Of all the onsen towns that you may have heard about or read about, Okuhida Onsen may just be the most unique and picturesque one yet.
Located in the central region of Gifu, which is an area known to lead the county in stunning mountainous surroundings and incredible natural landmarks, Okuhida Onsen is known for its intense healing waters as well as its abundance of rotenburos (outdoor open-air baths) where you can breath in the fresh air under the starry night sky as you soak in the steaming hot spring.
Instead of being one central village, Okuhida Onsen is in fact made of five different hot springs towns, each located along Okuhida’s valleys across the foot of the Northern Japanese Alps, within easy and direct access to the local water sources. They are referred to as “Okuhida-Onsengo”. The hot spring baths offered here are separate gender bathing as well as mixed gender bathing, so is suitable for most groups.
As you can imagine, the mountains surrounding the onsens make for particularly nice views and photo opportunities, so if what you’re after is something that’s visually majestic, authentic, and soothes the soul, then Okuhida Onsen might be what you’re looking for.
How to get to Okuhida Onsen?
The journey from Tokyo to Okuhida is quite easy, as there is a direct highway bus which will deposit you right at the transportation central of Okuhida. You can head here to book your bus from Tokyo to Hirayu, which will cost approximately upwards of 5,500 yen one way, and take around 4.5 hours.
Where to Stay in Okuhida Onsen
You, your partner, outdoor rooftop onsen at midnight. I mean, how good does that sound? That’s exactly the situation you could be in if you book a night (or three) at Yukimurasaki, one of the top-rated ryokans in Okuhida Onsen (and manage to get a reservation for the rooftop onsens, of course!). Yukimurasaki is an absolutely stunning Japanese inn with all the fine traditional touches without looking too historic.
It’s spacious and clean, the guest rooms offer gorgeous natural scenery, and there’s the option to choose either a full Japanese-style sleeping arrangement and furniture, or go for something slightly more modern with raised beds and chairs. There is also the option to select a room with a private outdoor onsen as well. It’s close to the popular Shin-Hotaka Ropeway that we will speak about later in this blog post.
Why Guests Love It: Whilst the experience felt quintessentially Japanese, guests definitely appreciated that the staff would speak and understand English quite well. Many guests loved the location, being only a few metres from the bus stop, as well as far away from cities enough so that you can see the stars in the sky if you go for a stroll at night. Breakfast and dinner were 10/10.
Book It Now: Yurimurasaki Ryokan
Ryokan Hodakaso Sanganoyu
If you want to be spoilt for choice in terms of hot spring baths, Hodakaso Sanganoyu is your answer. This spacious ryokan offers multiple choices in terms of indoor onsens and outdoor onsens, and they are not too shabby either – in fact, they look as though they’re fit for royalty. The outdoor hot spring is massive and always looks incredibly inviting. The indoor hot spring is a room filled with sunlight from its massive glass windows.
The ryokan features Japanese futon beds complemented by an en-suite bathroom with a Western toilet. There are also a few private hot spring baths available to be reserved at the front desk.
Why Guests Love It: The onsens were top rated here! Guests absolutely loved all the hot springs that the ryokan offered, especially the outdoor bath. The rooms have been described as very spacious and exotic.
Book It Now: Hodakaso Sanganoyu
Let’s now discover the best places to visit in Okuhida Onsen!
Hirayu Onsen Village
This village is the oldest of the five in the region, said to have been discovered all the way in the 1560s. There is a total of 16 different open-air baths here, all with different water temperatures, water quality and composition, and scenic views. However, its main attractor factor is that it is said to be good for neuralgia and sensitivity to the cold. The baths here are all gender separated, but there are private baths available.
- Fun Fact: it is located on a 50,000 square meter premise!
- Address: 763-1 Hirayu, Okuhidaonsengo, Takayama 506-1433 Gifu Prefecture
Hirayu Onsen Ski Area
This is one of the lesser known ski areas (in Japan, there are many!) but this just makes it the perfect choice for those looking for a less-distracting day at the slopes where there aren’t too many crowds, or for those looking for a place that’s easy to learn without the pressure of too many eyes, or families who want a large, open space for the kids to play.
