After a lovely morning of exploring famous temples in Takasaki, we decided to spend the afternoon and evening at some of the most aesthetic onsen in Maebashi; starting with Ikaho Onsen for the scenery. Maebashi is a small town in Gunma where the hit racing series Initial D takes place. I actually had forgotten this, but was highly amused to remember it again as I stumbled upon an Initial D manhole cover while walking to a soba shop. There are actually 7 different designs that you can see if you walk around Ikaho Onsen and Shibukawa Station. “Running in the 90s” and “Night of Fire” played in my head the entire time I was here!
This article will cover my experience at Ikaho Onsen and Akagi Onsen Hatago Chujikan, as well as some of my recommend pitstops along the way. You really can’t go wrong traveling around this peaceful mountainside town!
Ikaho Onsen is a beautiful hot springs town with stone steps that lead to a breathtaking view of Mt. Akagi in the distance. The main path is lined with little souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants. I noticed a miniature shrine adorned with rubber ducks off to the side and it really sparked joy in my heart. I also noticed a drink place called “Strawberry Bomb” that sold hot strawberry wine and naturally I bought it in a heartbeat. It was the epitome of delicious. I also tried 3 different colors of soba at a restaurant called Ikeya. The most delicious color was the seasonal yuzu one that was bright yellow.
There are a number of hot springs you can bathe in here, but we decided to choose one further up in the mountains. However, the lively and charming atmosphere of Ikaho is completely unmatched. Definitely stop by this place if you have the chance because you will undoubtedly enjoy it. I found it funny how this onsen had its own anime girl mascot too! You can see her printed on souvenirs and vending machines.
Address: 377-0102 Gunma, Shibukawa, Ikahomachi Ikaho, 香湯5-4
Akagi Onsen Hatago Chujikan
Hatago Onsen is nestled in a forest on the path up to Mt. Akagi and is the literal definition of a hot springs paradise. It is highly rated in Gunma due to its private location and gorgeous views. With my room came three different hot springs I could use (two indoor and one outdoor), delicious teishoku meals prepared by the staff, and a huge room that was completely covered by my sponsor. When I arrived I immediately started drinking sake and decided to warm up the indoor onsen attached to my room. It was small, but the steam from it completely cleansed my pores and I felt amazing. This was my first onsen trip in several months and it was top class!
I later wandered to the outdoor onsen before my dinner was served. Not only can you see the stars at night, but there is also a waterfall off in the distance! I couldn’t believe how relaxing this experience was—drinking sake and looking at the stars. But the amazing experience didn’t stop there, because for dinner I had delicious hot pot with salmon and vegetables, grilled river fish, and delicious vegetables. The staff was amazing and accommodated my pescatarian needs so I would give their service 5 stars. After dinner, I waded in the outdoor onsen one last time before drifting off to sleep in my warm futon. When I awoke there was snow on the ground! Though I only stayed here for one night, it was a completely magical experience I will never forget.
I also must add that after over 6 years of living in Japan, I finally tried natto for the first time as part of my breakfast. It wasn’t nearly as putrid as I had imagined, and actually had a nice texture to it. Though I am still skeptical of trying the natto sold at convenience stores and cheaper izakaya, I am so happy that I finally worked up the courage to try it at this resort! I am waiting for my health buff to kick in, as people always tell me that this is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. I was sad to leave this onsen, but I hope to stay at many others during this year!
Address: 2036 Naegashimamachi, Maebashi, 371-0241, Gunma Prefecture
Some of my other recommendations that you can see on the ride back home are Mizusawa Kannon Temple, Akagi Shrine, and Maebashi Park. All of these attractions take around 15-30 mins to see and are beyond beautiful. Be sure to try as many strawberry treats as you can!
Though I have been to Gunma at least 5 times now and seen it during different seasons, this was the first trip where I truly got the chance to appreciate the scenery, temples, and nature of the onsen. Traveling here in winter was a plus because there was definitely less people. I feel much more relaxed and focused since I got away from the city too. If you come to Gunma, I definitely recommend staying somewhere with the view of the mountains. You can find affordable accommodations in both Ikaho and Takasaki too. My sponsor with very pleased with the itinerary I came up with and we will likely work together again in April! We had delicious Italian food at Pastel Italiana at Takasaki Station to commemorate our first successful trip. I thoroughly enjoyed my authentic salmon roe pasta and cat-shaped bread: