Japan Onsen Guides: Ikaho Onsen Area, Gunma Prefecture 伊香保温泉
Ikaho Onsen is a top Japanese hot spring with a rich history. Ikaho Onsen is located near Takasaki in Gunma Prefecture. Ikaho has a great reputation and is known by most Japanese people as a excellent place to go for some hot water relaxation and detox. Ikaho Onsen can be easily done as a side trip from Tokyo.
The famous Ikaho Stone Steps in the center of town lead up to the top of the main hill, and are lined with many souvenir shops and restaurants. There is also a free foot bath (ashiyu) hot spring outside Kishigon Ryokan, which is about half way up.
At the top is Ikaho Shrine, a nice little shrine that was founded over 1000 years ago.
Ikaho Sekisho at the bottom was a former checkpoint in the Edo Period of Japanese history, and is free to enter. The gate has been recreated and there is a little display inside explaining a bit about Ikaho's history and traditional Japanese uniforms and clothing.
The Vacation House of Hawaii Kingdom's Minister across the road is the only building related to the old Kingdom of Hawaii in Japan.
Mount Uenoyama is another highlight in Ikaho. This mountain gives an amazing view of the town, plus nearby Mount Akagi and Mount Tanigawadake. At the top there are a few observation decks, gardens and a playground for children. It's possible to walk up it in about 1 hour, or take the ropeway.
Along the way to the main onsen is Kajika Bridge, an arched, red, Japanese bridge going across the hot spring stream. A real "power spot" with Japanese tourists, it's a cool place to come for some photos and to relax under the trees. Kajika Bridge is particularly pretty in the cherry blossom or autumn colour seasons.
Ikaho Outdoor Hot Spring
While Ikaho Onsen has many ryokans and hotels with their own hot springs, the star act is the main rotemburo (outdoor hot spring) at the back end of the town. It's a short walk from the center. One cool feature is a little observation area, where visitors can see the source of the hot spring water.
The rotemburo has two sections, one with golden colored water and the other with silver colored water. They both have different healing qualities, and both are not too hot, meaning anyone is able to enjoy them.
The onsen became known as a way to help women conceive children during the Edo Period. Women with fertility problems were taken and apparently treated in the hot springs. Since then, women have made up the majority of customers.
The baths are split between male and female sections. There are no soap or towels, so bring your own.
Ikaho Onsen Tourist Information Center
Tel: +81 0279 72 3151Address: 541-4 Ikaho-machi, Shibukawa-shi, Gunma 377-0102
Places to stay in Ikaho Onsen
Hashimoto Hotel is in a lovely location surrounded by forest trees, right next to the outside bath.
There are countless ryokans (traditional Japanese hotels) in the town. Prices vary from reasonable to super expensive. Some top rooms even come with private hot spring baths attached to the rooms themselves. Recommended picks include Kishigon Ryokan, which has an amazing hot spring and Yokotekan, which has some new, but traditional looking tatami rooms.
It would also be very easy to stay in Takasaki which has many hotels located near the train station including Toyoko Inn Takasaki Ekimae Honkan, as does the far more luxurious Takasaki Washington Hotel Plaza. The APA Takasaki Ekimae Hotel, which has a nice spa, is also right next to the station.
Access - Getting to Ikaho Onsen
From Tokyo Station, take the Nagano or Joetsu Shinkansen line to Takasaki (50 minutes). From Takasaki station take a Joetsu line train to Shibukawa Station. From Shibukawa there are regular buses (30 minutes) to Ikaho Onsen. The JR Rail Pass is valid on the trains, but not for the bus. You can also take a cheaper Takasaki line train to Takasaki station from Ueno station in Tokyo (2 hours).
Karuizawa is one stop westbound from Takasaki.
From Takasaki Station there are trains on the Agatsuma Line to Shin-Maebashi, Shibukawa, Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi for buses to Kusatsu Onsen and Manza-Kazawaguchi. The Ryomo Line has trains to Shin-Maebashi, Maebashi, Kiryu and Oyama. The Shinetsu Main Line runs trains to Annaka and Yokokawa.
The Joshin Line, operated by Joshin Dentetsu runs nearly 34km between Takasaki Station and Shimonita Station.
There are direct highway buses from Shinjuku Station to Ikaho Onsen.
From Narita Airport there are limousine highway buses to Takasaki taking about 3 hours. There are also limousine buses from Haneda Airport, Tokyo's other main airport to Takasaki.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tomioka Silk Mill is a 40 minute journey by train from Takasaki.
Getting around Ikaho Onsen
Once you have reached the main town, it's quickest to walk to each location. Everything is quite close together.
If you are staying in Ikaho Onsen, most ryokans or hotels will be able to pick you up from the main bus stop or even Shibukawa if it's a big one.
Ikaho Ropeway is a great way to get a view over the city, and also cuts having to hike up Mount Uenoyama. It takes you over 300 metres up the mountain. The ropeway operates from 9am to 5:15pm and costs 480 yen for a single and 800 yen for a return ticket. Children are half price.
Matthew is a blogger and writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He writes for Super Cheap Japan, a travel guide dedicated to budget travel in Japan. You can read more of his work at www.supercheapjapan.com
Japanese Bath Products
Purchase a range of wooden Japanese bath products made from the finest Japanese wood including original bath buckets, chairs and soap basins to give your bathroom that Japanese hot spring onsen feel.