Whilst the snow here isn’t quite as powdery as the snow you get further up north, it’s still quite the Winter Wonderland. The mountain offers a wide layout to keep skiers and snowboarders happy and clear of each other. There is a “Family Galaende” slope which families and newbies can have fun on, the “Kamoshika Galaende”, which is a much steeper slope, ideal for those looking for a bit of adventure, and the 1.5km “Giant Course”, aimed at advanced snow bunnies wanting to rip it up on the slopes.
You can rent skis, snowboards and sleds there if you haven’t got your own.
- Address: 768-1 Okuhida Onsengo Hirayu, Takayama, Gifu 506-1433, Japan
- Dates: Mid December – March
- Hours: 8:00am – 4:20pm
- Price: 3,700yen
Hirayu Minzokukan (Folk Museum)
Hirayu’s humble town also offers a quaint museum experience, where you can learn about the heritage of the traditional irimoya-style Japanese houses (thatched wooden buildings). These small museums are sprinkled all across central Honshu, but each offer a little something unique to their area.
This particular museum has two levels. On the first level, you can get acquainted with the historic garments made from hemp and other natural textiles, and on the second floor, there are interesting displays of folk crafts, farming tools, and other unique traditional items that showcase just how the lifestyle was for the native people of the Hida region and how they managed to survive the harsh winters of Japan back in the olden days. This would be a fun side trip to include on your itinerary to break up your day, and who knows, you might learn a thing or two!
- Address: Okuhida Onsengo Hirayu, Takayama, Gifu 506-1433, Japan
- Hours: 8:00am – 5:00pm
- Price: Free (Included in the entry fee for the onsen on the same site)
Grand Hirayu Waterfall
This relatively unknown waterfall is actually one of the most popular non-onsen attractions in the area, and is, in fact, included on the list for Japan’s top 100 waterfalls. At a grand height of 64m, its beauty will take your breath away the moment you lay eyes on it.
It’s surrounded by the greenery of the forest and cascades down enormous cliffs and rocks, which further highlights just how gorgeous the crystal blue of the water is, and from autumn to winter especially, it looks like something out of a movie. A trek here (around 2km round trip from the car park) might be in order to waken those sleepy muscles from the onsen bathing.
- Address: Okuhida Onsengo Hirayu, Takayama, Gifu 506-1433, Japan
- Access: It is roughly 30-minutes one-way from the Hirayu Information Centre
Fukuji Onsen (aka Fukuchi Onsen)
Fukuchi Onsen is relatively new to the scene, having been introduced only 40 years ago to Okuhida Onsen village. However, it’s already established itself as a major contender in the game. The small town itself looks as thought it’s been around for much, much longer, showcasing atmospheric ryokans lining the roads and gorgeous onsens displayed as they would have been hundreds of years ago.
To really generate a traditional vibe, most ryokans have been made from materials of old farmhouses to bring out the rustic feel. Fukuchi is the smallest town of the five, and also the most secluded, so many people might give this a miss if they were pressed for time, but this may be a blessing in disguise.
Address: Takayama, Gifu 506-1434
Fukuji Asaichi (Morning Market)
To really get into the local culture, you may want to plan to go to the Fukuji Morning market whilst you’re there. This is where people source their fresh seasonal ingredients, harvested from the base of the Northern Japanese Alps, as well as other specialty products and ingredients from the area. Expect to see unique foods such as angelica-tree shoots and kogomi sprouts, wild Japanese mushrooms, and the much-loved daikon radish (depending on what time of the year you go). Even if you’re not looking for fresh produce, per se, going for a leisurely stroll and trying some local food here is a tiny little adventure in itself.
