Founded in the 7th century, Ikaho Onsen [伊香保温泉] (Ikaho Hot Springs) is one of Japan's most popular hot spring resort areas located in the Gunma Prefecture [群馬県].
The hot springs are concentrated around Ishidan [石段] - a 365 flight of stone steps which are also lined with traditional inns and shops.
Wifey and I managed to spend a day at Ikaho filming for a wee bit - today we take a look at the hot spring area and the traditional inn that we stayed at.
The Ikaho Onsen map - at the center of it all are the Ishidan stone steps.
To get there, you need to get on the Joetsu Line [上越線] and get off at Shibukawa Station [渋川駅]. You then need to take a bus to Ikaho Onsen which is another 30 min ride. Presuming you are traveling from Shinjuku, your train route would look like this <- this link calculates the train departure times for you so make sure its set to the morning or day time otherwise it will show you a different route.
What looks like a castle at the foot of the Ishidan steps - a fusion of traditional and modern architecture.
We went in February - by this time of year much of the snow has already melted - different story at the top of the stairs though.
Dont forget to check out the small alleys that branch out from the steps too as they also contain shops, restaurants, inns and hot springs.
If you like crowds then go on a weekend - if you want to avoid them then go on a weekday - these were taken on a Wednesday.
Depending on the season you go - you may find the steps filled with ladies.
Even though much of the snow has melted - its still freezing! Prob best not to stand underneath these branches looking up at them.
Stuff for you to read as you climb the steps.
The view looking back is great too.
This is what the area looked like many moons ago.
And this is what it looked like back in Meiji 44 (1911).
Sweets and snacks.
Traditional geta [下駄] sandals.
Diorama of a geta store.
More traditional Japanese souvenir crafts.
Just a bit more before we reach the top of the stairs.
A couple of O-jizou sama watch over the area.
At the top of the flight of stairs is Ikaho Shrine which you may have seen in the Unmanned Shops post.
Folks who had bad fortune bestowed upon them after a round of Omikuji would tie the piece of paper to the fence so that the fortune does not come true - stuff like "rabid baboons will come and steal your Internets forever" or "giant red ants will come to pour sugar water on your private parts and feast on them for eternity."
Temperatures at the top of the stairs are much more cooler - there is still a load of snow up here.
Too cold up there - time to go down and get something warm.
Wednesday is not a good time to go through - while you get to avoid the crowds - many of the restaurants and shops are closed. Only a handful are open so we settle to warm up with some cup noodle ^^
We sit outside the shop to tuck in. Please excuse the chopsticks stuck into the cup as I wanted to get a good shot without dropping them on the floor ^^;
For those who are not beknowist, it is very bad luck to stab your chopsticks like this in food as it resembles the incense sticks used during a funeral ><
Time for a foot bath - most of these are free. Just don't forget to bring a small towel or you will have to dry your feet on the nearest friend or nearby cat.
All the water in the area are from hot springs.
Evening starting to settle in.
This Hotel/Inn is gorgeous! The traditional Japanese atmosphere can really be enjoyed through the interior, rooms , food and hot springs on the premises.
This is what a typical room would look like at a traditional Japanese hotel which are also called Ryokan [旅館]. During the day the table is in the middle of the room and during the evening the staff would come to remove the table and layout the futons.
Some places have paper like this which you place inside the Ryokan sandals so that you don't have to share foot juices with the previous person who wore them.
When you check in, the hotel staff will ask you what time you want to eat as they need to prepare food for you. The course meal is set and included in the price of the room. If you have any vegetarian requirements then just request it at the time you book.
Saber prefers to omnom on her melonpan.
Some closeups of our traditional Japanese meal tonight.
This photo taken shortly after I cut my hair really really short - will never try that again ><
The traditional Japanese dessert however is...really really small ^^
The interior of the hotel is so nice that Saber wants to take some photos.
When we get back to the room, the futon is already laid out for us. They typically don't have king or queen sized futons - they all some single like this.
Then its off to take a dip in one of the hot springs located on the premises.
"Kashikiri" [貸し切り] when used in context of a hot spring means that you get your own private onsen.
You also get your own room to change too. If you dont fancy showing others your dangly bits then go private by Kashikiri Onsen.
Saber takes a dip too. This is one thing that you can't do with the automatic version of Smart Doll though ^^;
Before taking a dip on the onsen, you should wash off that icky stuff that accumulates in the nook and crannies of your body.
Water is prepared just outside the onsen.
Folks ask me what my wife thinks of the dolls - who do you think is taking the photo? ^^
The blue thing I'm wearing is a Yukata and is provided by the hotel.
Back at our room - nibbling on the snacks that are provided with the tea which are conveniently available from the store by the hotel entrance.
Next morning - brekkie.
And after brekkie its time to take a morning dip in the onsen.
Its a weekday so nobody is around - I get to have the whole of the mens onsen to myself ^^;
Unless you go for the private Kashikiri Onsen where you get to share with your family, the main baths are separated between men and women and usually change - in the morning the south bath hall will be for men and in the evening it will be for women so that both parties can experience the different onsen.
There is usually a variety of onsen in the main bath - both hot and cold. During busy periods this bath would be filled with hairy (or shiny) men. Some walk around covering their lil bro while some like to show off by swinging it around ><
Being brought up in the UK - I was certainly not accustomed to walking around in my birthday suit in front of others but am now used to it - but don't think I'll ever be confident enough to start swinging lil bro around ^^
Have you tried a Japanese onsen in your b'day suit?
Here is where you should wash those bits n pieces sticking out from your torso. Shampoo and soap is provided - which are also conveniently available to buy from the hotel shop ^^;
So lets presume you just walked into this public bath - which of these do you choose to sit at?
Free lockers are provided for you to lock up your valuables.
I like to take a dip in the Rotenburo [露天風呂] - the onsen located in the open air.
These hats to keep the rain or snow off your head (the one attached to your shoulders).
My own bath for the morning ^o^
Time to check out.
Daruma - the tradition is to fill in one eye at the beginning of the year and then fill in the other when one has completed their goals at the end of the year.
We practice this at Anime Expo.
Loads of Japanese ornaments in the lounge.
Saber-chan all wrapped out to venture out in the cold.
One of the most relaxing lounges I've ever sat in.
Totoro lamp - I think I need one too.
Retro postbike still used in modern day.
Its off to the next location which is....
...the Ikaho Toy, Doll and Car Museum which is also located in the vicinity - much recommended where you feel like you've taken a trip back in time. Check out my photos here.
Also check out more places to visit in Japan listed up below.