Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Best Guide to the Must-Visit Spots in Ikaho Onsen

Although not as famous as Kusatsu Onsen, Ikaho Onsen (伊香保温泉) in Gunma Prefecture is a hot spring town well-known to the Japanese since ancient times. Appeared in the Man’yōshū (万葉集), the oldest extant collection of Japanese waka, the onsen town is a hidden gem filled with natural and cultural elements! So if you are after a destination for an overnight trip from Tokyo, Ikaho Onsen may be the perfect getaway from the fast-paced city life!

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Tip: Ikaho Onsen Yokotekan (伊香保温泉 横手館) offers day visitors to use their private onsen tubs for 2,200 yen for 50 minutes per person. The cost is on top of the 1,200 yen admission fee to access the public baths. Whether you are a day visitor or a ryokan guest, Yokotekan can also cater to special dietary requirements if you inform them beforehand. For enquiry, please utilize their Web Form.

How to Get to Ikaho Onsen

Unfortunately, Ikaho Onsen doesn’t have a train station. You will need to either take a bus from the nearest train station or a direct bus from Tokyo.

Getting to Ikaho Onsen by Direct Bus from Tokyo

Direct bus service, Jōshūyu Meguri-gō (上州ゆめぐり号), departs from Tokyo Station Yaesu South Exit (東京駅八重洲南口) and Shinjuku Bus Terminal.

  • A reservation is required to board the bus. You can book your seats from 10 a.m. one month in advance.
  • You can reserve through the Japan Expressway Bus website.
  • The bus trip takes around 3.5 to 4 hours.

Getting to Ikaho Onsen by Train and Bus

You can take Kanetsu Kōtsū’s (関越交通) bus services from JR Shibusawa Station (渋川駅), which takes around 25 minutes.

  • Refer to HERE and scroll down to “渋川伊香保温泉線” for the service’s timetable.
    • The link “渋川駅発” is the timetable for services departing from Shibusawa Station.
    • The link “伊香保温泉発” is the timetable for services departing from Ikaho Onsen.
    • Depending on which part of the hot spring town you want to visit first, you can get off at one of the below bus stops. They are highlighted in blue in the timetable.

Tip: You can purchase an Ikaho Line 1-Day or 2-Day Bus Pass (伊香保線 1日フリー乗車券) for 800 yen/1,200 yen. Not only does it give you unlimited rides to Kanetsu Kōtsū’s Ikaho Line, but you will also receive discounts or perks from the participating attractions along the bus route. You can purchase these bus passes directly from the bus driver.

If you plan to take the bullet train, get off at Takasaki Station (高崎駅). You can then transfer to JR Jōetsu Line (上越線) and get off at Shibusawa Station or take one of Gunma Bus’ (群馬バス) services bound for Ikaho Onsen.

How to Get to the Attractions in and Around Ikaho Onsen

As the hot spring town is relatively compact, the attractions in Ikaho Onsen can be reached by foot. But if you don’t want to hike up and down the hill, bus services called Ikaho Town Bus (伊香保タウンバス) are available.

Ikaho Onsen has four town bus routes. While available in Japanese only, the most up-to-date timetable of the below routes can be found HERE. You can also refer to the Ikaho Town Bus Map to visualize the bus routes and attractions.

Ikaho Onsen’s Autumn Foliage Season

The fall foliage season at Ikaho Onse is usually from late October to mid-November.

Ikaho Onsen’s Profile

Ikaho Onsen is located on the northeast side of Mt. Haruna (榛名山). Because it appeared in Man’yōshū, the hot spring town at an altitude of 700 meters has a history of at least 1,200 years.

In the Sengoku period, before Tokugawa Ieyasu unified the country, Ikaho was developed as a sanatorium by the Takeda clan for their injured soldiers. In the Edo period, Ikaho Onsen slowly became a hot spring town and many pilgrims who were on their way to Haruna Shrine (榛名神社) in Mt. Haruna and Mizusawa-dera Temple (水澤寺) would rejuvenate at Ikaho Onsen before embarking their pilgrimage further.

