Winter season is the best for enjoying Onsen (Hot-springs). I can be so relaxed and have wonderful feeling whenever I jump into the warmer Onsen from very cold outside. The last episode in 2018 is about Shima Onsen in Gunma Prefecture where I visited with my husband the other day in this month. Shima Onsen is one of my most favorite places in Japan and I came back there repeatedly, sometimes with my friends, family and alone at the other times.
There are several reasons why I would like to visit there again and again. First of all, Shima Onsen is easy access from Tokyo and suburb areas. I am always using the direct express bus between Tokyo Station and Shima Onsen Bus Terminal. It takes about 3-4 hours one-way and the fare is quite reasonable prices which is about 5,000 yen for a round-trip. Of course, you can reach there by JR trains from Tokyo and local bus from JR Shibukawa Station. There are multiple transportation to go there including a rental car.
Secondly, Shima Onsen is not as bustling as other famous hot-spring places, therefore it is suitable when you want to be more relaxed and spend your time more slowly. Shima locates in narrow area, however there are several spots where you can walk around outside along Shima River with light blue color. You can easily find some restaurants serving soba (buckwheat flour noodle) and cafes along the main street, and there is a game center with a retro atmosphere called “Yanagiya-Yugijo Smart Ball”. It may also be nice to visit to “Oku Shima Lake” where locates in the innermost area in summer and autumn if you have a car. (Or you can rent a bicycle at Shima Onsen Association if you have confidence in leg strength.) There are 5 public hot springs for tourists & residents in the area, so you can try to enter if you are interested in. As there are also 3 public foot bathes (Ashi-yu) outside, it may be nice for you to enjoy them if you think the public baths are a harder challenge for you.
Lastly, I am very fond of its water quality which is a sodium and calcium chloride sulfate hot spring. It has good effects for gastrointestinal disorders, neuralgia, skin conditions, abrasions, cuts, and atopic dermatitis. I have suffered from terrible eczema since my childhood and Onsen visiting is one of my solution to make my skin condition better. My body seldom itch after taking a bath of Shima Onsen. Kusatsu Onsen where locates in the same prefecture as Shima Onsen and is well-known for curing eczema as well, however, has completely different type of water with more strong acid, so sometimes I feel sore when I soak in the water in case I have some scratches and scars on the body. I visit to Kusatsu Onsen when I am more energetic and motivated to cure eczema, but I came back to Shima when I am a bit tired and would like to be relaxed and healed. In addition, Shima Onsen water is drinkable and it is very effective to keep your stomach in good health. Generally speaking, the taste of water are relatively poor, but Shima Onsen water is nice, so you don’t need to hesitate to drink it.
There are various type of inns from smaller to larger, so you can choose the one according to your preference. The most iconic inn must be “Sekizenkan” Ryokan, which is called the model of “Spirited Away”, a globally-famous film by Hayao Miyazaki. (Actually, there are so many Japanese inns all over Japan which are insisting that “Our building is the model of Spirited Away” after the film become very famous. Hayao never said which Japanese inn he referred…) It is worthy for you to see the building of Sekizenkan which is very traditional and unique if you don’t have a chance to stay there, and I strongly recommend entering their inner Onsen bath even in a day-trip bathing. Incidentally, we stayed at Toshimaya Ryokan, a middle-size inn served dinner and breakfast in Japanese Kaiseki Style. Their dishes are very healthy composition called “Satoyama Kaiseki” with its local vegetables and freshwater fishes mainly. We also enjoyed inner and outer baths of the inn 5 times in all during our stay! Do you think we are a bit strange couple!?
Recently, some Onsen areas in Japan have face with difficulties in terms of their management and the Onsen communities are not as vital as before due to decrease the number of workers and visitors there. Shima Onsen is not exceptional, but I really would like to keep the Onsen community and to regain liveliness, so I will keep going there for the future. If you are interested in staying traditional Japanese Onsen inns with calm atmosphere, why don’t you go there?