TOUJI (湯治) is a Japanese traditional culture. As its Chinese characters literally mean, it is to cure diseases and injuries by the power of natural ONSEN (温泉 / hot spring) as well as healing physical fatigue and mental stress. In addition, instead of rushing around the sightseeing spots, let’s try to stay longer without doing things, and look at the local people, manners, customs, and cultures. Then, you can fill up the nourishment for your heart to go back to your daily life. This is an ideal way to rest or way to take a look at yourself which Japanese people today have almost forgot.
Today, I’ll introduce the 5 best places where you can make it come true, especially the ones with easy access from Tokyo.
1. <4 hours bus trip from Tokyo> “YUJUKU KANETAYA” at YUJUKU ONSEN
“YUJUKU KANETAYA (ゆじゅく金田屋)” at YUJUKU ONSEN (湯宿温泉) is located in GUNMA Prefecture, and you can reach this nice TOUJI YADO in 4 hours by bus from Tokyo.
YUJUKU ONSEN is a famous ONSEN place which appeared in “HINKON-RYOKOKI (貧困旅行記)”, a travel journal of YOSHIHARU TSUGE (つげ義春), a Japanese famous cartoonist and essayist, who is also known as an ONSEN lover. In this travel journal he described YUJUKU ONSEN like “There’s nobody in this town, it doesn’t get much sunshine, and it is dark and quiet…. Seems like everything is stagnated here. There’s really nothing here.” He described this town in such an awful way, but he was such a guy who loved rustic countryside. This might be his ironic way to appreciate it.
When I visited here, yes, actually there was nothing here… There were only stone-paved road, YAKUSHI NYORAI (薬師如来 / the Buddha of Healing), 4 public bathhouses for local people, some inns, some shops, and some houses. That’s all. Obviously this is not the ONSEN place for sightseeing purpose, but the ONSEN in the real lives of local people. This must be the best place for those who love solo-travel and peaceful travel to heal yourself at ONSEN.
If you come here by bus, you can take the direct express bus “MINAKAMI ONSEN Bus” of KAN-ETSU Transportation (which operates from December to March only) from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (バスタ新宿), and it takes you there in 4 hours.
If you come by train, you can take SHINKANSEN (新幹線 / bullet train) from Tokyo Station to JOMO KOGEN Station (上毛高原駅) which takes 66 minutes, and you transfer to KAN-ETSU Bus which takes you to YUJUKU ONSEN in 20 minutes. In total, it only takes 1 hour and a half.
YUJUKU ONSEN is located near MIKUNI -TOGE Pass (三国峠) at the boarder between GUNMA Prefecture and NIIGATA Prefecture, and it’s a part of “MINAKAMI 18 ONSEN KYO (みなかみ18湯温泉郷)”, where 18 small-sized ONSEN places are scattered along National Route 17. It is very good to visit around multiple ONSEN places based in here.
One of the ONSEN inns at this YUJUKU ONSEN, which I would like to recommend, is “YUJUKU KANETAYA”. This inn welcomes solo travel and serve 2 meals (dinner and breakfast), so that you can experience TOUJI easily. The spring quality here is sodium / calcium / sulfate spring, and it is “GENSEN KAKENAGASHI (源泉かけ流し / free flowing ONSEN directly springing out from the source)” without any water added, heat added, nor circulated.
There’s a cozy conversation lounge named “BOKUSUI NO MA (牧水の間)”. This name comes from BOKUSUI WAKAYAMA (若山牧水), a very famous Japanese author. He wrote in his work “MINAKAMI KIKOU (みなかみ紀行)” that he had stayed at this inn KANETAYA. This conversation lounge is where he stayed. It would be very good time to face yourself by feeling like BOKUSUI, composing a HAIKU poem, reading books, and writing something. Why don’t you start the trip to face yourself?
Source of above photos: Official Website of YUJUKU KANETAYA (Japanese): http://www.yujuku-kanetaya.com/
2. <4.5 hours bus trip from Tokyo> “OSENKAKU” at TAKARAGAWA ONSEN
“OSENKAKU (汪泉閣)” at TAKARAGAWA ONSEN (宝川温泉) is also located at MINAKAMI Town, GUNMA Prefecture, and you can reach this wonderful place in 4 hours and a half by bus from Tokyo. “Lonely Planet”, the world-leading travel guidebook, ranks this OSENKAKU No.1 ONSEN in Japan in their ranking of “Best 10 ONSEN in Japan”. Also, OSENKAKU appeared in “Thermae Romae II (テルマエロマエII)”, a Japanese popular movie in 2014 featuring ONSEN.