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Regarding food, there are many udon restaurants in Ikaho Onsen. The udon noodles sold in town is called Mizusawa Udon (水沢うどん). It is one of Japan’s three best udons (the other two are Inaniwa Udon (稲庭うどん) from Akita Prefecture and Sanuki Udon (讃岐うどん) from Kagawa Prefecture).

The chewy and slightly thick noodle with a smooth texture was first sold to worshippers of Mizusawa-dera Temple. This was why the udon was named Mizusawa.

Below is a list of popular udon restaurants in Ikaho Onsen. But note the dipping sauce/broth contains bonito extracts. If you are strict with the vegetarian/vegan diet, you can choose to bring your vegan dipping sauce so you can still enjoy the noodles.

  • Osawaya (大澤屋): One of the oldest Mizusawa Udon makers in town. It has four restaurants, two close to Mizusawa-dera Temple, one at Ikaho Stone Steps, and one at the east end of Ikaho Onsen Town.
    • Osawaya’s udon noodles are freshly made in the morning, allowing you to enjoy the original wheat flavor and chewy texture.
  • Godaime Hanayama Udon – Ikaho-ishidan Shop (五代目 花山うどん 伊香保石段店): The udon specialist offers two unique types of udon noodles. The wide and flat one is very smooth, and the thin and thicker one is more chewy.

Ikaho Onsen’s Hot Spring Sources

Ikaho Onsen has two different hot springs, Kogane no Yu (黄金の湯) and Shirogane no Yu (白銀の湯). Containing a large amount of iron, Kogane no Yu becomes brown when exposed to air.

This hot spring has long existed in the hot spring town and is also known as Kodakara no Yu (子宝の湯), as it warms the body from the core and increases women’s chances of conceiving a child.

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On the other hand, the transparent spring, Shirogane no Yu, was only discovered quite recently. As it doesn’t have a particular color, it was named silver, contrasting the golden Kogane no Yu. The hot spring is good for recovering from fatigue and improving general well-being.

Shibukawa Ikaho Onsen Tourism Association (渋川伊香保温泉観光協会)

Unlike most tourist associations in Japan, Shibukawa Ikaho Onsen Tourism Association’s base isn’t in the most lively area of the hot spring town. But it isn’t too far away either. As it is just a 15-minute walk from the town center, visit it first for the town map. They also have coupons you can use at a couple of attractions in Ikaho Onsen!

There is also a small exhibition corner at Shibukawa Ikaho Onsen Tourism Association, where old town maps and documentation are exhibited.

  • Shibukawa Ikaho Onsen Tourism Association is open from 9 am to 7 pm.

Ikaho Onsen Stone Steps (石段街)

The Stone Steps, or Ishidan Stone Stairway in the center of the town, is Ikaho Onsen’s symbol. As one year consists of 365 days, the 365 stairs were made to pray for Ikaho Onsen is something to thrive for every single day. As it is such a long staircase, the difference in elevation from the bottom to the top is a whopping 68 meters!

Ikaho Stone Stairway Ikaho Onsen Shibusawa Gunma Japan
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Along the Stone Steps, there are free foot spas and general souvenir shops. While in Japanese, the stone steps are engraved with Chinese zodiac signs and a Japanese poem, giving you another reason to slowly observe your steps to discover things that don’t normally exist in your daily life.

For more information, refer to our article on Ikaho Onsen Stone Steps!

Ikaho Shrine (伊香保神社)

Ikaho Shrine, sitting at the top of Ishidan Stone Stairway, has a long history. Erected in 825, it was already an influential shrine in the early Heian period (794 to 1185).

