I had the chance to travel to the far corner of Tochigi prefecture in a place called Okukinu (奥鬼怒), nominally still Nikko city, to stay at Haccho-no-Yu, an onsen ryokan. It’s definitely a hidden gem, though perhaps not the place for everyone.
Getting there takes a bit of work. From Kitasenju (北千住) station you take the Spacia Express towards Kinugawa-onsen (鬼怒川温泉), which takes about 90 minutes. After getting off at the last stop, you hop onto a regional bus towards Meotobuchi (女夫渕), which also takes another 90 minutes. From there, there’s a hotel shuttle that picks you up and takes about another 30 minutes, ambling slowly up and around the steep, snowy mountain roads.
The regional bus …
… and the shuttle to take us to the ryokan
The view from the front of the ryokan
A stay at the ryokan will set you back about ¥15,000 per person per night (peak season), but it’s very worthwhile in my opinion. We stayed at the “log house” rooms, which were at the far end of the ryokan. The rooms were spacious and clean, and the only real downside was the fact that to get to the log house rooms you have to travel the length of the ryokan through a rather drafty and chilly hallway. The other tatami rooms are closer to the main area of the building, but they look a bit draftier and less comfy, and don’t have ensuite bathrooms.
There are six onsen (hot springs) in total – 4 outside and 2 inside. Of the 4 outside, 1 is just for women exclusively, and all are open 24 hours. Each of the 3 outside that I could access were of varying temperatures, but all are warm despite the cold and unforgiving outside weather. They’re all also within sight of a small and beautiful waterfall. It’s definitely an unforgettable experience to dip into the warmth of a hot spring while snowflakes drift slowly down from the skies.
They have also strategically placed intense heaters in the hallways to make sure people can stay warm even after a hot bath.
The food they serve is decent as well. There isn’t much else to do in the ryokan or nearby, but that’s I guess the main reason most people are there. There are plenty of hike-able trails but they look fairly treacherous to do in the snow. For the amount of time it takes to get there, however, it feels like two nights is at least the minimum number required to fully take advantage of the beauty of the mountains and the relaxation of the onsen.