Kinugawa Onsen, known as the "okuzashiki" (奥座敷) or "living room," of Tokyo, was opened to development in the early Meiji period, and it became a major destination for those wanting to escape the noise and congestion of the city. The name "Kinugawa" literally means Angry Demon River. The exact provenance is unclear, but the most likely explanation is that this comes from the raging waters within — although the river is now dammed and considerably more placid.
The central area is home to several hotels and ryokan, most with their own hot springs. Unfortunately, due to a decline in group tours and the failure of the area's regional bank, Ashikaga Bank, in the late 1990s, several of the larger hotels have gone under, and their empty hulks scar an otherwise picturesque location. Still, the resort is home to dozens of hotels, pensions, and ryokan, and the area--together with nearby Kawaji--still attracts over 2 million visitors each year.
If you can spare the cash and time, it may be worth it head up northward to Kawaji or one of the many tiny hot spring hamlets collectively known as Oku-Kinu (奥鬼怒, "Inner Kinu").
Tobu runs all-reserved limited express services, known as Tokkyū (特急) trains, to the area. These trains, which use Tobu's "SPACIA" railroad equipment, have comfortable, reclining seats, with vending machines available on most trains.
The Kinu (きぬ) limited express departs from Asakusa every 30-60 minutes, and reaches Kinugawa-Onsen (鬼怒川温泉) in 2 hours at a cost of ¥2890 (¥2990 on weekends and holidays). Ordinary rapid trains are cheaper at ¥1550, but take anywhere from 2 hours 20 minutes to 3 hours to reach Kinugawa. Kawaji is another 20 minutes up the line. If you use a Kegon (けごん) service that runs to Nikko, you will have to change to a local train service at Shimo-Imaichi (下今市) for the final run to Kinugawa.
The Kinugawa Theme Park Pass, available only to those with non-Japanese passports, includes access to one or both of Kinugawa's most famous theme parks - Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura and Tobu World Square - along with the round-trip rail fare from Asakusa. Passes are valid for 2 days. The cost for adults is ¥4080 for Tobu World Square, ¥6180 for Edo Wonderland, or ¥7380 for both, with cheaper rates available for children.
These passes allow one round-trip between Asakusa station and Shimo-Imaichi station (where the Tobu line splits), and unlimited train rides from there to both Tobu-Nikko and Kinugawa-Onsen stations. On the return trip towards Asakusa you are permitted to exit at Tochigi station (for transfer to the JR Line), or at Tokyo SkyTree station.
You can get these passes at Tobu Sightseeing Service Center, right next to the north exit of Tobu Railway's Asakusa Station. Staff who can speak English are available. Passes can also be purchased online at Tobu's web site.
Using SPACIA trains with these passes require an additional reservation ticket (¥1390 each way on weekdays, ¥1490 on weekends). Pass holders are eligible to purchase SPACIA tickets for a 20% discount.
By JR and Tobu
In additon, a limited express train departs from Shinjuku for Nikko in the morning. You can transfer from this train at Shimo-Imaichi (下今市) for a shuttle train service to Kinugawa.
Seat reservations are mandatory, and the fare for this journey is ¥4000 each way. Japan Rail Pass holders must pay a fare supplement to cover the portion of the trip over the Tobu tracks. On the other hand, holders of the JR East Rail Pass and JR Kanto Area Pass may use the service to Kinugawa at no additional charge; the trip is fully covered. Unlike the regular Japan Rail Pass, the other two JR Passes also cover local Tobu trains between Shimo-Imachi and Kinugawa-Onsen, and Shimo-Imaichi and Tobu-Nikko. You will have to pay separate fares for any services that are not covered.
If you are willing to put up with connecting several times, there is a way that you can get to Kinugawa using mostly JR trains. This method of travel is only recommended for national Japan Rail Pass holders as it costs the least amount of additional money, otherwise the other methods listed above are recommended as they take a similar amount of time.
- Take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen (Yamabiko, Tsubasa or Nasuno) from the Tokyo area to Utsunomiya station, then take the JR Nikko Line to Imaichi Station (Base fare ¥1660 plus shinkansen supplement ¥2100-2600; no charge with Japan Rail Pass).
