Written by Ramona (GREATERTOKYO_Explorer)
Minakami Outdoor Getaway - Hiking And Staying At A Hot Spring Ryokan
Minakami is a nature-filled area in Gunma, just one hour by Shinkansen north of Tokyo, offering exciting outdoor activities, hot springs, and scenic views. On the first day of a two-day trip to Minakami, we suggest going on a hike and enjoying a stay at a local Japanese inn.
Minakami - An Outdoor Heaven North of Tokyo
Minakami is a mountain town in Gunma, reachable in about one hour by Shinkansen from Tokyo. The area has thrived as an outdoor and holiday destination offering breathtaking views of the mountains, exciting activities such as hiking, rafting, and canoeing, and, of course, hot springs.
We introduce a recommended itinerary for a two-day trip to Minakami from Tokyo. The route includes outdoor activities that Minakami is famous for such as hiking and canoeing, as well as a stay at a local ryokan (Japanese inn) where guests can enjoy relaxing hot spring baths and the exquisite local cuisine.
Please note that the guided hiking tour, the ryokan stay, and the morning canoeing activity introduced here require reservations. In order to enjoy them, make sure you make all the necessary arrangements in advance, at least three weeks before your trip.
7:48 - 10:17 -- From Tokyo Station to Tanigawadake Ropeway
The best way to start your exploration of the Minakami area is by taking part in a hiking tour on Mt. Tanigawa (Tanigawadake), the 1,977 m high peak that is the symbol of Minakami.
We suggest taking the Joetsu Shinkansen departing at 7:48 from Tokyo Station, which reaches Jomo-Kogen Station at 8:54. A one-way Shinkansen ride costs 6,390 yen, so you would be spending 12,780 yen for the roundtrip. However, consider using a discounted travel pass such as JR TOKYO Wide Pass, which costs only 10.000 yen and can be used for three consecutive days.
After exiting the ticket gates at Jomo-Kogen Station drop by the Tone-Numata Tourist Information Center, located within the station.
If you show this article on your phone to the staff, you'll receive a 500 ml bottle of water From AQUA. This campaign is available only until March 31, 2020. Please note that the giveaway is limited to one bottle of water per individual or group.
From here, you'll be traveling by local bus to Tanigawadake Ropeway Station, the departure point of hiking tours on Mt. Tanigawa.
Take the 9:32 bus for Tanigawadake Ropeway from bus platform 1, which is right in front of Jomo-Kogen Station. The ride will take 45 minutes and costs 1,250 yen. You'll pay in cash at the driver before getting off. Please make sure you have the exact sum because they can't give you change.
Please consider using the convenient 3-day Minakami Area Pass (adults 2,100 yen, children 1,050 yen), a discounted bus ticket available for international visitors to Minakami. With this ticket, you won't have to worry about paying the exact sum for the bus ride all the time. The ticket can be purchased at the Minakami Tourist Association (in front of jomo-Kogen Station), the Minakami Onsen Ryokan Association (in front of Minakami Station) or online. When getting off the bus, please show the pass to the driver.
10:25 - 15:30 -- Ichinokurasawa Eco Hiking on Mt. Tanigawa
Ichinokurasawa is a valley on the eastern side of Mt. Tanigawa. You can enjoy the scenic spots on the way by taking part in a guided hiking tour offered by the Minakami Mountain Guide Association.
We recommend the Ichinokurasawa Eco Hiking tour (Japanese), which can accommodate hikers of any level and all ages. The participation fee is 4,000 or adults and 3,500 yen for children, and it includes the guide fee and insurance, plus a snack and a coffee or tea during the break. (Please bring a packed meal or a sandwich for lunch.)
Make sure to apply to this hiking tour at least five days beforehand by phone at 0278-72-2611 (Minakami Mountain Guide Association). The tour will take place if there are at least four participants. English speaking guides are available for international visitors.
You'll meet your guide at 10:25 at the Tanigawadake Sangaku Shiryokan (Mt. Tanigawa Museum, photo above), which is about 100 m away uphill from Tanigawadake Ropeway Station where the bus left you.
You'll be hiking to the base of Ichinokurasawa Valley and from there to Yunosawa Valley, another beautiful area located about 4.4 km away from Tanigawadake Shiryokan. It's a five-hour hike but the trail is not steep at all.
The best part about this tour is that the guide explains the features of the surrounding beech forest, giving details about the plants, scenic waterfalls or rock formations encountered on the way.
Mt. Tanigawa is the source of Tone River, which provides water for the entire Tokyo area. The beech forest covering its valleys are home to an ecosystem inhabited by many rare and protected species. The stories told by the guide will fill you with wonder, making you realize just how special this area is and how rightful it was for it to be designated a national park.
You'll know you've reached Ichinokurasawa Valley when you see the impressive peaks of Mt. Tanigawa lining up high at the horizon.
This mountain has been an irresistible destination for many hikers who ventured to conquer the steep rocks at the summit. The guide will mention just how many people lost their lives climbing them. In fact, you'll spot many memorial plaques installed at the base of the rocks.
The group will reach Ichinokurasawa at around 12:30. You'll be taking a short break here by the mountain stream fed by the glacier on Mt. Tanigawa.
The guide will offer coffee or tea made on spot, as well as a local snack. It's time to energize yourself with the sandwich or packed lunch that you brought with you.
There are public toilets at the base of Ichinokurasawa, near the place where you'll stop for the lunch break.
The hiking tour resumes after about 30 minutes. You'll be walking further into the forest on a mountain pathway.
The scenery is even more impressive along this part of the trail because it's untouched by human hand. Trees with stunning shapes, springs gushing from among the trees, steep gorges opening up on the right-hand side of the trail - these are just some of the sights that will keep you in a state of awe.
