Last time we visited Japan (two years ago) we visited Takaragawa Onsen in Gunma Prefecture for my first Japanese hot springs experience. This time we decided to check out Kashiwaya Ryokan, again in Gunma but in a different area of the rural mountainside.
We purchased the package with the direct bus round trip which made traveling to and from the onsen a breeze. The bus showed up right on time (9am) at a stop right in front of a 7-11 near Tokyo Central Station. A quick few hours drive later, we showed up right at the doorstep of Kashiwaya Ryokan, one of the many ryokans situated in the hot springs town of Shima Onsen.
Check in wasn’t until 3pm so we decided to go for a hike in the nearby mountains until that time. The staff welcomed us, provided us with a map, and gave us a bear bell, which I later learned is standard for hikers in Japan to deter bears from approaching them in the woods.
Masuo Kashiwabara, the ryokan manager, was even kind enough to give us a ride to the entrance of the trail! We hiked to the top of 水晶山 (Water Crystal Mountain) for gorgeous views of the mountainous landscape and some real peace and quiet. Such a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo (or even LA for that matter).
The hike took about 2.5 hours to get up and back, which ended up being perfect timing for check in. Once we got back to the ryokan, we left our shoes at the front, were given slippers and yukatas to wear, and were shown to our room. We booked the standard sized room with a private toilet and balcony. There are only 15 rooms at this ryokan and some even come with their own private baths inside.
We enjoyed a pot of delicious tea in our room before heading to the first private open-air bath. There are three total private baths and you’re free to use them as long as they’re vacant! The last onsen (and most traditional onsens you’ll find in Japan) was not private so I loved how these baths allowed some time alone and away from others.
The traditional Japanese dinner “kaiseki” came with about twelve courses of locally sourced and inspired dishes which were SO good. We also added the Gunma-raised wagyu beef… just look at the marbling on those steaks. The quality was so good that we were allowed to eat them raw.
We left feeling totally rejuvenated, relaxed, and filled with delicious food. I highly recommend heading to one of the onsens in Japan for this super unique and special experience!