What is special about this OSENKAKU is its “KODAKARA NO YU (子宝の湯)”, a huge outside bath right in front of the stream, which their plentiful supply of ONSEN made it possible. Its plentiful ONSEN is, needless to say, GENSEN KAKENAGASHI (源泉掛け流し), free flowing ONSEN directly springing out from the spring source.
This huge outdoor bath is 330 square meter and its spring quality is simple spring which is colorless and transparent. Although it’s a mixed bath where men and women bathe in the same bathtub, you can wear bath towel and YUAMIGI (湯浴み着 / bathing clothes), so that regardless age, sex, and nationality, people relax here with viewing its amazing scenery.
It’s definitely one of the attractiveness of TOUJI to bathe in ONSEN calmly and peacefully surrounded by nature. Although they also have a separate outdoor bath “MAYA NO YU (摩耶の湯)” which is 160 square meter and exclusively for women, the size and the view of KODAKARA NO YU is overwhelming and I would suggest to try this mixed bath.
Read the article related to “mixed bath (混浴 / KONYOKU)” which is a precious traditional culture in Japan: Japan’s largest cypress bath “SEN’NIN BURO (Thousand person’s bath)” at KANAYA RYOKAN, IZU Peninsula
Today, OSENKAKU has become a “RYOKAN”, but it used to be a “TOUJI YADO” during TAISHO Period to SHOWA 30’s.
Similarly to YUJUKU KANETAYA, the access to this OSENKAKU is that you can take the direct bus of “KAN-ETSU Transportation” from SHINJUKU Expressway Bus Terminal in Tokyo during December to March, which takes around 4 hours to reach MINAKAMI Station, and then you can take free shuttle to OSENKAKU which only takes 30 minutes. If you come by train, take SHINKANSEN from Tokyo to JOMO KOGEN Station (66 minutes), and you can take free shuttle from JOMO KOGEN Station to the hotel (45 minutes).
Source of above photos: Official Website of OSENKAKU:
3. <3.5 hours bus trip from Tokyo> “NISSHINKAN” at MANZA ONSEN
“NISSHINKAN (日進館)” at MANZA ONSEN (万座温泉) is also located in GUNMA Prefecture. It’s surrounded by beautiful nature and you can enjoy bathing in ONSEN with fine view. Similarly to KUSATSU ONSEN (草津温泉) nearby, its spring quality is strong acidic spring which contains the biggest ratio of sulfur in Japan, and its milky white spring is the unique characteristics of ONSEN here.
MANZA ONSEN is 1800 meters high above the sea level, and it’s inside the JOSHINETSU KOGEN National Park (上信越高原国立公園) which is full of greenery. TOUJI experience at this kind of highland is thought to be one of the climatotherapy which gives you better effect to refresh your mind and body.
The signature bath of this NISSHINKAN is “GOKURAKUYU (極楽湯)” with 360 degree of mountain view. While bathing, you can enjoy various faces of nature according to seasons.
NISSHINKAN offers some packages with direct bus from Tokyo, which takes you there from SHINJUKU Station in 3 hours and a half. If you come by train, it takes less than 3 hours.
NISSHINKAN is actively promoting TOUJI with addressing “to improve the resistance and immune system which human beings originally have”.
There are 9 bathrooms of natural ONSEN and you can enjoy touring inside the hotel. Since it’s a large-scale ONSEN hotel, it doesn’t look like a traditional TOUJI YADO kind of feeling, but you won’t be bored staying there long with their variety of attractions and activities.
Source of above photos: Official Website of NISSHINKAN:
4. <3.5 hours bus trip from Tokyo> “SEKIZENKAN” at SHIMA ONSEN
The name of “SHIMA ONSEN (四万温泉)” came from its legend that this ONSEN cures 40,000 types of disease, and this ONSEN is the first ONSEN place which was registered as National Health Hot Springs (国民保養温泉地) in Japan. There used to be many TOUJI YADO in this town, and “SEKIZENKAN (積善館)” is also one of them. Although it has changed to RYOKAN and hotel now, SEKIZENKAN is still promoting “TOUJI style”, the way of staying people used to do when this hotel used to be TOUJI YADO, with some arrangement to fit it into the present day.
