Located only one hour from Tokyo, this onsen felt very much like a purpose built onsen to accommodate the many hikers visiting Mt Takao, which is renowned as the best hiking spot in Tokyo. There is easy access directly from Takao-san Guchi station, and there is a notable feeling of serene ness as you leave the busy station and crowds and walk toward the onsen through a connecting hallway.
This facility bas been built relatively recently and felt welcoming, new and clean. Unfortunately though, anyone with tatoos are not welcome. This is not uncommon as the Japanese associate people with tatoos as being gangsters. Slowly this is changing with the increase in international visitors, however it is still quite common to be denied entry. In some cases a compromise is found by visitors being asked to cover their tattoos with tape. Not always realistic with the size of tatoos that are fashionable nowadays!
There are a number of indoor and outdoor baths to try at Gokurakuyu. These include a cypress bath, theme bath, outdoor stone bath with carbonated water, beautiful outdoor rock baths, sitting baths, sauna and a cold bath.
I deliberately arrived at the facilities quite early in the morning so as to avoid the crowds coming for a bath on the way home from hiking and I was rewarded with a lovely quiet soak in the various outdoor baths under blue skies. The contrasting aesthetics and textures of the cypress baths vs the rock baths was really enjoyable.
To finish my bathing experience, I tried the sitting bath which is an area with 4-5 individual stone seats that have water running down the back of the seats and a a foot bath to soak your feet. These sitting baths are beautifully soothing to your shoulders and back and are also a nice way to cool off somewhat as the water is only flowing over your back rather than your whole body being immersed.
After the bath there are options for massages, or relaxing over a meal in the large dining area. There is a wide choice of food but the it is cafeteria style, and mainly suited to servicing the hikers who were looking for a bite to eat after their day trip, before hopping on the train back to central Tokyo.
Local treats and hiking
Following the bath I took a little wander in the immediate vicinity of the station and soon discovered the locally renowned Takao yakidango (glutinous balls made from rice flour), cooked slowly over coals and flavoured with a sweet and salty miso flavour. As I hadn’t been on a hike for the day, I didn’t indulge, however perhaps next time when I am back in the area.
My only comment is that there were a few too many people for me. I enjoy looking for the places a bit further off the beaten tourist track. There are apparently 8 major hiking trails but they will be for another day.
From Shinjuku take the Keio Line limited express train bound for Hachioji and change trains at Kitano to the Keio Takao Line. Total travel time approximately one hour. Gokurakuyu is connected directly to the station.