“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky.” This excerpt from the Nobel Prize-winning novel Yukiguni (Snow Country) by Yasunari Kawabata aptly describes the transition in scenery as you travel by train from Tokyo and enter the awe-inspiring snowscape of Japan’s mountainous regions.
Aside from the obvious reason to head for the mountains in winter – snowboarding – there is another, more relaxing activity that’s a long-held tradition in Japan: yukimi-buro (literally translated as snow-view bath). The only question is where to go for this sensational experience?
Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel
Famed for the yubatake (hot water field) and the tradition of yumomi (water stirring), Kusatsu hot spring resort is located in Gunma Prefecture and is one of the most renowned onsen sites in Kanto.
These days, it’s even easier to get there since the Spa Resort Liner bus began operating in 2018. This express bus service will deliver you from Tokyo directly to Kusatsu in approximately three and a half hours. Even better, the bus takes you straight to the door of Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel.
Located at an altitude of 1,200m and surrounded by the incredible wilderness of Gunma, the hotel offers splendid sights and experiences. There are 154 guest rooms and you can choose from traditional Japanese or Western-style suites. Enjoy an onsen dip either at the public bath house or in private baths with spectacular snowscapes on all sides. And if you do fancy a spot of skiing, there are slopes just five minutes away and ski rentals available at the hotel.
While snow is not always guaranteed in Saitama Prefecture, you’re still promised a wonderful winter onsen experience at Hananoya either way. Situated in nature-rich Oku Chichibu, this gorgeous inn is only two hours from Ikebukuro on the Red Arrow limited express train (and a hotel pick-up service is available from Bushu-Hino Station).
The 11 rooms here include both Japanese and Western styles and all boast their own private rotenburo (open-air bath) that draws its water from the natural hot springs of the Chichibu area. There is also a large communal bath so you can unwind in a more spacious tub as well.
The restaurant serves delightful Japanese cuisine including signature winter dishes such as soba, shabu shabu and seafood hot pot. Also be sure not to miss the hearty breakfast.
New Sunpia Tochigi
When most people think of Tochigi Prefecture, they immediately think of Nikko. However, due to its popularity, Nikko can get fairly crowded and also costly during its high season.
So we’ve got a better idea. Located nearby is Kanuma, a secret onsen spot where affordable ryokans with premium quality hot springs are quietly tucked away. New Sunpia Tochigi is one such ryokan, offering a refined yukimi-buro experience that also won’t break the bank.
There are 50 guest rooms ranging from traditional tatami to Western style, four large communal baths, a sauna and a rotenburo (open-air bath). As for dining options, a delicious kaiseki (traditional Japanese course dinner) is offered either at the restaurant
or in your room.
This cozy and casual ryokan offers a secluded getaway in the remote hot spring town of Shima, which is approximately two and a half hours from Ueno Station on the Agatsuma line or via local bus. There are six types of rooms, each of them furnished in a modern Japanese style. The rooms are located alongside a pristine stream so you’re guaranteed a night immersed in nature.
There are three private baths (Keimei no yu, Hotaru no yu, Maya no yu) available for you to enjoy throughout your stay and they all possess individual charms so you can enjoy a variety of winter onsen pampering. Take the luxury game one step further by booking a room with a semi-open-air bath attached so you can exclusively enjoy the yukimi-buro experience.
The restaurant here is devoted to authentic Japanese cuisine and we highly recommend the dinner course, which includes 11 to 12 dishes incorporating Gunma’s fresh local produce. If you’re looking for more things to do, there are plenty of excellent sightseeing spots around Shima to keep you entertained.