Kinugawa Onsen may not be on every tourist’s radar when coming to visit Japan, however, this plays a massive role in its attractor-factor and why it should be on your list. As one of the most popular hot spring destinations that’s within easy travel distance to Tokyo, it is constantly brimming with domestic tourists, which is why you know it’s good!
The hot spring town is located right alongside the Kinugawa River. More than 80 different hotels and ryokans line the riverbank, creating a quintessentially Japanese-looking old-meets-new town. Aside from the ryokans, where most offer their own onsens for customers to use (and some also allow day-trip visitors to access their onsens by paying a small fee), Kinugawa Onsen is also surrounded by beautiful natural sights that make for perfect day-time exploration adventures followed by long nights of soaking in the hot springs.
There are also, surprisingly, a few amusement attractions such as a maze, a theme park and a miniature museum that you can check out during the day also. We’ve detailed below some information that will help you plan your trip to and around Kinugawa Onsen.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to Kinugawa Onsen is to catch the Tobu Railway SPACIA train from Asakusa Station in Tokyo straight to Kinugawa Onsen – you won’t need to transfer at all on this line. The ride takes approximately 120 minutes and will cost around 3,000 yen. Unfortunately, the JR Pass does not cover this line of travel.
Where to stay?
If you’re looking for a quintessential Japanese ryokan experience, look no further than Tsuganoki. Complete with tatami mat flooring, sliding shoji doors, private wooden bathrooms, and your very own private hot spring overlooking a stunning view of mountains and the river, Tsuganoki ticks all the boxes, as can be attested by previous customers. One of the most talked about features of this hotel includes the amazing and intricate breakfast and dinner available to all staying guests…so remember to book a room that includes both!
Why Guests Love It: “Great dining experience of dinner and breakfast. Very well maintained Japanese-style room.”, “The food was fantastic, probably the best I have eaten in Japan. The service from the extremely friendly staff was great and the living and sleeping areas in the rooms were very nice.”, “The ryokan was right next to the river with an amazing view. The staff were very friendly and the service was incredible. The dinner and breakfast were an amazing Japanese experience”.
Book It here: Tsuganoki
If you weren’t already impressed by the Tsuganoki ryokan, then maybe the world-class Kanaya Hotel Kinugawa is more to your taste. This luxurious hotel located a stone throw away from Tobu Kinugawa Onsen station is every bit as 5-star as it looks and sounds. The huge Japanese-style rooms are much larger than the average, and are complete with balconies overlooking the mountains and the river, and larger-than-life living rooms that just oozes relaxation. The public onsen here is second-to-none, providing a wonderful experience for those seeking a therapeutic bath.
Why Guests Love It: “Excellent service. Responsive and friendly staff. Nice food. Clean room. Superb onsen. Everything is good.”, “The service staff were excellent – unobtrusive and with a heart to serve.”, “Beautiful facility, it was a complete luxury. Our room had an outdoor bath and it was excellent. Dinner and breakfast was delicious, beautiful presentation.”
Book It Now: Kanaya Hotel Kinugawa
The Shirakawa Yunokura Ryokan is the absolute epitome of tradition. Its timber walling and flooring throughout creates a Zen ambience that you will be in awe of and appreciate once you’ve settled in and let yourself completely relax. There are multiple public outdoor hot springs at the hotel that you can choose from to use. Once you’ve finished, retire back to your hotel room where you can continue to relax (until you’re a puddle of no-limbs and soft muscles) to the stunning views of the mountains and the river.
Why Guests Love It: “A very nice and comfortable onsen hotel in Kinugawa. We were warmly greeted by the hotel staff and served extremely delicious dinner with seasonal specialties. Public onsen was relaxing and you can enjoy the automatic massage chair after that.”, “Onsen was clean and pleasant, filled with any commodities. The restaurant was also extremely satisfactory. A great place!.”, “AMAZING meal and service. Staff so friendly and helpful.”
Book It Now: Hotel Shirakawa Yunokura
For more Japanese traditional inns in this area, you can also check out this blog post: Ryokan Nikko.
