Find authentic Japan in its less-visited corners
Last updated: December 21, 2020
As travelers seek an escape from busy tourist destinations, many of us are planning vacations to nature-rich destinations that allow ample social distancing. Gunma is within easy reach of Tokyo, but the prefecture’s national parks, mountains, waterfalls, and small onsen resorts feel a world away.
Step off the tourist trail and be rewarded with gorgeous landscapes, authentic cultural experiences, and delicious local cuisine. Gunma’s accommodations are taking comprehensive measures to ensure a safe environment for visitors.
Best for: A natural escape
Hoshi Onsen is a true escape, deep in Joshin'etsukogen National Park. A tranquil stream runs through the secluded resort, and the surrounding forested mountains make it feel a world away from city life. Relax in spacious rooms surrounded by nature, stroll along the river or hike through the forest. A range of walking, hiking, and trekking trails are within a short drive.
The resort has three different bath houses, with natural hot spring water. The largest, Hoshi no Yu, is an atmospheric wooden bath house built over a century ago, offering mixed bathing. Day visitors are welcome to use the facilities, but for full seclusion and relaxation, book one of the traditional Japanese tatami rooms for a night or two.
Best for: Outdoor onsen bathing
Enjoy bathing outdoors at Shiriyaki Onsen, a large bathing spot on the side of a river, where natural hot water emerges from the riverbed. These baths are free of charge; descend the steps to find people lazily reclining in the warm river in all weathers. As the onsen is open to the weather and public view, visitors should wear swimwear, but there is a covered area for naked bathing. Shiriyaki is located in the Kuni no Sato Onsen Area, where ryokan inns dot the river.
Explore the unusual nature at Chatsubomi Moss Park, a geothermal spring with highly acidic water, which supports a colony of a rare species of moss. Enjoy easy hiking trails around Lake Nozori to enjoy the mountain views and crystal clear water.
Best for: A winter escape
The narrow Manza Highway winds through remote, birch-forested mountains to Manza Onsen. The onsen town enjoys deep snowfalls in winter, and is a popular ski resort. Manza Onsen is distinguished by its milky white rotenburo (outdoor baths) with views across the snowy mountains. Relaxing in a hot bath while gazing at the postcard-perfect scenery is an enchanting way to spend a winter day. For a more active holiday, head to Manza Onsen Ski Area. It has runs for skiers and snowboarders of all levels.
Manza Prince Hotel is a year-round resort, but it is especially appealing in winter for ski-in, ski-out access and its outdoor onsen bath with snowy mountain views. The hotel is committed to safety and social distancing, with measures to ensure a safe and comfortable stay. Rooms are thoroughly sanitized and sealed with a quality assurance sticker, monitors display the busyness of the baths so you can choose a quiet slot, and social distancing measures are in place in the restaurants and public spaces.
Best for: Culture and history
Visit Yakushi Onsen Hatago to step back in time. The collection of historic buildings are arranged like a country village, with its charming, thatched-roof buildings connected by walkways. Some of the buildings double as museums, with impressive displays of Edo period (1603–1868) artifacts including toys, furniture, and weaponry. The guest rooms are furnished with antiques, and many feature private baths.
Guests can enjoy exquisitely presented traditional multi-course cuisine, featuring seasonal ingredients, handmade soba noodles and local specialities, such as Joshu beef.
Enjoy a hike through the surrounding forests and along the Nuru River, or drive about 30 minutes to Agatsumakyo Gorge, a forested valley. The trails are beautiful all year, with azaleas in spring, greenery in summer, colorful foliage in autumn, and snow-covered landscapes in winter.
Best for: Living like a local
Get a taste for rural life in this small hot spring town along Katashina Gorge. Shop for fresh, local produce at the morning farmer's market in town, and explore the local streets, shrines and temples. Experience the surrounding nature by hiking to nearby Fukiware no Taki Falls, sometimes compared with Niagra Falls for their dramatic shape. The 7-meter-tall, 30-meter-wide waterfall thunders over the surrounding bedrock. Just to the north is Oze National Park, where you can walk along elevated boardwalks over the expansive marshland. After a day of hiking, unwind in one of Oigami Onsen's many rejuvenating baths, which include rotenburo (outdoor baths) that overlook the gorge.