Less than two hours from the dazzling neon of Tokyo, the scenic mountains of Gunma Prefecture are practically overflowing with hot springs.
There’s Takaragawa onsen with its beer vending machines and riverside open-air baths which allow mixed-gender bathing. Kusatsu onsen spurts out around 4,000 liters of sulphuric spring water every minute. Sainokawara onsen has an enormous outdoor bath with space for 99 other people and Hoshi Chojukan is a remote inn deep in the mountains with secluded outdoor baths that you can have all to yourself.
Water, water everywhere
The best introduction to Gunma’s onsen is at Kusatsu which boasts the highest amount of hot spring water in the country. In the town center, the yubatake (hot water field) uses wooden troughs to cool down and distribute the hot water to the surrounding public baths and inns.
You can also witness the yumomi where local women stir the hot spring waters with large wooden paddles while dancing and singing traditional songs.
It’s important to be aware that some hot spring baths do not allow people with tattoos to enter. If this is strictly the case, there should be a sign on display in English that clarifies the establishment’s particular policy.Thankfully, the stigma against tattoos is slowly lifting and the government is actively discouraging onsen owners from discriminating against people with body art in the run up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
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