The shrine was initially located south of Ikaho, with Mt. Mizusawa (水沢山) as an object of worship. This is why it was named Ikaho, which was the former name of Mt. Mizusawa’s peaks (Ikatsuho (厳つ峰) and Ikatsuchinoho (雷の峰)). The god enshrined originally was Ooyamatsumi no Kami (大山津見神), a mountain god.

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After Ikaho Shrine was relocated to where it is now after the Heian period, it became the guardian shrine of the town. The hot spring town where the shrine is located is thus called Ikaho Onsen. With Oonamuchi no Mikoto (大己貴命) and Sukunahikona no Mikoto (少彦名命) enshrined, people would visit Ikaho Shrine to worship them for a wide range of blessings, including medical, business prosperity, general safety and wellness of families, and successful childbirth.

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The shrine was built in a unique style called Engishikinaisha (延喜式内社). The precinct on the other side of the light-brown color wooden torii gate has a solemn atmosphere that magically offers some peace and quiet to visitors.

If you are after the shrine office, it is between its two torii gates. Opposite the shrine office is the shrine’s purification fountain.

Even if you are not interested in shrines, we suggest you visit Ikaho Shrine for a wide view of the hot spring town. In the autumn foliage season, Ikaho Shrine is a great spot to adore the vivid colors! Further, it is said that climbing up the staircases to the Ikaho Shrine will bring you fortune and prosperity!

Tips:
☛ If you collect Goshuin, visit the Ikaho Shrine on weekends and public holidays.
☛ Stop by the Uruoshi-Dokoro (うるおし処) for their homemade ginger ale, which is also a fortune slip!

  • Ikaho Shrine is a 10-minute walk from Ikaho Bus Terminal or a 3-minute walk from the bus stop, Jinja-Shita (神社下).

Kajika Bridge (河鹿橋)

Heading further into the mountain from Ikaho Shrine, the scenic Kajika Bridge is just a 5-minute walk away. If you are a Ghibli fan, you might find the vermilion-colored bridge familiar as it resembles the bridge in front of Aburaya that Chihiro crossed. This is why it has been rumored that the bridge in the anime had Kajika Bridge as the model.

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In autumn, Kajika Bridge is where you must visit in Ikaho Onsen. The maple trees surrounding the bridge will give you this breathtaking scenery! At night, the area is usually lit so that you can enjoy the vivid colors longer in the fall. This is why the spot is recognized as one of the top fall foliage spots in the Kantō region.

The illumination event is also on during the green maple season!

Tips:
☛ The green maple season is from early May to early June, and the fall foliage season at Kajika Bridge is from late October to mid-November. The color usually peaks in early November.
☛ During the autumn foliage season, free shuttle buses might depart from Ikaho Ishidan Stairway and Kajika Bridge on weekends and public holidays. Please check with the concierge at your ryokan or Shibukawa Ikaho Onsen Tourism Association (渋川伊香保温泉観光協会).
☛ Arrive early during the fall foliage season to avoid crowds. The car park next to the bridge can be 70% full around 6 o’clock in the morning.
☛ There is a restroom close to Kajika Bridge.

During the other parts of the year, the leafy area around the bridge is a nice spot to enjoy nature and absorb negative ions. In winter, the snow scenery at Kajika Bridge is also incredible.

  • Kajika Bridge is a 5-minute walk from Ikaho Shrine and an 8-minute walk from the bus stop, Jinja-Shita (神社下).

Ikaho Onsen Drinking Fountain (伊香保温泉飲泉所)

What many foreign visitors are unaware of is that some hot springs in Japan are fit for drinking. In Ikaho Onsen, the hot spring drinking fountain is just a couple of steps from Kajika Bridge. The hot spring is ranked as Japan’s worst-tasting hot spring due to its strong ion taste. Some say it might even make you feel as if you are drinking blood (´▽`*). But feel free to give it a try!

The hot spring from the fountain is a weakly acidic, hypotonic spring. It is said that drinking the onsen has medical benefits for gout, chronic allergic diseases, and obesity.

