Japan is full of hot spring towns and experiences, so much more than meets the eye. Whilst those visiting Tokyo might be inclined to visit the famous Hakone Onsen area because it’s literally next door to the city (albeit quite far away so that you’re away from the hustle and bustle), and those visiting Osaka would generally flow over to Kyoto for a simple yet memorable onsen spa experience, it makes it a bit difficult for smaller, less centrally-located onsen towns to receive as much love.
We really do love Hakone and Kyoto, and whilst we strongly encourage all visitors to experience these destinations at least once, for a truly off-the-beaten-path authentic onsen experience that will transport you back to Japan’s historic times, add Gero Onsen onto your list.
Part of Gero Onsen’s history involves being complimented by esteemed Confucian scholar Razan Hayashi, who wrote about Gero Onsen, Arima Onsen (Kobe), and Kusatsu Onsen (Gunma) in his famous poem “The Three Hot Springs of Japan”. From that moment, Gero Onsen was on the books as one of the highest quality onsen towns in Japan. The alkaline-water here is said to be exceptional, assisting with fatigue and blood circulation, and improving overall health.
How to get to Gero Onsen
From Tokyo, the easiest way to get to Gero Onsen would be first to travel to Nagoya via plane or train. To fly, you’re looking at spending 7,200 yen on a one-way ticket for a one-hour flight. And to train it, you’re looking at spending 11,000 yen for a one-way ticket for a reserved seat on the Shinkansen (1.5 hour). If you are you using the train, please note that the Shinkansen Nozomi is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. But you can take the Shinkansen Hikari instead.
From Nagoya train station, take the LTD. EXP. (WIDE VIEW) HIDA line and stop at Gero train station. This trip costs around 4,700 yen and take a bit less than 2 hours. It’s also covered by your Japan Rail Pass. To check the train times, you can use the website Hyperdia.
For people interested in tours, you can book this one online and enjoy onsen experience plus an amazing Hida beef lunch.
Where to stay in Gero Onsen
As a ryokan who’s been selected as one of the Top 25 B&Bs and Inns in Japan by TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award in 2018, you would have pretty high expectations heading to Mutsumikan Ryokan. And what can we say except we know you won’t be disappointed.
Offering traditional style Japanese guest rooms tastefully furnished with gorgeous Japanese furniture and ornaments, finished with beautiful tatami flooring and wide-open windows, the ambience here is unreal. It also boasts some beautiful indoor and outdoor onsens, yukatas for all guests to try on, and is located just a two-minute walk from Gero Station.
Why Guests Love It: The food is apparently absolutely top-notch here, with people praising both the breakfast and the dinner. Staff are extremely friendly, and being family-run, you can imagine being treated like an extended part of the family.
Book It Now: Mutsumikan
The stunning Suimeikan is the ultimate balance between true authenticity and contemporary comfort. It’s a luxe ryokan that oozes honest Japanese aesthetics and yet modernity is present throughout in its exterior and interior. People who are in love with the simple yet eye-catching Japanese architecture but can’t seem to let go of creature comforts will enjoy this one.
The size of this ryokan is incredible; from the entrance to the guest rooms, to the dining area to the hot spring bath, space has taken a front seat, with everything being very generously sized. The tall sloping ceilings, whilst not something one would generally take note of, are show-stopping – you’ll need to take a moment to admire them.
There’s a pond that you can take a leisurely stroll around where actual koi fish swim, and all guests rooms have been constructed and furnished in a way that just exudes Zen.
Why Guests Love It: Huge, huge, rooms, as loved by all guests. There are actually three hot springs onsite, but the best one has to be the outdoor one (recommended by so many guests!). Make sure you take some time to watch the koi fish swim, they’re mesmerizing, and the breakfast is a must.
Book It Now: Suimeikan
Now let’s discover together the best things to do in Gero Onsen!
