Manhole Monday: Minakami Onsen

Autumn is in the air in Japan. Typhoon season has been pretty wet this year, I heard, but cool temperatures and clear skies are starting to make their appearance. The first foliage reports from japan-guide are out and Hokkaido has started off the season with brilliant colors.

Last year, looking to vary things a bit from my typical destinations, my husband and I took advantage of visiting family to head off on a solo hiking weekend in Gunma. We scaled the peaks of Mt Tanigawa and soaked in the hidden ryokan of Hoshi Onsen. That’s not quite us, enjoying the delights of a hot spring, in the manhole cover below, but you get the idea. 😉


This is the cover for Minakami Onsen, the main town of the region. It sits in the shadow of the Tanigawa peaks and has built quite a reputation lately as a center for outdoor adventure. You can go hiking, biking, white water rafting, parasailing and I even think I saw something about canyoning (climbing up waterfalls) on a brochure there.

Before it was an adventure center, Minakami was a spa town. You can still see vestiges of that history all over the town, with the hulking block-like onsen hotels that catered to groups sitting on the edge of the local river. But that kind of package tourism to onsen hotels has fallen off in the 21st century and Minakami town is looking a tad worse for wear. You can still pop into a dusty pachinko parlor in town or grab a bite in a local cafe, but there’s not much else to hold you here.

The surrounding landscape is worth the trip, though, as are the onsen that are located in Minakami’s more rural precincts. The famous mixed bath at Takaragawa Onsen is here, and the baths at Hoshi Onsen are attached to what some consider one of Japan’s most beautiful ryokan, Chojukan.

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