The goal is to reach Buna no Shizuku ("Beech Droplet"), a spring with very clear water gushing from among the roots of the beech trees.
The guide we had on the day of our tour, Mr. Nakajima, is an experienced hiker who grew up in Minakami. He also happened to be the one who named this spring. The stories he shared with us about Mt. Tanigawa made us love this mountain instantly.
The group will be hiking back to Tanigawadake Shiryokan, reaching it by 15:30. On the way back, if you walk on the trail close to the base of the cliffs near Ichinokurasawa, you'll feel a cool breeze coming from between the rocks.
This breeze can be felt even on the hottest summer days. It's called "The Breath of the Glacier" and it's cool air that comes from the underground ice caves. See if you can feel it yourself when hiking the Ichinokurasawa Trail.
Other Recommended Outdoor Activities in Minakami
There are several other outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in Minakami, which is known as the Water Shangri-La of Japan. You can apply for whitewater rafting and canyoning, canoeing and kayaking or bungee jumping.
For details on all the activities that can be enjoyed in Minakami, please visit the official website of Minakami Tourism Association.
Day two of the itinerary introduced here includes canoeing in the morning, an activity that allows you to experience the beauty of this area in the first hours of the day.
16:14 - 16:22 -- Take the Bus to Yubiso Onsen-gai
There is a rest area inside the Tanigawa Ropeway Station. You can enjoy a light meal and drinks and maybe pick up some postcards or souvenirs from the gift shop.
Shortly after 16:00, we recommend heading to your lodging for the night. There are several ryokans (Japanese inns) in Minakami offering excellent hot springs and food. Feel free to choose the one that appeals to you most and reserve your room in advance.
The facility we'll be introducing further below, Nakaya Ryokan, is located in Yubiso Onsen, a hot spring town just 8 minutes away by bus from Tanigawadake Ropeway.
Take the bus that departs at 16:14 toward Jomo-Kogen Station and get off at Yubiso Onsen-gai. (There is a bus stop called "Yubiso Onsen" and another one called "Yubiso Onsen-gai". For Nakaya Ryokan, make sure you get off at the latter.) The bus ride costs 530 yen.
16:30 - Check in at Tenku no Yu Nakaya Ryokan
Tenku no Yu Nakaya Ryokan is an authentic hot spring inn in the Yubiso Onsen area of Minakami. The facility is about 60 m further away from the Yubiso Onsen-gai bus stop.
You'll be received in the charming lobby of the ryokan, which is decorated in traditional Japanese style, with wooden furniture, blinds that filter the light, and seasonal accents.
After check-in procedures, the guests will choose a yukata (summer kimono) to wear during their stay at the ryokan. There are several yukata patterns and sizes to choose from. A whole corner is dedicated to children's yukata, which are available in bright colors.
In fact, Nakaya Ryokan has gained a reputation for the quality of their family-oriented services. The facility has a kids' room with various toys and games to keep the children entertained. In addition, the outdoor baths are provided with a corner with shallower water where children can bathe.
The Japanese-style rooms are spacious and cozy. You'll be sleeping in a futon (traditional Japanese bedding), which is found in one of the closets. If you need any help with laying it out, please ask the staff for assistance.
On each floor, there is a cupboard with coffee and tea available in a self-service system. Prepare your drink and enjoy it in your room or in the lobby.
After you change into your yukata, you're all set up for dinner, which will be brought to your room by the staff.
Dinner consists of a kaiseki course menu, with several dishes being brought in one at a time. The staff will kindly explain the background of each dish and its content. The locals take much pride in the quality and flavor of ingredients grown in Minakami.
You'll notice for yourself, actually, how tasty are the vegetables, the pickles, and the locally produced beef. It's a most satisfying course, crowned by a delicious dessert made by the ryokan chef.
In the evening, take your time to enjoy the hot springs. Nakaya Ryokan has several bathing facilities. There is a gender-segregated communal bath on the first floor, where you can clean your body.
The two outdoor hot spring baths can be accessed from the second floor. Please be aware that you have to specify in advance the time slot when you wish to use one of these baths - either the wooden bath or the stone bath. In fact, you'll be asked to decide which one you'll use during the check-in procedures.
These baths can be used privately by the guests in turn for 40 minutes until 23:00. This private renting of the outdoor baths is included in some accommodations plans but not included in others so please make sure to check the details of your accommodation plan. You'll be asked at check-in whether you prefer the private use of the outdoor bath. The time slot when you use it will also be decided at this point.
After 23:00, the outdoor baths are open to all the guests until the next day at 10:30. The Wooden Bath becomes the ladies' bath, and the Stone Bath becomes the men's bath.
For the time slot you chose, you'll have the outdoor bath all for yourself and your family or group.
If you're blessed with good weather, you'll be able to soak in the relaxing bath gazing at the stars that fill up the sky over Minakami.
Have a Good Rest and Get Ready for Tomorrow
We suggest sleeping in early in order to be able to wake up in time for the morning canoe activity that starts at 6:00. The organizers will pick you up at your ryokan at 5:35.
Breathtaking views of Minakami's clear mountain lakes await in the morning so take a good rest and get ready for another adventure-filled day.
Tokyo Station → Jomo-Kogen Station → Tanigawadake Ropeway → Tanigawadake Shiryokan → Ichinokurasawa Eco Hiking → Tanigawadake Ropeway → Lodging at Nakaya Ryokan
Transportation: 10,000 yen for train + 1,780 yen on the local bus
Ichinosawa Eco Hiking: 4,000 yen/person
Lodging: around 20,000 yen
For other information on places to visit and things to do in Minakami, please refer to the official website of Minakami Tourism Association.
The writer visited these facilities on July 23, 2019.
Supported by Minakami Tourism Association