Renowned as one of the top 3 onsens destinations in Japan, this was a pilgrimage bound to make my list. What’s more, it is in one of my favourite areas in Japan, in the mountainous area of Gifu prefecture. From Tokyo, it takes close to 4 hours to get there, so it was to be another weekend trip and I have divided this entry into 2 blogs.
I had a deep feeling of nostalgia as I returned to the area. Wonderful memories flooded back from previous family trips to Takayama and Shirakawago which are also located in Gifu prefecture. This time though, I was here on a different mission – to see how the onsen measured up! I wasn’t disappointed, and there was some pretty magical scenery along the way.
The Gero Onsen Yumeijin Yumeguri pass
The tourist information Centre was my first port of call when I arrived. It was there that I bought the Gero Onsen pass, a cute wooden plaque, with a bell. It is great value as for only 1300 yen it allows you entry into 3 onsen ryokan from an extensive list of over 2o onsen ryokan. Perfect for my mission!
With so many onsen options to choose from, I asked for some advice on the best ones to try. Recommendations included Suimeikan, Yamagataya and Ogawaya. Yunoshimakan was also highly recommended, however it is not available to day visitors on the weekends due to the peak accommodation period.
It didn’t take me long to get into the swing of things. My first onsen, Suimeikan was only 5 minutes walk from the station and situated overlooking the Hida river. I chose this onsen ryokan as I had also seen it featured in the 5 star onsen ryokan magazine. Although it was lunch time, my thought was to enjoy an onsen before lunch and unwind to soak away the stresses of the week.
Suimeikan is a very large onsen ryokan, with numerous baths, however for non staying guests you are restricted to a choice of 2 baths, the Panorama bath on the top floor overlooking the town and mountains, or a rocky open air bath on the ground floor. I chose the bath with the view.
Lunch time – discovering “Keichan”
Following my bath, I stopped at a little Japanese restaurant called Shoen, located just across the road from Suimeikan. I was intrigued by a dish called “Keichan” which I had never heard of before. It is a regional dish of marinated chicken and cabbage cooked at the table. I love these dining experience in Japan – so relaxed and tasty!
Following lunch I wandered across the main bridge into the main part of town to my next onsen.
Yamagataya is another large onsen ryokan located approximately 10 minutes walk from Gero station. As I visited around 3pm it was lovely and quiet before all of the regular guests were due to check in. I pretty much had the baths to myself. Overall, the quality of the facilities were reasonable.
Onsen Museums and Temples
Taking a break from onsens, I headed to see a couple of the local sights including the Gero Museum of Hot Springs, and a temple called “Onsenji” which is dedicated to onsens. These are 2 significant signs that Gero is pretty serious about their onsens!
The Onsen Museum was put together quite well, explaining onsens from both a scientific and cultural point of view. It included a great display of the key onsen regions throughout Japan and the respective souvenirs from each region were displayed beneath lift up doors.
Onsenji is also centrally located in the town, but there is a climb of over 170 steps to the top, with a graveside either side of the steps, so it makes for a pretty interesting approach. It was an opportune time and place to offer my prayers of gratitude for the incredible joy and adventures that onsens have brought me in my milestone year.
Frogs, frogs, and more frogs
Frogs abound in Gero Onsen, from a cute little shrine “Kaeru Jinja” dedicated to frogs, to various little statues and manhole covers dotted throughout the town. The town name of Gero, is synonymous with the sound that a frog makes in the Japanese language so apparently this is why the town has so many references to frogs.
After a very full day of travel and exploring, it was well and truly time to settle into Bosenkan, which was my ryokan for the evening. Again, this was a very large ryokan built a number of years ago, so it felt somewhat in a time warp with the lobby furnishings, but it did feature beautiful gardens, including a foot bath. I loved the unique design on the shoji screens, and the beautiful view across the river and mountains upon sliding the screens open.
The baths are located on B1 along with the main dining area. The spacious foyer area on the approach to the baths also featured pictures showing the history of the town. The baths were OK. Following dinner it was time for a Kaiseki dinner and early to rest up ahead of a second day exploring in Gero Onsen.
From Tokyo, take the Shinkansen to Nagoya station (101 mins) and change to the Hida (Wide View) for a further 105 minutes to Gero Onsen. The Hida (Wide View) takes you on a very scenic journey through the mountains winding through beautiful river gorges.