Important: The amount of onsen to be consumed at any given time is about 100 ml to 200 ml or no more than 1 liter per day. Avoid drinking tea or coffee immediately after drinking the hot springs.

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The fountain has two water pipe holes, with one on the left connected to the onsen and the other to regular water. If you don’t have a container with you, the metal cup placed atop the fountain can be used. But wash it thoroughly with water. The water is also good for rinsing out the metal taste of the hot spring.

And the best time to drink the onsen? It is 30 to 60 minutes before your next meal. It is best not to drink it after dinner.

Although you might not like the taste of Kogane no Yu, feel free to apply it to your skin to make it smoother (^_-)-☆.

  • Kajika Bridge is a 1-minute walk from Kajika Bridge and a 10-minute walk from the bus stop, Jinja-Shita (神社下).

Ikaho Open-Air Bath (伊香保露天風呂)

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To enjoy an open-air bath as a day visitor, follow the small passageway from the Ikaho Onsen Drinking Fountain to the Ikaho Open-Air Bath. It is the onsen bathhouse closest to Kogane no Yu’s spring source. Like Ishidan no Yu, you can enjoy the free-flowing hot spring there.

The outdoor onsen tub surrounded by vegetation is one of the best spots in the town to feel the charm of the four seasons while soaking in this mineral-rich spring.

Before entering the bathhouse, remember to check out the hot spring source opposite the Ikaho Open-Air Bath. This spring source was dug up in 1959, so it is a relatively new spring source in Ikaho Onsen. About 1,400 liters per minute of onsen flows out from there!

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© 渋川伊香保温泉観光協会

The round bathtub is divided in half, with one half hotter than the other.

Important: Unlike most hot spring facilities in Japan, Ikaho Open-Air Bath doesn’t have a washing area. So before entering the onsen tub, remember to first rinse your body with the hot spring.

Tip: Free lockers are available in the changing room.

Tip: Arrive early to avoid crowds, especially on weekends and public holidays from spring to autumn. The hot spring tubs are not that big!

Ikaho Open-Air Bath’s Business Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Ikaho Open-Air Bath is open from:
    • 9 am to 6 pm from April to September
    • 10 am to 6 pm from October to March
    • It closes on the 1st and 3rd Thursday unless it is a public holiday.
  • The cost is:
    • 450 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for children
    • 1,000 yen for a bath towel and 300 yen for a normal towel.
  • Ikaho Open-Air Bath is a 1-minute walk from Ikaho Onsen Drinking Fountain.

Ikaho Ropeway and Uenoyama Park

Uenoyama Park Ikaho Onsen Shibusawa Gunma Japan
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Because a ropeway is expensive to build and maintain, magnificent scenery usually awaits at the mountaintop station. This is the case for Ikaho Ropeway.

The panoramic view from Uenoyama Park next to the ropeway station is breathtaking. So when you visit Ikaho Onsen, allocate an hour or two away from the onsen tub to see what these two spots have to offer!

For more information, refer to our Guide to Ikaho Ropeway and Uenoyama Park!

Ikaho Glassblowing Workshop Fukufuku (伊香保ガラス工房 吹々)

After admiring the stunning view at Uenoyama Park, visit Ikaho Glassblowing Workshop Fukufuku if you are interested in craftwork. The colorful glass can be purchased for as little as 600 yen, making it a nice and affordable souvenir.

At Fukufuku, not only can you purchase the gorgeous blown glass art on the shelf, but you can also make one yourself! With detailed guidance from the friendly owner, Mr Abe (阿部 貴央), you will be blowing and shaping the glass melted at 1,200 degrees. The artistic session will surely make your trip to Ikaho Onsen more memorable.

If you don’t understand Japanese, that is okay. Mr. Abe can communicate in basic English. But note that you cannot take your artwork with you on the day. You either have to come back the next day or the artwork can be shipped to a Japanese address at an extra cost.