Purchase the Yu-Meguri-Tegata spa pass and go on a hot spring adventure
You absolutely can’t visit Gero Onsen without planning to visit at least one hot spring bath. In fact, the town of Gero Onsen has made it easy for tourists to include hot spring baths in their itinerary by offering the opportunity to purchase a Yumeguri Tegata (basically a wooden spa pass) which can be used to access any three different onsens across the thirty or so participating ryokans in Gero Onsen. Once the three onsens have been visited and marked, you can then keep the Yumeguri Tegata as a souvenir – pretty cool huh?
One of these passes’ costs only 1,300 yen (relatively cheap for access to three onsen), and is valid for an entire six months (although we can’t imagine not completing the pass within 1-2 days!). You can purchase this pass at most places including the tourist office, participating ryokans, most souvenir shops, and convenience stores in the area.
Remember to also stop into any of the free footbaths located around the city during your day of exploration and allow your feet to relax for a few minutes!
Pay a Visit to Onsenji Temple
For a bit of downtime, why don’t you pay Osenji Temple a visit? Here, the Buddha of healing (Yakushi Nyorai) is worshipped because it is believed that it was he who restored the flow of the hot spring water back into town after it was severed by a disastrous earthquake many years ago. To get to the top, you will need to climb 173 steps.
Once you’ve explored the inside of the temple, head outside to the rest area and take in the breathtaking views of Hida River and the entire Gero Onsen city. It’s quite a sight!
- Address: 680 Yunoshima, Gero, Gifu 509-2207, Japan
- Access: It is a 20-minute walk from Gero Station.
Hike Mount Ontake
Mount Ontake was the ground of a terrible earthquake which happened in 2014, but has since rebuilt itself to be a hot spot for enthusiastic hikers from all over Japan. There are several routes that you can take up Mount Ontake, the 14th highest mountain in all of Japan. The shortest route is the Otaki-gushi route, which is 6.6km long. You can take a ropeway up to the 7th station of the mountain from its base.
Feeling Adventurous? Go For A Soak in Funsenchi Rotenburo
Located at the south end of the Gero Bridge, this particular rotenburo (open-air bath) is reserved for those who are feeling a little adventurous and want to relax completely under the stars in the open without any restrictions. As it is a free public bath, it is shared between both genders and thus swimwear must be worn. The reason why it is a bit risqué is because it is open to the gaze of passerby’s on Gero Bridge.
Settling back here in the late afternoon is probably the best time, as you will see less traffic through the bridge, and gazing at the stunning view of the mountains in the distance and flowing river right next to the rotenburo whilst the sun is slowly setting is a great way to end the day.
- Address: Koden, Gero, Gifu 509-2206, Japan
- Access: It is a 4-minute walk from Gero Station.
Head to Gassho Village (aka Gero Onsen Gassho Mura)
This lovely little village is actually an open-air museum dedicated to showcasing the true historic forms of gasshozukuri farmhouses, which are the traditional steep-roof houses from the Shirakawago region.
These houses are so quintessentially Japanese that it would be almost rude not to experience seeing them in person. They’re adorably quaint, so unique in their own way, and will offer some stunning and exceptional photo opportunities with something not commonly photographed in Japan by tourists.
Other than exploring ten houses, there are also performances you can witness, and you can also participate in some traditional folk art. This museum is particular gorgeous during the cherry blossom season and winter, when snowfall piles up on top of the roofs.
- Address: 2369 Mori, Gero, Gifu 509-2202, Japan
- Access: From the JR Gero-ekimae Nohi Bus Centre, take the Gassho-mura route bound for “Gassho-mura/Gero Koryu Kaikan”. This will take roughly 6-minutes and cost 100 yen. Alight at Gassho-mura.
- Hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm
- Price: 800 yen
Learn Something New At Gero Museum of Hot Spring
Gear up for Gero Museum of Hot Spring, because you’ll be learning all about the science and culture because Japanese hot springs. Sounds exciting right? In all seriousness, the value and importance placed on hot springs in Japan is very different to other countries; it’s not just a place to have a soak, onsens are a way of life.
