After a sensational day in Tanigawa Onsen, more adventures lay in wait for me as I was picked up from Minakami Station and driven to Syoubun, my accommodation for the evening. I was lucky enough to discover Syoubun quite randomly through an online search. It turned out to be a great find as my stay was full of unforgettable memories. Syoubun was also a fabulous location from which to further explore Mt Tanigawa and the beautiful surrounds.
Syoubun is technically classified as a “yado”, meaning a traditional Japanese inn. Owners of yado, passionately believe in providing quality through exceptional hospitality, local cuisine and onsen experiences. In addition, the inns are beautifully designed to enhance the natural landscape and surrounds, and owners will partner with local artisans for the design of interior features. Naturally all culinary delicacies are served on plates from the local kilns. During my stay, I experienced all of these elements.
The experience began right from the moment I walked through the traditional gateway and up the steps. I could already sense a special experience ahead as I was warmly greeted at the door by the owner and offered a seat in the front lounge with an oshibori, cup of tea and Japanese sweet.
It was such a pleasure to stop. unwind and feel such an immediate sense of welcome. The check in paperwork was a breeze in such comfort! With the formalities completed, I was guided to my room. Along the way, the onsen booking system and facilities were explained to me. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were 3 private baths that I could choose from to enjoy, so it was recommended that I come back and make a booking as soon as I settled into my room.
My room was a beautiful corner room overlooking trees. It was very serene and peaceful, and my futon was already laid for me.
Soon after settling into my room, I changed into a yukata ready to head to the bath to relax and freshen up prior to dinner. Along with my yukata, I was provided with a lovely basket containing a full size towel, smaller onsen size towel and a toothbrush. Equipped and ready to go, I wandered down the hall to book my bath.
The booking system was very quaint. It was made up of wooden blocks labeled with the names of the individual baths, time periods and blocks to indicate booking availability for males or females. In addition, I had been given a card with the name of my room on it, which I used to reserve my bath by placing the card at the preferred time. Luckily I could read most of the Japanese characters but even so, the whole system took me a little while to digest. I was pleased to see there was a bath available immediately.
The next step was to navigate my way to the bathroom which I found after a short walk along the beautiful open timber hallways overlooking nature.
As I stepped in the door I felt a real sense of awe. The private bath was very spacious overlooking a private courtyard with branches of cherryblossom gracefully overhanging the fence. The sliding glass doors opened onto a private verandah and I could feel the cool mountain air on my skin as I showered before melting into the hot bath. I felt thoroughly spoilt, and indulged!
After a beautiful relaxing bath, I slipped back into my yukata again and returned to my room for a short rest before dinner.
Dinner was exceptional and full of plenty of culinary surprises. Firstly I had my own private room, beautifully named ‘Tsugumi”, a native Japanese bird. A copy of the set menu was laid out at my place setting. There were multiple courses just like a kaiseki menu however the dishes where much more rustic and wholesome. They featured a stunning array of local ingredients including mountain vegetables, locally grown rice, pork and freshly caught fish. As with any meal in Japan, the dishes were visually exquisite, and food was presesented in multitude of ways including traditional plates, wooden platters, baskets and metal bowls. The local sake I ordered was served in a beautiful bamboo ice tub and perfectly complemented the meal!
Morning bath and breakfast
The next morning I enjoyed another morning bath. The reservation system was a breeze the second time around and I ended up booking the same bath.
Breakfast was served in the same room, and was equally as good as dinner. Again every dish was a culinary delight made up of locally grown ingredients. A feature of the meal was a very tasty pork sausage steamed with Tamogoyaki in a traditional box over a heat burner. It was also beautiful to see there were story cards introducing the local farmers who had grown the food.
After breakfast, I relaxed and wandered outside to enjoy the full splendor of the cherry blossom that had been partially visible from my bath.
I was somewhat sad to check out after such a memorable stay. Alas, the sun was shining brightly and I was looking forward to making the most of the day.
After I bid my farewells, I was on to my next leg of the journey – a public bus trip to Mt Tanigawa. Over a twenty minute trip, the bus wound its way through the valley, along the river and up the to base of Mt Tanigawa.
Along the way, the scenery was just stunning with the fresh green leaves on the trees and blooming cherry blossoms dotting the landscape. The bus driver commented to me that he found the spring leaves just as beautiful as the autumn leaves. I fully agreed as I gazed out the window with a sense of wonder.
I got off the bus at the last stop and had a smooth connection to the ropeway. More unforgettable views were in store for me as the ropeway car smoothly glided up the mountain. As the altitude increased, the green landscape of the foothills transitioned to browner winter grasses and finally to a snowy white carpet at the peak of Mt Tanigawa.
As I got off the ropeway, I had to dodge all of the skiers taking advantage of the last of the snow for the season. Skiing was not on my agenda for the day so I carefully treaded out onto the snow to the look out point so I could take in the amazing views.
Feeling invigorated and refreshed from the mini snowy oasis escapade I headed back down the ropeway, and onto the next bus back to Minakami station. I had a little more time remaining, so I decided to chat to the bus driver to see if there were any more onsens in the area. He introduced me to Kamimoku Fuwa no Yu, a short bus ride from Minakami station.
Kamimoku Fuwa No Yu
Kamimoku Fuwa no Yu is a community onsen located in a valley on the shores of the Tone river. Torrents of pristine water were raging along the river, fueled by the melting snow from Mt Tanigawa. I was hoping that there might be an outdoor bath to enjoy the views of the river, however unfortunately there was only a tiny 2-3 person outdoor bath walled in by privacy screens. In lieu of the view, I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the river and took some time out.
Following my bath, I took in the surrounding beauty of the local spring flowers on my walk back to Kamimoku station to catch my train back to Tokyo. Content and relaxed, I loved watching the countryside go by, reflecting on the unforgettable memories of the last 2 days.
I will definitely be returning to Minakami Onsen and I hope that many others can also share in the joys of Syoubun hospitality and the surrounding area.
From Tokyo, take the Toki Shinkansen to Takasaki (50 minutes). Change to the Joetsu line and get off at Minakami (64 minutes). If you are a staying guest at Syoubun, you can request a shuttle bus pick up service to and from Minakami station. In order to get to Kamimoku Fuwa no Yu, take a local bus from Minakami station bound for Jomokogen station and get off at Kamimoku Eki Mae. Alternatively take the Joetsu train line one stop from Minakami to Kamimoku station. It is then a 5 minute walk.