  • The cost to participate in a blown glass art workshop per person is from 4,100 yen, depending on what you want to make.
  • The time required to participate in the workshop is around 30 minutes per person.
  • You can make a reservation by emailing the workshop at [email protected].

Tip: Show THIS COUPON on the day for a 300 yen discount on the glassblowing workshop cost!

Ikaho Glassblowing Workshop Fukufuku’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Ikaho Glassblowing workshop Fukufuku is open from 10 am to 6 pm from Thursday to Tuesday.
  • It is a 2-minute walk from Ikaho Bus Terminal.

Kogane no Yu (黄金の湯館)

If Ishidan no Yu, the bathhouse on the side of Ikaho Stone Steps is too crowded, another spot where you can enjoy the hot spring town’s golden onsen is Kogane no Yu. The bathhouse run by Ikaho Grand Hotel is a lot more spacious and has an open-air pool. It also has several facilities, such as massage chairs, a comics room, and an arcade filled with game machines!

In the bathing area, there are two indoor pools. One is connected to Kogane no Yu’s spring source, and the other is connected to the underground water from Mt. Haruna. For some fresh air, head to the outdoor pool. The onsen pool is next to a leafy area, which is quite refreshing when soaking in Kogane no Yu’s outdoor onsen tub during summer!

Note that while the hot spring in the outdoor onsen pool and one of the indoor pools is not always fresh, it is regularly circulated with chlorine added to it.

Kogane no Yu’s Business Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Kogane no Yu is open from 10 am to 10 pm.
    • The last admission is at 9:30 pm.
  • From 10 am to 3 pm, the cost is 743 yen for adults and 440 yen for children from 3 years old to elementary school students.
  • From 3 pm to 10 pm, the cost is 1,073 yen for adults and 660 yen for children from 3 years old to elementary school students.
  • The bathhouse is just in front of the bus stop, Miharashi-shita (見晴下バス停).

Yumeji Takehisa Ikaho Memorial Museum (竹久夢二伊香保記念館)

Yumeji Takehisa Ikaho Memorial Museum on the east side of the hot spring town is a great spot for those who love architecture and Japanese artwork from the early 20th century.

© 公益財団法人 竹久夢二伊香保記念館

Yumeji Takehisa from Okayama Prefecture was a representative painter of the Taishō era (1912 – 1926). As he regularly visited the Ikaho region, a memorial museum was built in Ikaho Onsen as a tribute to him.

There are approximately 16,000 Yumeji Takehisa’s works in the museum collection, including paintings portraying beautiful women, which he specialized in. As the exhibits are replaced periodically, you can revisit the museum whenever you come to Ikaho for the nice onsen!

The Buildings of Yumeji Takehisa Ikaho Memorial Museum

The museum consists of several buildings, including the main buildings, Taisho Romantic Hall (大正ロマンの館) and Kurofunekan (黒船館). Taisho Romantic Hall bears the same appearance as a traditional Japanese storage. Apparently, it was built based on the design of illustrations that Yumeji Takehisa often drew. The building is where most of Yumeji’s works are exhibited.

Kurofunekan was built to commemorate the donation of Takehisa Yumeji’s masterpiece “Kurofunaya (黒船屋)”. Although it appears to be a Western-style building, the traditional Japanese measurement was used to construct it. The incorporation of the spirit of Western culture and Japanese tea ceremony is extended to Kurofunekan’s interior, comprising Japanese and Western-style rooms and items or artefacts from the early 20th century when Yumeji was alive.

In the Yumeji Hall on the ground floor, you can listen to the live antique piano and music box performances.

© 公益財団法人 竹久夢二伊香保記念館

On the 3rd floor of Kurofunekan, there is a cafe called Minatoya Salon (港屋サロン). The cafe in the early 20th-century style will be the best ending for your visit!

Tip: Check with the staff for when the live piano show is on when you arrive to plan your visit.

