there it is about a 20 minute bus ride to Yunishigawa Onsen village. Total travel time approximately 3.5 hours.