As a volcanic island nation, Japan is one of the most active geothermal regions in the world and boasts an abundance of hot springs in nearly every city and town of the country. Hot springs play a pivotal role in Japanese culture and history and have been frequented for centuries by residents as areas of healing and socialization.
Since hot springs are so intertwined with local traditions, no trip to the Land of the Rising Sun would be complete without a visit to one of the many onsen complexes in the country. And, of the over 3,000 onsens, the Takaragawa Onsen Hot Springs is frequently ranked among some of Japan’s best.
Nestled along the Takara River in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture, about 100 miles north of Tokyo, the Takaragawa Onsen Hot Springs offers a tranquil retreat from the city’s urban sprawl. Surrounded by majestic mountains teeming with ski resorts, this onsen complex provides a peaceful setting for soothing bodies worn from more arduous explorations of the intrepid region.
From its various soaking pools and onsite amenities to nearby attractions and accommodation options, this is everything you need to know before visiting the Takaragawa Onsen Hot Springs, Japan.
History of Takaragawa Onsen Hot Springs
While it is unknown precisely how long people have frequented the waters of the Takaragawa Onsen, historical evidence suggests that the natural spring water has been engaged for its therapeutic properties for millennia.
Not only have human remains been found in the area dating to the Ancient Jōmon Period (14,000 to 300 BCE), but the hot springs have been featured heavily in ancient mythology and folklore.
According to local legend, the hot springs were once visited by Yamato Takeru, a Japanese folk hero believed to have lived during the 2nd century AD. According to the story, Yamato Takeru passed through the area to conquer a nation to the east but got sick upon climbing the nearby Mt.Hotaka.
Descending from the mountain, it is then said that Yamato spotted a hawk further down the land, which he followed until he arrived at the now famous hot spa.
Immersing in the water, Yamato was cured of his ailments and could continue in his conquest. Thanks to this mythical founding, the Takaragawa Onsen was often called the Bath of White Hawk.
Thermal Pools at the Takaragawa Onsen Hot Springs
The extensive Takaragawa Onsen hot springs complex features several thermal pools that provide unique and varied soaking experiences.
The luxurious traditional spa features five different baths offering gender-specific or co-ed submersion into the site’s natural mineral waters. Each of the complex’s pools is fed with 100% natural flow from the spring source.
Established in 1940, the Maka Bath is Takaragawa Onsen’s most celebrated thermal pool. Featured in several TV programs and magazines, the Maka Bath has been an iconic example of Japanese onsens for decades. However, it is more commonly recognized as the Yokozuna open spa of Eastern Japan.
Renovated in 2004, the Maka Bath serves a capacity of 120 soakers and offers a serene ambiance of traditional Japanese stylings for an authentic soak. Open year-round, the Maka Bath immerses visitors in the surrounding nature and accentuates the seasons with diverse views and settings.
Offering a smaller, more personal onsen soaking experience, the Hanya Bath is located just downstream from the Maka Bath. It can facilitate a capacity of about half of the larger, more celebrated pool.
With about 50 tatami mats for visitors, the Hanya Bath features shallow waters perfect for children and a tranquil atmosphere for enjoying the pristine corner of Japan.
Additionally, the smaller size of the bath allows for a more intimate level of socialization. Unlike the Maka Bath, this thermal spa has room for visitors to walk around the pool’s surroundings, allowing visitors within the bath to communicate with those opting not to soak.
The Kodakara Bath was initially designed in an attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest outdoor bath. The result is a massive thermal pool nearly double the size of Takaragawa Onsen’s world-renown Maka Bath.
With a capacity of 200 soakers, the Kodakara Bath offers an extensive pool with plenty of space to escape the crowds while providing a deep immersion into the pristine environment surrounding the site.
Like the Maka and Hanya Baths, the Kodakara Bath is co-ed and allows men and women to soak in the same pool. It is a fantastic thermal spring for a combination of relaxation and socialization.
The Takaragawa Onsen Hot Spring’s Maya Bath is the facility’s sole women-only open thermal spa. Established in 1970, this exclusive spa was designed in response to public demand for a comfortable soaking experience in which women could freely submerge into the site’s natural mineral waters.
With a 100-tatami mat capacity, the Maya Bath is an extensive thermal pool located within the bottom stream of the Takaragawa Spa. Thanks to its isolated location, this thermal pool maintains its privacy without erecting artificial fencing, providing a protected soak with the natural environment in all of its pristine glory.
The Maya Bath is a complete complex with a private changing room and washroom.
Located within a large rock, the Super-Size Bath is Takaragawa Onsen’s most natural thermal pool occurrence. It has been left in the same position it has existed in for centuries. Untouched by the construction of the spa complex, the Super-Size Bath is a favorite amongst visitors seeking a natural immersion into the site’s thermal waters.
Smaller than the other soaking areas, the Super-Size Bath has a capacity of 20 male or female soakers. However, unlike the other pools, this pristine hot spring is open 24 hours and provides a comfortable soak no matter the time of day.
Accommodation Options at Takaragawa Onsen Hot Springs, Japan
While the Takaragawa Onsen is open to day visitors, the best way to immerse in the natural mineral waters of the authentic setting is by staying onsite in one of the complex’s traditional room options.
Like many onsens in Japan, the Takaragawa Onsen is serviced by a traditional Japanese Inn known as a Ryokan.
Starting at $278 per night, visitors can stay at one of the inn’s traditional rooms that feature immersive designs and modern amenities, which include a Japanese or Western breakfast and either a kaiseki multi-course dinner or an alternative buffet option.
Getting to the Takaragawa Onsen Hot Springs, Japan
As a popular onsen near Tokyo, visitors to the Takaragawa Onsen have several ways to reach the facilities. While driving may be the easiest method, guests that prefer public transport should take the Toki 309 train from Tokyo Station to Jomo-Kogen Station.
From there, visitors can hop onto the bus to Minakami Station, where they will make another transfer over to the bus to Takaragawa-Iriguchi, where they will be met by the Takaragawa Onsen shuttle.