Sekizenkan (積善館), which has more than 300 years of history, is the most famous among all the ryokans in Gunma Prefecture‘s Shima Onsen. Not only because the main building is the oldest hot spring inn architecture in Japan, but the ryokan is also rumored to be the stage of Spirited Away, as three spots of Sekizenkan resemble the scenes in the Ghibli masterpiece! And if you can understand Japanese and are lucky, the ryokan owner might even give you a Sekizenkan history tour!
Sekizenkan and the Movie – Spirited Away
If you are a big Spirited Away fan, as soon as you are in front of Sekizenkan, you will feel like you are in front of Aburaya (油屋), the bathhouse where the majority of the story takes place.
The red Keiun bridge (慶運橋) over the Arayu River (新湯川) in front of Sekizenkan would surely be the first thing that brings back memories. While this kind of bridge can be found in many places across the country, you can rarely encounter one in front of an onsen ryokan.
In addition, the old wooden building on the bridge’s right looks extremely similar to where Chihiro, Lin, and other workers lived!
In recent years, the inn’s exterior has been lit up at dusk, creating an even more magical sight that reminds us of when lighting at and around Aburaya is all switched on to welcome its customers!
Because Sekizenkan’s Honkan building was built in the Edo period, the interior of the building is like a maze. So if you book to stay at Honkan, finding the location of your room would be like searching for Yubaba’s room!
As you proceed to Sekizenkan’s Sansou building, you will encounter the second spot that resembles the movie scene. A part of Sekizenkan’s connecting corridor is in the form of a tunnel.
Yes, the tunnel that led Chihiro and her parents to another world!
Sekizenkan has three complexes, the main house (Honkan, 本館), and two wings, Sansou (山荘) and Kashoutei (佳松亭). All three buildings are connected through corridors. No matter which part of Sekizenkan you stay in, you can utilize the facilities in the other two buildings.
Honkan was completed in 1691. Because Sekizenkan started as an inn for medical hot spring treatment, the accommodation style at Honkan remains unchanged. So unlike a ryokan that provides a full suite of services, it is a self-service accommodation.
For example, you will need to make your futon bed. Also, the meals are served at the grand hall (大広間). You can certainly bring your meal back to your room but remember to return the tableware by 7 pm to the grand hall.
Even if you don’t spend a night at Honkan, we recommend exploring this gorgeous historical building. Many of the decor and furniture placed in Hokan have a long history!
If you prefer to enjoy top-notch hospitality, book a room at Sansou or Kashotei. The passageway to Sansou is the tunnel that resembles the scene in Spirited Away. The splendid Momoyama-style (桃山様式) building is a designated national important cultural property and has guest rooms with a partially open-air hot spring tub for you to enjoy!
Furthermore, Kashoutei, connected with Sansou, is located on high ground. Surrounded by pine trees, it is a calm place wrapped in silence.
Sekizenkan History Tour
If you understand Japanese and are a ryokan guest, check with the staff to see if the popular Sekizenkan History Tour is on during your stay. It is scheduled to be on from 4 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 45 minutes. So if it is on, join it for more understanding of this historical spot! (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
While the content of the tour differs slightly as it is done by the staff’s ad-lib, he will certainly introduce you to the history of Sekizenkan and how the ryokan was renovated over the years.
Of course, if you want to know about something that wasn’t mentioned, just ask!
Tip: Remember to explore Genroku no Ma (元禄の間), the museum in Honkan. There are even two of Miyazaki Hayao’s autography!
Sekizenkan’s Hot Spring Pools
Sekizenkan has many bathing areas, including the ones that can be utilized by day visitors and the smaller ones that can be rented out for private use. So if you like indulging in the mineral-rich hot spring water, you would want to spend a night at Sekizenkan for full access to ryokan’s hot spring pools as each has its charms (^_-)-☆.
Genroku no Yu (元禄の湯) is the most famous hot spring pool in Sekizenkan. The Taishō-style bathing area has five onsen pools sourcing the hot spring from the nearby riverbed. This part of Honkan is also designated as an important national cultural property. But just note that Genroku no Yu isn’t suitable for washing your hair and body as there is only one shower. It is best to utilize other bathing areas in Sekizenkan, such as Mori no Yu, for that purpose.
Living up to its name, Mori no Yu (杜の湯) in Kashoutei is covered by forest. Its open-air onsen pool allows you to enjoy bathing time in the middle of nature.
Sansou no Yu (山荘の湯) in Sansou is the free private onsen pool for the hotel guests to enjoy. As long as the private pool is vacated and says “使用できます” on the plaque hung on the door, you are welcome to use it. But remember to change the plaque to “使用中” when you enter and lock the door!
- Sansou no Yu is open from 5 am to 1 am.
If you want to bathe in the private hot spring pools at Kashoutei’s courtyard, you can reserve them with the reception. The private bath, Seki (積) and Zen (善) are a lot fancier than Sansou no Yu!
- It will cost you 3,300 yen per 45 minutes.
- They are rentable from 3 pm to 10 pm.
Lastly, at Honkan’s entrance, there is a hot spring fountain. Hot spring in Japan isn’t only for bathing. Drinking mineral-rich onsen is also a common practice for medical benefits. So bring a cup and follow suit!
Tip: For day visitors, you can bathe in Genroku no Yu for 1,500 yen from 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 4 pm on weekends and public holidays. The last admission is 60 minutes before closing time. Note that Genroku no Yu is inaccessible due to mandatory cleaning from 1 pm to 1:40 pm.
Sansou Lounge Tsutsui (山荘ラウンジ筒井)
If you stay at Sekizenkan’s Sansou (山荘) or Kashoutei (佳松亭), you are welcome to relax at Lounge Tsutsui. The lounge smartly combines Japanese and modern elements is a space for you to indulge in the traditional ambience with a cup of coffee or tea!
- Sansou Lounge Tsutsui is open from:
- 2:30 pm to 9:30 pm
- 8 am to 10 am
Important Things to Note About Staying at Sekizenkan
- The soundproofing is relatively poor due to the wooden construction.
- Toilet facilities are shared.
- There is no lift available at Honkan.
- Dinner is only served between 6 pm to 7:30 pm.
- Reserve as early as possible if you want to stay at Honkan.
- The ryokan won’t be able to cater to special diet requirements if you stay at Honkan.
- Traveling between Honkan to Kashoutei involves escalators and staircases.
- If you stay at Sansou or Kashoutei, they will try their best to cater to your special dietary requirements. But you have to call them in advance to arrange it.
How to Get to Sekizenkan
- From JR Nakanojō Station (中之条駅), take the local bus bound for Shima Onsen (四万温泉) and get off at Shima Onsen. Sekizenkan is then a 2-minute walk away.
- The bus trip will take around 40 minutes.
- Refer to HERE and click the link under “四万温泉線” for the bus service’s timetable.
- You can also take Shima Onsen-gō (四万温泉号) departing from Tokyo Statoin’s Yaesu South Exit (八重洲南口). Please ask for JR Express Bus stop (JR 高速バスのりば) if you are unsure.
- You can reserve your seat one month in advance through Japan Bus Online if you can’t read or speak Japanese. Otherwise, refer to the official website HERE and translate it using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar for more information.
- The approximate required travel time if you take Shima Onsen-gō is 3.5 hours.
Discover Other Attractions at Shima Onsen
Now that you have sorted your accommodation, it is time to find out where in the hot spring town is worth your time. Aside from the natural attractions, Shima Onsen also has a couple of historical and cultural spots you might be interested in visiting.
So refer to our Shima Onsen article for where else to stop by while at the onsen town, including a couple of delicious places to try out!