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An amaz­ing back-to-na­ture ex­pe­ri­ence in Ja­pan.


Takara­gawa, Ja­pan Just over an hour from Tokyo lies Takara­gawa, the largest on­sen (hot spring re­sort) in Ja­pan, set in a se­cluded spot in the Gunma re­gion. Flanked by moun­tains and in­ter­sected by a wide, fast-flow­ing river, the re­sort ex­udes dra­matic, rugged charm. The on­sen has re­port­edly been used since pre­his­toric times and there’s a keen sense of her­itage – tra­di­tional cus­toms, cui­sine and dress are up­held.


The Takara­gawa build­ing has 55 rooms, spread over three floors. Shoes are swapped for slip­pers on en­ter­ing, and once you’ve cho­sen your yakata (robe), a mem­ber of staff shows you to your room. Slid­ing back the doors, we were trans­fixed by the beau­ti­ful views of the Takara­gawa river below us. I could have sat for hours just watch­ing the water rush­ing past. The rooms are dec­o­rated in tra­di­tional ryokan style with tatami mat floor­ing, slid­ing wooden/pa­per doors and a chabu­dai (low ta­ble) with tea-mak­ing fa­cil­i­ties (green, of course). While you’re at din­ner, fu­ton beds are pre­pared for you on the floor of your room, then rolled back up again while you’re at break­fast. Some of the rooms have pri­vate bath­rooms, some are shared.


Do­ing very lit­tle is the real draw for Takara­gawa. There are no beauty treat­ments or yoga classes – the fo­cus is purely on bathing in the hot springs. Wake up, have break­fast and saunter down to the three size­able hot springs pools when you’re ready. Sim­ply dip in and out all day, and feel yourself start to un­wind. The pools (two mixed and one women-only) are open 24 hours a day, so if you feel like a mid­night dip, go for it. It’s pretty ro­man­tic if you’re with your loved one.

On our first morn­ing, I walked down to the ladies’ pool in the sun­shine to find it com­pletely de­serted. I soaked for at least an hour with ab­so­lutely no sign of an­other soul. I felt so re­laxed, I even let my­self stay naked when peo­ple started ar­riv­ing (swim­suits are not al­lowed – it’s ei­ther naked, or wear the re­sort’s swim dresses). The ex­pe­ri­ence felt time­less, a rit­ual peo­ple have been fol­low­ing for hun­dreds of years – so much more re­ward­ing and re­lax­ing than the usual spa re­sorts.


Leave plenty of time for break­fast. We were served gen­er­ous por­tions of fresh fish, veg­eta­bles, natto (a string bean dish wrapped in a leaf), soups, egg dishes, miso, rice and bot­tom­less green tea. The evening meal is the main event. Once dried off and robed-up, you head down to the din­ing room for your very own Ja­panese ban­quet. We sat down to a huge ar­ray of del­i­cately pre­pared food – plates of sashimi, sushi and small veg­etable and meat dishes, cooked on our own hot-coal grills. We each had our own tra­di­tional broth pot, full of veg­eta­bles, meat and tofu, bub­bling away on a heated plate. When it was hot enough, the staff gave us an egg to crack into it. Light tem­pura dishes fol­lowed, as did miso soup and rice. We had a shochu cock­tail, and light desserts such as fresh fruit and straw­berry pud­ding.


If you’re up for a lit­tle more ac­tion, you can ex­plore the ru­ral sur­rounds by foot. In spring and sum­mer, you can try white­wa­ter raft­ing and canyon­ing on the river.


The staff (mainly aged 40 plus) give the place an un­in­tim­i­dat­ing friend­li­ness. Whether show­ing you how to tie your yukata, eat the very-ten­ta­cle-heavy squid at din­ner (down in one), or mak­ing green tea, they do it with a smile. You’re there to en­joy the ther­a­peu­tic qual­i­ties of the pools, and eat fan­tas­tic, healthy cui­sine. And you cer­tainly will. I’d love to re­turn in the win­ter when the springs are sur­rounded by snow.


10,800JPY (£71) pp per night based on two shar­ing a room with shared bath­room, inc din­ner, break­fast and use of ameni­ties; takara­

'I could have sat for hours just watch­ing the water rush­ing past'

En­joy the nat­u­ral hot springs on the Takara­gawa River

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