This famous onsen area, located in Tochigi prefecture approximately 2 hours from Tokyo, is a central place to stay overnight when exploring the Nikko area and other hot spring areas of Kawaji Onsen, Yunishigawa Onsen and Okukinu Onsen.
The hotspring area dates back to the Edo period (1603-1867) and the waters are generally clear and mild alkaline, well known for healing burns in particular. Kinugawa Onsen was quite heavily built up during the 1970’s with a number of hotels and ryokans along the river, however nowadays it is less busy and there is still a lovely quiet feel to the area wth plenty of stunning nature and wonderful local hospitality to enjoy.
Kinugawa Onsen is named after the Kinugawa river which literally means “angry demon river”. On the day I visited, it was anything but angry, and I enjoyed a magnificent view from a 140 metre long modern suspension bridge spanning the Kinugawa river. Again, it would be absolutely stunning in all seasons. Unlike Yunishigawa Onsen however, there was no snow, but even in it greyness it had its own beauty. I would love to visit again to enjoy the ropeway, or perhaps the river boat rides that are offered in the warmer seasons.
Regular followers of my blog will know how much I enjoy discovering the local foot baths in each area I have visited. Well, the footh bath experience was taken to a whole new level in Kinugawa Onsen when I discovered a footbath cafe! Fancy enjoying a coffee or beer with your friends overlooking the beautiful gorge whilst soaking your feet in beautiful hot spring water? 594 yen for a coffee including a mini towel to dry your feet afterwards!
One of the great joys of travel in Japan is discovering all of the local delicacies. In Kinugawa Onsen, I discovered a wonderful local wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop and had a great chat with the owner chef.
The most popular item at the store were onsen manju which are Japanese steamed buns filled with red bean paste. Onsen manju are traditionally steamed with the steam rising from the hot springs themselves. All products were handmade in the store and the chef informed me his secrets were using the best Azuki beans from Hokkaido with his own unique recipe he had developed over more than 10 years.
Hana no Yado – Matsuya
Hana no Yado is a beautiful ryokan located right beside the Kinugawa river, and opens its doors to day visitors to enjoy their onsen facilities. Wandering down to the bathroom was an experience in itself with the beautiful traditional interior of the ryokan.
This bathhouse was sightly unique in that it had semi privatised individual wash areas. Normally there are no dividers, and you need to be quite careful to ensure you dont splash the person next to you when you are washing prior to entering the bath. Similarly, the change room area was beautifully laid out with individually partitioned areas to pamper yourself after the onsen. It was amazing value for 1000yen, with only 3-4 other people there around midday….
What a gorgeous setting for the outdoor bath…fancy wandering across a little bridge in your naked glory and relaxing in this serene outdoor onsen….? If it is raining or snowing, there are even straw hats for you to use…..Again I was thrilled to be able to take some pictures to capture the beautiful bathing area.
Relaxing after the bath….
This was a gorgeous view from the relaxation area where you rehydrate and relax with a cool drink, or depending on the time a beer or ice cream following a steaming hot bath!
A parting message – appreciating every moment
As I was leaving the onsen, I was greeted by the kimono clad “okami san” or hostess of the ryokan, to ask if I had enjoyed my bath. We struck up a conversation about the beautiful framed calligraphy on the wall which was by the renowned calligrapher and poet Mitso Aida. Mitsuo Aida (1924-1991) was born in Ashikaga in Tochigi Prefecture and often came to Kinugawa Onsen as a retreat. He had known the Okami san well and had even based one of his pieces based on his experience at this onsen. Well known for expressing the natural way people should be as humans and the true way to live, all of his sayings, including the one below, tend to reach out and grab you. Mitsuo was particularly focused on living in the now which coincidentally also perfectly encapsulates the onsen experience.
Take the Tobu Sky Tree Line (limited express Spacia) from Asakusa directly to Kinugawa Onsen (about 120 minutes). Sometimes you may need to change at Shiro-imaichi station (100 minutes) to the Tobu Kinuagawa line for a further 20 minutes.