The new building, Giyamanrou, is all about glasswork and Japanese craftsmanship. The building that bears a traditional Japanese look was constructed as a Japanese-style modern museum. Ancient methods were also used to preserve tradition when internal decorations, such as lacquer, plaster, and gold leaf, were applied on walls and ceilings. Even the Japanese garden was designed by a top-class gardener from Kyoto!

Yumeji Takehisa Ikaho Memorial Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Yumeji Takehisa Ikaho Memorial Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
  • The admission fee is:
    • 1,800 yen for Taisho Romantic Hall and Kurofunekan
    • 2,200 yen for Taisho Romantic Hall and Kurofunekan + a 30-minute tour of the new building, Giyamanrou.
  • The museum is a 1-minute walk from the bus stop, Miharashi-shita (見晴下バス停).

Ikaho Papercutting Museum (伊香保切り絵美術館)

If you love craftwork, visit the Ikaho Papercutting Museum northeast of Ikaho Onsen. As the name suggests, many paper-cutting works are on display.

Furthermore, it isn’t just a facility for exhibiting artwork. The museum broadcasts the charm of papercutting. You can also create your papercutting at the free papercutting corner! And don’t worry about not having any experience in paper cutting. There are more than 50 types of paper-cutting samples, and you can find ones with a degree of difficulty that suits you.

Ikaho Papercutting Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Ikaho Papercutting Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm from Wednesday to Monday.
    • It will open if Tuesday is a public holiday.
  • The admission fee is:
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for elementary school students and younger.
  • The museum is a 10-minute walk from the bus stop, Miharashi-shita (見晴下バス停).

Tip: Show the COUPON to the staff for a 50 yen discount on the admission fee.

Ikaho Green Bokujo (伊香保グリーン牧場) and Hara Museum ARC (原美術館ARC)

If you love farm animals and/or contemporary art, Ikaho Green Bokujo and Hara Museum ARC are the must-visit spots in Ikaho Onsen. Surrounded by cute animals and high-quality artwork, you will surely have an enjoyable time there.

For more information, refer to our article on Ikaho Green Bokujo and Hara Museum ARC!

© 渋川伊香保温泉観光協

Discover Mizusawa Temple’s Charms

In addition to Ikaho Onsen, how about visiting the Mizusawa area for its delicious udon and Mizusawa Temple? The Mizusawa udon is rated one of the Top Three Udons in Japan, and the temple, which has a 1,300-year history, is filled with amazingly built architecture and is a great cherry blossom and autumn foliage spot!

Refer to our Mizusawa Temple article for more information!

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Click the photo for more information about Mizusawa Temple!

Discover Attractions in Kusatsu Onsen

Click the photo for more information about Kusatsu Onsen’s attractions!

If you haven’t already, plan a visit to Kusatsu Onsen, one of Japan’s most well-known hot spring towns!

In addition to the public and communal bathhouses, Kusatsu Onsen has a lot to offer. Whether it is soba noodles, traditional sweets or outdoor activities, such as obstacle courses and skiing, you surely won’t be bored at Kusatsu Onsen!

For more information, refer to our article on Kusatsu Onsen (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Discover Shima Onsen, Another Famous Hot Spring Town in Gunma Prefecture

You might not be aware of it, but Gunma Prefecture is sometimes nicknamed the Kingdom of Hot Spring. Why? Aside from the famous Kusatsu Onsen, there are a couple more renowned hot spring towns in the prefecture, such as Shima Onsen (四万温泉).

Unlike the touristy Kusatsu Onsen, Shima Onsen has a very natural and traditional setting with some picturesque natural attractions for outdoor activities! Furthermore, a ryokan is rumored to be the stage of the Ghibli movie, Spirited Away!

Sekizenkan-at-Night-Shima-Onsen-Nakanojo-Gunma-Japan
Click the photo for more information about Kusatsu Onsen’s attractions!

For more information, refer to our Shima Onsen article!