Weekend onsen escape from Tokyo

By Marla D · Mar 6, 2016

The Trip — Weekend add-on to a business trip in Tokyo to steam in the onsens

Duration — 2 Nights

Origin — Tokyo

Type of Trip— Snow, Onsen, Couples, Nature

Trip Dates and Comments — First week of March, end of winter in Japan. Spectacular for snowy, outdoor onsens

Mode of Transportation — Fast train, normal train and bus

Arrival Logistics — Fast train from Tokyo station to Joumoukougen Station [Approx. 75min] transfer at Joumoukougen to normal train alighting at Minakami station [Approx. 25 min]. Taxi from Minakami station to Takaragawa Onsen [Approx. 35min]

Cost per Person — 30,000 Yen (AUD$380) per person for 2 nights including breakfast and dinner each day, about AUD$200 round trip or trains / person, extras for alcohol

General Route — Tokyo to Osenkaku onsen to Chojukan onsen back to Narita airport

Accommodation — Takaragawa (www.takaragawa.com) and their sister onsen Chojukan

Main Activities — steaming in onsens and eating amazing Japanese food

Food and Drink Highlights — each meal served at Takaragawa

Essential Packing for this Trip — Bring winter boots and anything else you need to play in the snow. Bring cozy socks or moccasins to wear in the accommodation. Bring a good book.

Our Experience

Osenkaku onsen

Following a week long business trip in Tokyo, my partner and I stayed the weekend to go to some onsens just north of the city. It was my first time in Japan and I felt like a deer in the headlights the whole time. Everything is just so different which is 100% of the allure for me. A few tips for others wanting to do a trip like this:

  • ryokan refers to the accommodation and is a more traditional Japanese lodging where you sleep on the floor, not on a raised bed
  • an onsen by definition is a hot spring that uses naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs. A sento refers to an indoor public bath house where the baths are filled with heated tap water. Both can be brilliant with the former obviously beig more natural.
  • book Takaragawa well in advance, it has become hugely popular and friends I recommended it to afterwards weren’t able to get a room
  • be patient when booking, we did it by email but I see now that you can book online through their website. When we booked they only had 1 employee who spoke English and he only worked part time.
  • we wanted to stay both nights at Takaragawa they were full. We were going to give up on staying there at all when through our own persistence we found out that they have a sister onsen 30 minutes away (Chojukan) and we could book a 2 night package spending 1 night at each
  • it was great to experience 2 different ryokans and onsens during our short getaway. Both were great, but for me Takaragawa was exceptional and I would stay there given the choice. The outdoor onsens at night were from a fairytale and it was snowing huge soft snowflakes the night we were there which made it magical. We also loved running between outdoor onsens at Takaragawa in the cold which was quite exhilarating! Also, all of the outdoor onsens were mixed, which was convenient if you go as a couple. The onsens at Chojukan are under a roof, except for one which had a small continuation outside.
  • read the onsen rules and respect them! Each ryokan has multiple onsens usually with different schedules for mixed, female or male times. You don’t want to go in on the wrong schedule! Also, it’s very important to wash before you get in the onsen. You are expected to be clean before you get in, onsens are not for cleaning yourself.
  • don’t be shy! The modesty towels are tiny, but everyone is doing it!
  • embrace fish for breakfast and mushrooms at all meals! Maybe it was mushroom season, but there were mushrooms everywhere. The food in general was exceptional, extremely fresh, traditional and all served in your room in massive quantities. There’s no menu or ordering, we were actually a little unsure about what to do for dinner and wandered to a communal space around dinner time. We were ushered back to our rooms and a few minutes later there was a knock at our door and the meal service begun!
  • don’t overdue the onsens, even though there’s not much else to do. Without realising it you can get dizzy pretty fast.
  • get ready to sleep where you eat! They serve you dinner in your room, cross legged on the floor with lovely electric blankets covering your legs. Once you’re finished, they clear your tables, push them to the side and set up your beds right there.
  • logistics weren’t hard, but they were a bit intimidating given the number of people and platforms at the train stations, the transfer at the Joumoukougen train station and the short amount of time we had to make it. It’s important to write things down because you might think you’ll remember the next train station you need to get out at, but after 2 stops they all sound the same.
  • the trains are really expensive but very efficient
  • you can take a local bus instead of a taxi like we did to the ryokan and you would save a lot of money. We were short on time so opted for a taxi. The ryokan also offers a shuttle service from Minakami station, but you have to book that in advance and oddly, they only have 1 service so once it’s full you’re out of luck.

Dinner at Takaragawa ryokan

Best Bits

Amazing nature, the onsens were such a unique, cleansing and peaceful experience. Going in winter was magical. The food was delicious. The Japanese people were endearing. Sleeping on a floor futon with a rice pillow was fun. Other than 1 other guy, we were the only caucasians we encountered at either onsen.

Worst bits

Bears and bear meat are pretty common for that area and at the Takaragawa ryokan they actually had a bear outside in a fairly small cage as an attraction which was really sad and off-putting. I don’t know if they still have it (other travellers also made comments on trip advisor), but it’s the only reason I would recommend considering a different ryokan. The other worst bit is that I took terrible photos.


Rate the overall trip — 10/10

Rate the activity on your trip — 10/10

Rate the ease of logistics — 7/10

Value for money — 9/10

About The Traveller

Gender & Age Range
Female, 25 - 35

I’m from
the Canadian Rockies

My favourite trip as of late
a long weekend in Byron Bay

Travelling Style
Book the important stuff, but leave some flexibility in the schedule.

I like to go on the following types of trips
Culture, sporty, beach, gourmet, relax

It’s a dealbreaker when
The accommodation is dirty

Continent I know the best

Takaragawa ryokan surrounds

First Last Name

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I’m from Perth, Western Australia

My favourite trip as of late is New Zealand, solo travel in lots of nature for a soul-refresher.

My travelling style is to Book the first night, then wing it from there!

It’s a dealbreaker when I’m stuck around large groups of package tourists.

Continent I know best is Asia.

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