- Walk from JR Imaichi Station to Tobu Shimo-Imaichi Station (Approx. 10-15 minutes).
- Take the Tobu Railway local or rapid service to Kinugawa-Onsen Station (Approx. 20 minutes, ¥240). The national Japan Rail Pass is not covered on Tobu trains; purchase a ticket before boarding, or if you have a Suica/PASMO card it will work on this route.
Before your journey you will want to visit a website such as Hyperdia to check the appropriate connection times.
Kinugawa is fairly spread out. You can either use the infrequent buses, or the expensive taxis. If arriving by train, be sure to check if your lodgings are closer to Kinugawa Onsen or Kinugawa Kōen station.
There is little to see in Kinugawa Onsen itself, but the Nichien Momiji Line, the highway connecting Kinugawa and Kawaji, makes for a fairly scenic drive.
Loll about in hot springs. More adventurous types may also want to try battling against angry demons by rafting in the Kinugawa River.
Two theme parks in the area, collectively known as Kinugawa Theme Park, are major draws for Japanese visitors:
- 1 Tobu World Square (東武ワールドスクウェア) (Bus from Kinugawa Onsen station (5 min) or on foot from Kosagoe station (8 min).). A miniature 1:25 model of the world's most famous sites, covering everything from the Pyramids to the Statue of Liberty and, oddly enough, Narita Airport. ¥2500/1200 adult/child.
- 2 Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura (江戸ワンダーランド日光江戸村), 470-2 Karakura (Free shuttle from Tobu Nikko station or local bus from Kinugawa Onsen station), ☎ . 9AM-5PM; Closed on Wednesdays and holidays, shorter hours in the winter. A cultural theme park that resurrects and showcases the life and culture of the Edo period. The park hosts Edo period architecture from rural lodgings to urban samurai residences and government buildings. Also features 7 theatres featuring various traditionally themed shows including Ninja action, Oiran shows, Ninja workshops, Japanese traditional archery, shuriken throwing, and costume hire. Adults: ¥4,700; children: ¥2,400.
Most guests eat at their lodgings, but there are a scattering of restaurants just outside Kinugawa Onsen station.
The recession of the 1990s hit Kinugawa hard and many hotels struggle with low occupancy rates (or have been outright shut down). This means there are some pretty good bargains to be found, especially off-season.
- 1 Kaniyu (加仁湯), Oku-Kinugawa (Public bus from Kinugawa Station to Meotobuchi (女夫渕), then 25 min by shuttle bus.), ☎ , fax: . A lost hotel in the mountains with 8 hotsprings, 7 of which are mixed and/or private baths. You can eat bear sashimi and share a bath with your partner, watching the stars, river and waterfall. ¥12,000 with two meals.
- [dead link]Kinugawa Green Palace, ☎ . Large operation offering surprisingly large and nice Japanese-style rooms. The outdoor bath on the ground floor has nice views — if you keep your eyes fixed straight forward and ignore the rumbling air/water/heating machinery on all other three sides. ¥8000 with two meals.
- 2 Minshuku Ichinoya (民宿一乃屋), 199 Nokado (60 min by bus from Kinugawa), ☎ . Deep in the mountains west of Kinugawa, this rustic inn specializes in food cooked on the hearth (irori). Public hot spring next door. ¥7000 with two meals.
- Nikko, with its national parks and opulent shrines, presents an altogether different picture.
|Routes through Kinugawa|
|Aizu Wakamatsu ← into Yagan Railway ← Shin Fujiwara ←||N S||→ Nikko → Tochigi → into → Tokyo Skytree|
|Yonezawa ← Aizu Wakamatsu ←||N E||→ Nikko → Utsunomiya → Mooka → Mashiko|
|Kashiwazaki ← Nagaoka ← Oze ←||W E||→ Nikko → Kanuma|
|Nishiaizu ← Kaneyama ←||N E||→ Nasu Shiobara → Otawara → Mito|