- Address: Okuhidaonsengo Fukuji, Takayama-shi, Gifu, 506-1434, Japan
- Hours: Mid-April – Mid-Nov: 6:30am-11:00am, Mid-Nov – Mid April: 8:30am – 11:00am
Shin-Hirayu Onsen is the second latest town in Okuhida Onsen village, and is located near Fukuji Onsen at the base of Mount Yakedake. It actually offers many options for visitors, ranging from smaller-style, intimate accommodation choices to larger, family-oriented ryokans.
This is one of the most traditional onsen towns, and you can almost feel how authentic it is from just walking through the quiet, ambient streets. There are sprinkles of restaurants as well as souvenir shops here you can explore, and during winter, the waterfall is lit up and fun events are held.
We recommend visiting Okuhida Garden Hotel Yakedake if you’re heading there, as it does open its hot springs to non-staying guests during the day. Unlike other hot springs where the water is a bright blue, or a creamy milky shade, the water here is yellow due to the high Sulphur content. There are mixed gender, split gender, cave baths, and waterfall bath options here.
- Address: 2498-1 Okuhida Onsengo Hitoegane, Takayama, Gifu 506-1432, Japan
- Hours: 12:00pm – 10:00pm
- Price: 700 yen
Another popular option is to stay at the Shin-Hotaka Onsen village, as there are quite a few ryokans to choose from here, and it’s also located close to the Shinhotaka ropeway. This onsen area is located at the base of the Hotaka Mountains, and boasts wonderful views of the Northern Alps as well as the Kita Alps Ohashi bridge.
If you visit this village, we recommend looking into Yarimikan, a ryokan which allows non-staying guests to use their outdoor baths during the day. There are a few to choose from (two mixed genders baths, and one women-only bath) that offer magnificent views of Mount Yarimidake as well as the peaceful river nearby. We can’t stress how beautiful and peaceful this particular experience is, but if you happen to be onsen hopping, this one might be one you can’t miss out on.
- Address: 587 Okuhida Onsengo Kansaka, Takayama, Gifu 506-1421, Japan
- Hours: 10:00am – 2:00pm
- Price: 500 yen
If you’re a big fan of seeing things from above, then Japan is the perfect place for you, because the number of ropeways in this country is astonishing. Included in the list is the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway, arguably one of the biggest non-onsen attractions in the area. It’s also noted as one of the most unique ropeways in Japan, offering a double-decker cable car for part of the ride up.
If you’re looking to explore Okuhida Onsen in a different way, we suggest taking this ropeway up (so, so high up that you’re actually more than 2000m above the ground!) to get an extremely panoramic view of the region. It’ll definitely make your legs become jelly at a certain point, but we reckon it’s definitely worth it.
- Address: 710-58 Okuhida Onsengo Kansaka, Takayama, Gifu 506-1421, Japan
- Access: You will need to take the from the bus stop from Hirayu Onsen to Nabedaira Kogen, the first station. From there, you will need to hop onto the double decker cable car which will take you a further 800m to the upper station, where the observation deck is.
- Hours: April-Nov: 8:30am-4:45pm, Dec-Mar: 9:00am-4:15pm
- Price: 2,900 (round trip)
Tochio Onsen may be the option that will provide you with the most atmospheric, authentic onsen experience, but please note that only staying guests are allowed to access its hot springs… which may be why the experience reaches a whole new level of Zen. However, don’t let that discourage you.
In fact, we think that booking an overnight option at Tochio could actually be a very good idea. One of our favorite traditional inn in this area is the magnificent Ryokan Gizan. Absolutely stunning!
If you’ve visited a traditional onsen town in the past, or if you’re looking for something that hasn’t quite begun breaking into the mainstream market (or even come close to) yet, look into Okuhida Onsen. It’s a bit more spread out, it’s offers more activities than the average onsen town, you will be pleasantly surprised everywhere you visit, and you’ll definitely get that Japanese experience you’ve been dreaming about the moment you booked your flights.
PS: If you are looking to visit another amazing hot spring town in Gifu prefecture, make sure to read this blog post: Gero Onsen Japan.