Nikko Travel Guide: Kinugawa Onsen

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  • Relax in hot springs and open-air bath, take a traditional boat tour down Kinugawa River and enjoy Japanese ryokan hospitality at Kinugawa Onsen.

    Kinugawa River - - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    During our family’s trip to Nikko, besides the famous shrines, we also visited Edo Wonderland and Tobu World amusement parks. Instead of staying near the shrines west of Nikko City, we stayed at Kinugawa Onsen hot spring resort town (鬼怒川温泉) since it was closer to the attractions. The hot springs at Kinugawa Onsen date back 300 years and was a popular destination during the Japan economy bubble years.

    Where is Kinugawa Onsen

    Kinugawa Onsen is north of Tokyo and it takes 2.5 hrs by train or 2 hrs by car. Besides the nearby amusement parks, there are a few other activities do in the hot springs town. In case you’re wondering, the word onsen (温泉) means hot springs in Japanese.

    children in front of Kinu-Tateiwa-Otsuribashi Suspension Bridge - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kinu-Tateiwa-Otsuribashi Suspension Bridge

    The hot springs town is named after Kinugawa River which runs through it and Kinugawa (鬼怒川) translates to the angry demon river in Japanese.

    Kinugawa River with a hotel in the background - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    The Kinugawa River

    Kinugawaonsen Station

    One of the interesting ways you can get to Kinugawa Onsen is by riding the steam locomotive Taiju from Shimo-Imaichi Station to Kinugawaonsen Station.

    statue of Kinuta at Kinugawa Onsen station - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Statue of Kinuta at Kinugawa Onsen station
    picture of steam locomotive Taiju at Kinugawa Onsen - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Picture of steam locomotive Taiju

    At the Kinugawaonsen station, there is a railway turntable to rotate the steam locomotive so it can head back to Shimo-Imaichi Station.

    locomotive turntable at Kinugawa Onsen station - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Locomotive turntable

    While waiting at the station, you can enjoy free onsen footbath.

    free footbath at Kinugawa Onsen station - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Free foot bath at the station

    Kinugawa River Boat Ride

    Kinugawa Line Down Boat Ride - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kinugawa Line Down Boat Ride

    One of the activities is visitors can enjoy is riding a traditional wooden boat down the Kinugawa River. You can find the boat cruise on Google by searching Kinugawa Line Down (鬼怒川ライン下り). children at Kinugawa River boat ride - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    The boat ride, for the most part, is pretty calm but at times the rapids become slightly stronger and splash up the side of the boat. During those times, the riders are able to pull up a plastic tarp on the side of the boat so we wouldn’t get wet.

    on the Kinugawa boat ride passing under suspension bridge - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    riders holding up plastic tarp on the boat - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    The scenery along the river was beautiful and serene. As we floated down the emerald green river, there are interesting rock formation and gorgeous landscape for viewing.

    the scenery from the Kinugawa boat ride - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    The scenery from the Kinugawa boat ride

    the scenery from the Kinugawa boat ride - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    After the boat ride, we waited at the rest stop for a bit and a shuttle returned us to where we embarked.

    passengers on the Kinugawa boat ride - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    Kinugawa Onsen Ropeway

    The second activity we did was riding the Monkey Mountain Kinugawa Onsen Ropeway (鬼怒川温泉ロープウェイ). The ropeway was located conveniently close to the hot springs resorts and it’s within walking distance.

    Kinugawa onsen ropeway
    Entrance for Kinugawa Onsen ropeway

    The view from the top of the ropeway was quite cool, we could see the Kinugawa Onsen town in the valley surrounded by hilly mountains on both sides.

    view of Kinugawa Onsen town from the ropeway - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    View of Kinugawa Onsen resort town

    view of the Kinugawa onsen resort town from the top of the ropeway - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    The kids had a blast as there was a monkey enclosure and visitors are allowed to feed the monkeys.

    children feeding monkeys at Kinugawa onsen ropeway - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    Hot Springs and Kaiseki Ryori at Asaya Hotel

    We spent 2 nights at Kinugawa Onsen with both nights at Asaya Hotel. The hotel dates back to 1800 but the current building is probably from the ’70s. From the exterior, it’s hard to tell what it actually looks like inside.