SEKIZENKAN is the oldest wooden ONSEN hotel in existence, and the beautiful red bridge in front of the main building and the staircase inside the building are said to be used as a motif of the ones appearing in the famous animated movie of Studio Ghibli “SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMIKAKUSHI (千と千尋の神隠し / Spirited Away), directed by Hayao Miyazaki. As the main character of the movie “CHIHIRO” crosses this red bridge with holding her breath, many guests visiting here also do the same.
Its main building right in front of this red bridge welcomes TOUJI guests even today. As for the other buildings, “SANSOU (山荘)”, the annex along the mountain, has a full of nostalgic feeling of SHOWA Period, and “KASHOUTEI (佳松亭)” has more luxury taste. With good mix of history, tradition, and modern, SEKIZENKAN surely gives you peaceful time.
SEKIZENKAN offers the package with direct bus which takes you there from Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit in 3 hours and a half. If you come by train, it only takes less than 3 hours.
There are 3 bathrooms; “GENROKU NO YU (元禄の湯)” where you can feel the flavor of TAISHO ROMAN, “MORI NO YU (杜の湯)” where you can become one with nature, and “SANSOU NO YU (山荘の湯)” which is the family bath at SANSOU.
Its colorless and transparent spring is sodium / calcium / sulfate spring which gives good effects for stomach and intestines. In addition, INSEN (飲泉 / drinking ONSEN) is also permitted in this SEKIZENKAN.
The guided tour is taken place in the evening which the 19th owner of SEKIZENKAN guides you around the hotel to explain the history of ONSEN and TOUJI, and the architecture of the hotel building. It’s really interesting and definitely worth joining. (though the guided tour is only in Japanese language)
Detailed article about SEKIZENKAN: SEKIZENKAN at SHIMA ONSEN – The oldest wooden ONSEN hotel in Japan
Source of above photos: Official Website of SEKIZENKAN:
5. <3 hours bus trip from Tokyo> “GOZEN NO YU” at HIEKAWA ONSEN
“GOZEN NO YU (ごぜんの湯)” at HIEKAWA ONSEN (冷川温泉) is located at east side of IZU Peninsula, SHIZUOKA Prefecture.
What is special about this GOZEN NO YU is that they still offer traditional and authentic way of TOUJI stay even at the present day. As one of the important essence in the authentic TOUJI stay was the self-catering with using local ingredients, here you can experience harvesting the vegetables for your self-catering which don’t contain any agrochemical, chemical fertilizer, nor herbicide. It’s super naturalistic TOUJI YADO which secures safer foods and healthier mind and body.
It also has a henhouse and a rabbit hutch. As well as ONSEN, you would really feel an appreciation for various kinds of blessings of nature, and re-discovering the importance of lives.
Although you can try “Full self-catering package” which the inn doesn’t serve anything and you handle everything to eat by picking up vegetables or meats in the farm and cook, there are some other packages as well which you would be able to try easier; “Half self-catering package” is that the inn only serves brown rice and miso soup and you handle the others. “Hermit’s fasting package” is that the inn serves only soup for breakfast, and porridge of brown rice for dinner.
You can also buy rice and vegetables harvested in the farm this inn owns. Also, they kindly take you to supermarket nearby to buy some ingredients for your self-catering.
Therefore, it is the best TOUJI YADO for those who want to try fasting or improve eating habits. Not just that, this inn also has a package with 1 night 2 meals for normal guests. Thus, it is a good place for anyone to try TOUJI lifestyle depending on the level you prefer. You can eat foods at the dining room at the old house of more than 100 years old.
The spring quality here is sodium / calcium / sulfate spring with no-added water, no-heated, no-circulation, and no-chemical, and it’s GENSEN KAKENAGASHI (源泉掛け流し / free flowing ONSEN directly springing out from the spring source). INSEN (飲泉 / drinking ONSEN) is also possible here.
To reach here, you can take TOKAI Express Bus “IZU NAGAOKA / SHUZENJI ONSEN Liner” from SHINJUKU, Tokyo, which takes you to SHUZENJI Station in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Then take local bus from SHUZENJI Station to SHIMO ONOGUCHI bus stop, which takes 29 minutes.
Detailed article about “GOZEN NO YU” at HIEKAWA ONSEN:
All the TOUJI YADO introduced above have safe and high-quality ONSEN. If only you just get on the bus from Tokyo, you can easily access these TOUJI YADO which have wonderful natural ONSEN to heal your body and mind.
On the way, you can gradually reset yourself by gazing at scenery which is slowly passing. Let’s select your best TOUJI YADO and visit there for the maintenance of yourself.
Related article: Your first experience of TOUJI – Enjoy different way of ONSEN trip
Related article about GUNMA Prefecture: