|Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture is full of cultural treasures, including the World Heritage Site Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine. In the city, the Yunishigawa hot spring area in particular offers its baths, open-hearth cooking made with local ingredients, abundant natural beauty, and beautiful night views that can only be enjoyed in the wintertime. Catch a ride to the Yunishigawa hot springs on a nostalgic steam locomotive.|
The dancing shadows created by firelit kamakura huts are beautiful sight unique to Japan
Your journey to Nikko and the Yunishigawa hot springs begins at Asakusa Station on the Tobu Skytree Line. At Shimo-Imaichi Station, you’ll board the SL Taiju steam locomotive. The SL Taiju is a steam locomotive built in 1941. The sound of the steam whistle echoing through the mountain valley as smoke billows out of its chimney is nearly irresistible.
Once you arrive at Kinugawa-Onsen Station, you’ll board the Nikko Kotsu Bus and head to the Yunishigawa hot springs.
One of the highlights of the Yunishigawa hot springs is the gorgeous scenery that you can only catch during wintertime. These views are part of the Yunishigawa Onsen Kamakura Matsuri.
During the daytime, you can enjoy sledding or a barbeque in a kamakura snow hut big enough for four adults (advance reservations required). At night, nearly a thousand tiny kamakura huts line the riverbed lit with candles, drawing viewers into a magical and mystical world.
Experience the wonder of ice sculptures and the nostalgia of irori cuisine cooked over an open hearth
After you stroll around admiring the Kamakura Festival, head to a Yunishigawa hot spring and warm your body to the core. Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, samurai warriors wounded in battle would stop in this area to nurse their wounds in the Yunishigawa hot springs. To experience the hot spring that started it all, visit the Honke Bankyu inn. Every room has traditional earthen walls with wooden finishes and offers a view of the clear waters of the Yunishi River.
At night, guests gather around the irori hearth*1 for dinner to enjoy traditional dishes made with wild game and mountain vegetables sourced locally.
And the nighttime views from the inn are definitely not to be missed. Between early February and late March, you can see manmade icefalls across the river facing the inn. Icefalls are waterfalls that have frozen due to the winter cold. The artistic forms of the naturally-frozen ice that seems to float in the glow of spotlights is a sight you’ll always remember. After dinner, make sure to spend some time admiring them from the lobby of the inn or from the large outdoor bath. Even those who don’t stay at the inn can enjoy the icefalls from a nearby bridge and other vantage points.
*1 A type of hearth built in traditional Japanese homes Ashes are packed into a square hole cut in the floor, designed to create a fire with wood or charcoal.
At the end of your trip, strawberry picking and a miniature nighttime scene await
The next day, travel about 15 minutes on foot from Kosagoe Station on the Tobu Kinugawa Line and you’ll arrive at the Nikko Hana Ichimonme flower garden where you can pick strawberries. Tochigi is one of the leading strawberry-producing prefectures in Japan.
Nikko Hana Ichimonme grows a large, sweet strawberry variety called Tochi-Otome, and you can eat all the strawberries you want for 30 minutes (advanced reservations required). You can even top them with condensed milk for an additional fee. Because the strawberries are grown in a greenhouse, it’s relatively warm and comfortable, even in winter. Once you’ve had your fill of strawberries, head out to the begonia gardens that are also on-site. The entire ceiling here is covered with tuberous begonias–some 8,000 plants flowering in around six hundred varieties.
The last winter scene you’ll enjoy on your trip to the Yunishigawa hot springs is Tobu World Square. It’s located just outside Tobu World Square Station, which opened in July 2017. Tobu World Square is a theme park featuring a 1/25 scale reproduction of World Heritage Sites and other famous structures around the globe. The exhibit is exquisitely crafted with lifelike reproductions of the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Egyptian Pyramids, and other world treasures. The park is also populated by 140,000 miniature residents just seven centimeters tall.
The park is lit up at night during the wintertime, offering nighttime views of the entire world in miniature. You can also enjoy some unique sights that could never exist in real life–like the Egyptian Sphynx covered in snow.
The Yunishigawa hot spring area is about two and a half hours away from Asakusa Station in Tokyo by train. A winter trip to Yunishigawa offers a variety of beautiful nighttime scenes, hot springs, irori hearth cuisine, strawberry picking, and countless other delights–making it full of new discoveries even for those who have traveled to Nikko many times before.