    Asaya Hotel - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    Decor

    What’s interesting is the hotel might look like a three to four-story building from outside but it’s actually 12 floors. As it’s built on a hillside the hotel lobby is actually the 6th floor when you enter. Another intriguing design is you don’t typically see Japanese hot springs hotels with an open central atrium and you can see the inside of the whole building. Down on the bottom floor, there is a fountain and a large organ which plays music.

    interior of Asaya hotel - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    The hotel was clean and well kept but the decor is a bit outdated. We booked a standard Japanese room which is a sitting room during the day and converts to the bedroom at night. The hotel staff converts the room and make the beds while you eat dinner.

    Japanese room at Asaya hotel - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Standard Japanese room at Asaya hotel

    room with ofuton made - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com

    From our room balcony, we could see the Kinugawa River and other resort hotels across the river.

    hotels across Kinugawa river - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    View from the room balcony

    Hot Springs

    The hot springs facilities at Asaya Hotel was quite good. There is a rooftop onsen offering majestic views of the valley while you bath. The rooftop onsen alternates for male and female use based on the time of the day. Besides that, there is a second dedicated hot springs facility for male and female on the first floor. The onsen facilities are large and in great condition. There was a shampoo bar on the first floor hot springs for guests to try different shampoo and conditioners in addition to the hotel’s standard offering.

    Food

    We had two dinners and two breakfast at Asaya Hotel during our stay. Both dinners were kaiseki ryori with beef shabu shabu as the main course the first night and grilled beef the second night. Dinner the first night was very disappointing because the quality was subpar. Along with beef shabu shabu the first night’s meal also had assorted tempura, sashimi, grilled ayu, but no dish stood out to us.

    sashimi at Asaya hotel - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Assorted sashimi
    beef shabu shabu at Asaya Hotel - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Beef shabu shabu

    The dinner on the second night made up for the first night, with more interesting ingredients like sea snails, sea bream sashimi, and stuff chicken inside eggplant. It was so drastically different we actually ask the staff if the same chef had prepared both meals and the staff confirmed he had. The second night’s dinner was delicious and overall we were satisfied with the food.

    sea snail (part of meal) - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sea snail
    sea bream sashimi - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sea bream sashimi
    stuffed eggplant - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Stuff eggplant

    For desserts both night, there was a dessert bar where you can try as many sweets as you want.

    dessert bart - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Dessert bar

    Breakfast both days were a buffet and it was excellent. There were plenty of both western and Japanese selections, easily over 50 choices of food. The dishes were laid out in different islands so the line to grab food was quick and didn’t get too crowded.

    breakfast buffet at Asaya hotel - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Breakfast buffet

    The best thing at breakfast was the house special french toast. It was amazingly good with soft milky texture on the inside and crispy on the outside. The chef was kind enough to share the recipe with us and we’ve shared the french toast recipe on the blog. The feedback we got from JOC readers who’ve made it was really positive so give it a try if you love french toasts.

    french toast and pizza oven - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    French toast

    The Ruins of Kinugawa Onsen

    There was one surprise we didn’t expect in Kinugawa Onsen and it’s a bit creepy. Across the river, from the Asaya Hotel, we saw many empty buildings with missing and broken windows, exposed walls, and they looked completely ruined and ready to be a set for horror movies. It’s unusual to see such a sight in Japan and especially in a resort area.

    We got curious and learned that many abandoned buildings were hotel developments that were stopped as funding ran out. Kinugawa Onsen area was devastated by the decreasing number of visitors to the area starting from the 1990s to 2016.

    The reasons were multiple folds including the Japanese bubble economy collapsing, the bankruptcy of a prominent local bank, as well as the Great Tohoku Earthquake. The good news is there is a revived effort in recent years to bring more visitors to the area including updating the hotels, new resorts opening, and convenient direct transportation from large cities.

    buildings with broken windows at Kinugawa Onsen - Nikko Travel Guide : Kinugawa Onsen | www.justonecookbook.com
    Buildings with broken windows and abandoned

    If you want to get away from the crowd and go off the beaten path, visit Kinugawa Onsen on your trip to Nikko. We would recommend spending one day and one night relaxing in the hot springs, checking out local attractions, and then head over to Nikko to see the shrines.

    Nikko Travel Guide

    1. Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura 日光江戸村
    2. Kinugawa Onsen 鬼怒川温泉
    3. Tobu World Square 東武ワールドスクウェア
    4. Nikko Tosho-gu 日光東照宮
    5. Places to visit in Nikko 日光
    6. Kegon Falls 華厳の滝
    7. Lake Chuzenji 中禅寺湖
    8. Oya History Museum 大谷資料館

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