At this museum, you will be able to learn about scientific and cultural perspectives about hot springs, learn all about the salinity and pH levels of hot springs and what it really means to bath in alkaline-based water, and get to know the history of Gero Onsen through pictures through time, dioramas, and lots more other creative ways.
- Address: 543-2 Yunoshima, Gero, Gifu 509-2207, Japan
- Access: It is an 11-minute’ walk from Gero Station
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Price: Adults: 400-yen, Child: 200 yen
Ideyu Asaichi (Morning Market)
The Ideyu Asaichi morning market at Gero Onsen is one of the more underrated activities to participate in as a tourist, but like most morning markets in Japan, it’s a great way to get acquainted with the locals, to get a feel for what the region’s main fresh ingredients are, purchase some home-grown ingredients for some cooking later on, and get some fresh air whilst doing something that usually only appeals to the locals.
The Ideyu Asaichi is quite small in scale compared to other morning markets, so whilst getting to know the foods here will be a pleasant experience, don’t expect there to be glitz and glamour in terms of food choices.
It’s worth a quick stopover if you’re keen to visit a few small attractions in one day, and besides, who doesn’t love a good market run?
- Address: 2626 Mori, Gero, Gifu 509-2202, Japan
- Access: It is a 20-minute walk from Gero Station, but only 5-minutes from the Gassho Village.
- Hours: 8:00am – 12:00pm (only from April until late November)
- Note: there is also an evening market which opens from July to late August, in the Gero Onsen Spa District.
Dine on some Hida Beef
Hida Beef is sourced from the meadows of the Hida plateau, raised as farm animals for more than 14 months. The beef itself is famous for its intense fatty tissue and rich umami. When in Gero Onsen, make sure you try ones of its local famous dishes, the ‘Hida Beef with Hoba Miso’, which is Hida Beef grilled with fermented soybean paste and magnolia leaves., which is available at the Gero Onsen Fugaku Onsen Ryokan.
If you’re visiting for the day, and just want a dine-in restaurant, try Mizuen Garden Hida Beef Chabo, where you can dine on a Hida beef main dish, freshly sourced and carefully baked with its juices on a lava plate of Mount Ontake.
- Address (Fugaku Ryokan): 2510-1, Mori, Gero 509-2202
- Access: It is roughly 20-minutes from Gero Onsen Station, or 5-minutes from Gero Onsen Gassho Village.
- Hours: 11:00am – 2:00pm, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
- Price: 3,000 yen
Being so close to Takayama, it would be a waste if you weren’t to visit this wonderful neighbouring city at least once, and what better time to visit that during one of the biggest festivals in the west? Hailed was one of the most beautiful festivals alongside Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Yomatsuri, the annual Takayama festival is a grand spectacle of festival floats, dancing, performances, loud drums, and excitement. It is split across two times a year: the Spring Festival (April 14-15), and the Autumn Festival (October 9-10).
By the way, for more traditional festivals in Japan, feel free to check out this blog post: Japan Matsuri Month by Month.
The festival is so popular that it in fact draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Takayama every year. It especially gets crowded if the festival day falls upon a weekend or a national holiday. Because of the number of visitors it draws, hotels in the area get booked out months in advance, and the streets tend to get very crowded. If you’re staying in Gero Onsen, which is only 45-minutes away, you get the best of both worlds – convenient location to travel to the festival, and far away enough from the crowds for some peace and quiet.
Gero Onsen has been on the map for domestic visitors for years now, and it’s about time foreigners start showing the onsen town some real love. It’s close enough to some popular tourist destinations (Takayama) so that the travel there shouldn’t really be an issue, and it’s unique enough so that you know you won’t be able to see and experience the same things anywhere else.
Just a reminder that it’s been praised to be one of the top hot springs in Japan alongside the ever popular Arima Onsen and the quaint Kusatsu Onsen, so if ever you wanted to try something new and different that definitely won’t disappoint, add Gero Onsen to your list. And if you want to spend more time in Gifu prefecture, you can also check out Okuhida Onsen area.
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