Kinugawa Onsen – Visit Nikko
Residing north of Tokyo is the Tochigi Prefecture in which Nikko lays, an area condensed with luscious national forests, wide open lakes, stunning waterfalls, and a smattering of World Heritage Sites. It’s a bustling yet peaceful historic destination, one that’s attracted domestic tourists from around the country for many years, and in more recent years has started gaining traction with international tourists wanting more than a small slice of the nature-haven that Japan presents itself to be.
You can count on Lake Chuzenji to always be on the list of to-do things, as it’s a popular destination for all seasonal festivities that takes part in Nikko (e.g. the “Momiji Course” boat trip that operates around the lake during autumn in Japan). Also, can you really say you’ve been in Nikko if you haven’t taken a picture of the iconic red Shinkyo Bridge? (Answer: no! Get yourself a pic there, stat!). Many people plan a one-day trip to Nikko, however, if you do decide to stay overnight, then make sure you book a room at Kinugawa Onsen. It’s only a short ride away, and is the perfect area for you to base yourself before you go exploring.
Read more about where to explore in Nikko here: Visit Nikko Japan.
Kinugawa Onsen – Edo Wonderland
This wonderful theme park that can be enjoyed by people of all ages centres around the fascinating Edo Period, when ninjas were known to roam freely in Japan. Here, you can expect to walk streets lined with olden-style roads and buildings, signboards and entranceways, and of course, ninjas around the corners! Throughout your visit at this theme park, there are plenty of activities to try and entertainment to see, including an intense battle between ninjas, a maze labyrinth attraction to explore, practicing throwing a shuriken, a performance by a group of ninjas, and much, much more.
If you’re looking to attend this amusement part, make sure you book your ticket in advance here!
Kinugawa Onsen – Tobu World Square
This is a Japanese theme park, but not as you know it. Instead of rollercoasters and fairy floss, here, you’ll find miniature-scale replicas of famous buildings from around the world to marvel over. The models will include some global heavyweights including the Forbidden City (China), the Parthenon (Greece), the Colosseum (Italy), the Pyramids and the Sphinx (Egypt), as well as local favorites including Himeji Castle, Dogo Onsen, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo Tower, and Tokyo Skytree. To put into perspective how amazing this would be to see in real life, they’re measured to be only 1/25th of the actual size of the monuments themselves. There are more than 100 replicas to ooh and ahh over, and a staggering 45 of them are listed as World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
If you’re looking to go, we recommend that you book through this link, as confirmation is instant and you’ll get a good price.
Access: Tobu World Square Station is one station away from Kinugawa Onsen Station (3-minutes, 150 yen). Otherwise, if you have a Nikko All Area Pass, you can catch a bus between the two stations for free (5-minutes, every 20-30 minutes).
Kinugawa Onsen – Festivals
One of the most popular times to visit Kinugawa Onsen is during the Cherry Blossom Festival which is normally held in mid-April at Gokuku-jinja Shrine in Kinugawa Onsen. It’s a stunning festival during the day but at night, the sakura blossoms truly shine (with the help of some strategically placed LED lights!). Throw yourself into the festivities and prepare yourself with a picnic mat, purchase some traditional foods and drinks being sold at the stalls, and sit back and relax to the live music and dance performances (usually on the weekends only).
Whilst there isn’t a specific festival dedicated to winter in Kinugawa Onsen, the tourism board has recently begun a new campaign that happens around early-mid Feb to drive people there during winter in Japan, and some of the features of this campaign are too good to miss! As foreign passport-holders, you will be entitled to many benefits including (but not limited to): free admission to Edo Wonderland Theme Park, free admission to Tobu World Square, free admission to onsens at participating hotels and ryokans (there are certain blackout periods, and you will need to buy/rent a towel), multiple discount across sightseeing activities, souvenir stores, and other leisure facilities, and so many more benefits.
To find out more about this campaign, check out this link.
Kinugawa Onsen is an absolute gem of a destination, and it would be a shame to miss out on exploring this culturally and historically-rich town that’s only 2 hours away from Tokyo. The condensed group of onsens here means that you will always be able to walk-in for an experience (even if you need to shop around first), the surrounding mountains means that you’ll be able to capture picture-perfect images everywhere you snap, and the unique attractions means that you’ll make memories and learn about things you won’t be able to experience anywhere else. It’s a no-brainer!
Before to finish this blog post, if you are looking for other beautiful onsen towns in Japan, make sure to check these articles: