Experience the Healing Powers of Gunma's Rich Waters

Rejuvenate body and mind with lakes, rivers and natural onsen baths

Experience the Healing Powers of Gunma's Rich Waters

Last updated: May 13, 2024

People in Gunma are justifiably proud of their region’s pure water. You can explore the gorgeous lakes, rivers, and waterfalls around the 18 onsen of Minakami and the celebrated onsen baths of Shima, to revitalize your mind and body. Bathe in the mineral-rich waters, canoe across crystal-clear lakes, and even drink the natural mineral water at designated springs. Spend a long weekend to fully unwind. While you can access most destinations in Gunma using public transport, consider renting a car for more convenience outside of the winter season. If you choose to drive in winter, be cautious of icy roads and heavy snow. There are several car rental companies near Takasaki Station.


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Minakami is renowned for its 18 natural springs, clean rivers, and alpine scenery. Pure mountain water filters down into the upper reaches of the Tone River, which flows past the town in a series of waterfalls and rapids.

Day 1

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Stay at the hidden, historical retreat Hoshi Onsen Chojukan, on the edge of the Hoshi River. Take some time to explore the elegant wooden buildings, which were constructed around 140 years ago. Warm up by the sunken hearth (irori) near the entrance and treat yourself to a drink at the Hoshi Cafe. Relax in the mineral-rich waters that gush from between the stones of the bathtub floor at Hoshi no Yu. The iconic onsen has been featured in movies and dramas, travel campaigns, and even international music videos. Don’t miss the other historical baths Tamaki no Yu and Choju no Yu. Both mixed bathing and gender-segregated bathing are available, as well as open-air baths. Enjoy a dinner made from locally sourced seasonal ingredients, with award-winning Gunma sake.

How to get to Hoshi Onsen

Day 2

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In the morning, try one of the other onsen baths before checking out. Drive or take the bus to Takuminosato, a beautiful former post town and famous hub for artisans on the ancient Mikuni Kaido highway. Refresh your mind through one of the local craft experiences in the town. You can make your own special souvenir that matches the vivid blue of Gunma’s lakes during an indigo dye (aizome) workshop. Travel on to Minakami town and sample Minakami mineral water from special taps at Tanigawa Pocket Park, Tanigawa Fuji Sengen Shrine, Hiraide Fujiwara Lakeside Park, and other locations. Local soba noodles, rice dishes, and even craft beer are all made using Minakami mineral water, as is the coffee at Drip and Drops Coffee Minakami right next to the Tone River; the perfect stop for a break. A little further up the river, you will find the luxurious modern Minakami Hotel Juraku. Take a riverside stroll, then return to relax in the hotel’s large open-air onsen bath, rooftop garden, or fireside lounge.

Day 3

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Start the next day with yoga on the terrace before breakfast. Check out of the hotel and head towards Mt. Tanigawa. Take the Tanigawadake Ropeway to Tenjindaira near the top for fresh mountain air and gorgeous scenery. In the green months (April to November), you can rent an e-bike to pedal alongside the river for spectacular views of Ichinokurasawa Gorge, one of the largest expanses of rocky cliff terrain in Japan. After a refreshing day of bracing fresh air and impressive views, travel on to Shima Onsen to discover the relaxing powers of “Shima Blue.”

How to get to Tanigawa

Shima Onsen

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Shima Onsen is a secluded onsen town known for the rejuvenating properties of its hot spring waters and the beauty of its lakes and rivers. The vivid blue waters of nearby Lake Shima, Lake Okushima, and the Shima River have earned the name “Shima Blue” for their striking hues. Sekizenkan inn is said to have been one of the inspirations for Hayao Miyazaki’s Academy Award-winning animated film “Spirited Away.”

When you arrive, check in to Shikanozoki-no-yu Tsuruya. This stylish ryokan inn has indoor and outdoor baths, a sauna, and a bedrock spa. Yakuoji Temple, where visitors pray for good health, is located on the grounds of the ryokan. After checking in, you can explore the area by rental car to discover popular local spots such as Shima Seiryu no Yu, an open-air onsen. Near Tsuruya, take a relaxing walk to the Gomuso no Yu public bath, and one of Gunma's oldest temples, Hinatami Yakushido.

Day 4

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Get an early start the next morning with a half day guided canoeing tour of Lake Shima or Lake Okushima, starting from 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. respectively. Early birds can enjoy an early morning cruise from 6:15 a.m. at Lake Shima. Stand-up paddleboards (SUP) are also available with experienced instructors. Getting out on the water is the best way to view the lake’s dazzling blue color, which is most vivid in spring due to snowmelt from the surrounding mountains. The lake is ringed by dense forest that provides a striking contrast to the water’s cobalt blue. Visit in the fall to view the many colors of the changing leaves.

In the afternoon, take a leisurely journey back to Shima Onsen. Enjoy the scenery on the way, and make a stop to see the Shima Potholes, unique rock formations in the riverbed formed over thousands of years of erosion. Stroll past one of the Shima River’s many waterfalls, including the picturesque Momotaro Falls. Enjoy walking through nature with nothing but the soothing sounds of the breeze in the trees and the water trickling nearby. Keep your eyes open for local wildlife as well. The area is home to wild boars, monkeys, and tanuki (raccoon dogs).

Feeling fully relaxed and rejuvenated, it’s time to check out of Shikanozoki-no-yu Tsuruya. Return to Takasaki by car or bus, then to Tokyo by Shinkansen.

How to get to Shima

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