A spectacle in their own right? The abandoned buildings of Tochigi’s Kinugawa Onsen are the talk of the town

Approximately two hours by train from Tokyo, Kinugawa is a famous onsen (hot springs) town in Tochigi Prefecture’s Nikko area. While easily accessible from the greater Tokyo area, Kinugawa Onsen is home to abundant nature and seasonal scenery that visitors can enjoy.

However, a rather unexpected thing of the town has been attracting much attention lately. What could it be?

It is views of “ruins” of abandoned hotel and ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) buildings.
As a beginner “ruins” fan who has recently discovered the allure of abandoned buildings and thinking it should be reported, I visited there to see them by myself!

“Kinuta,” the mascot character of the town, can be seen in many places in Kinugawa Onsen town.

The abandoned buildings of Tochigi’s Kinugawa Onsen

First, I headed to Takimi Bridge for the whole-picture view of the abandoned buildings. The bridge is an about 7-minute walk from Kinugawa-Koen Station of the Tobu Railway.

I arrived at Takimi Bridge.
Kinugawa Onsen town consists of hotels and ryokan flanking the Kinugawa River. Looking downstream from the bridge hanging over the river, I saw the abandoned buildings on its left side.

The scene was difficult to describe in words, though I would say it exuded a kind of aesthetic beauty.
The buildings of the four hotels and ryokan I could see from the bridge looked impressive, but, in fact, there were no people inside them.

Takimi Bridge swayed as I walked, intensifying the eeriness.

Takimi Bridge

The buildings, with a somewhat lavish and swank feeling of the “bubble era” (the late 1980s), now presented a strange atmosphere.
Though it was a sunny day, the area looked dim.

Next, I walked back towards Kinugawa-Koen Station from Takimi Bridge and walked along the national route to see up close the abandoned buildings.

Below are some I saw that day.

The first building that came into my sight was “Motoyu Hoshinoya.” It seemed to be a relatively small, well-established ryokan with an 80-year history. Its sign still looked attractive but the building had much rust and grime.

Motoyu Hoshinoya
Motoyu Hoshinoya

Next to Hoshinoya was “Kinugawakan Honten.” Known as “Kappa-buro” (bath of kappa, a river creature in Japanese folklore), it retained remnants of artworks and dolls featuring kappa, enhancing the feeling forlornness with a certain creepiness. It seemed as if kappa ghosts might suddenly appear.

Kinugawakan Honten

Last was the “Kinugawa Kanko Hotel, East Building.” Though it was a large, impressive building, the sight of the remaining half of the broken sign was eerily queer. Some broken windows were patched by packing tape here and there.

Such a “great” cluster of abandoned buildings is very rare, so many ruins buffs who are addicted to seeing abandoned buildings and haunted places have visited here recently in addition to sightseeing in Kinugawa Onsen.

Kinugawa Kanko Hotel, East Building
Kinugawa Kanko Hotel, East Building

How did this come to be?
Along with Atami Onsen in Shizuoka Prefecture, Kinugawa Onsen was once known as a nice onsen resort convenient from Tokyo. During Japan’s “bubble economy” of 30-35 years ago, around 3.41 million tourists visited this area every year.
During that time, there was a surge of group travelers, including those taking part in company trips. Quite a lot of new hotels and ryokan were built to meet such demand.
However, after the bubble burst, the economy took a dive and fewer companies arranged trips for their employees. In addition, with more and more other types of leisure and super sento bathhouse prevalence, tourists visiting Kinugawa Onsen gradually decreased in number.

Initially built with large sums of investment money, the hotels and ryokan struggled to keep their heads above water. The final blow came when the local banks that supported the region went bankrupt. Additionally, upon sustaining damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake and from torrential rains and floods, they were ultimately forced to shut down their businesses for good.

Why are the buildings still there?

That’s because a considerable amount of money is needed to demolish the buildings, and many of the owners have vanished. As the demolition should otherwise be funded by citizen tax money, it is in reality difficult. And the fact that some abandoned buildings are located above hot spring sources, or adjacent to national routes and rivers, also make demolition difficult.

Have the abandoned buildings piqued your interest?
There is no one around at night and it can be so dangerous, so I urge you not to step foot in the area after dark. Plus, rumor has it that ghosts may appear…

While I gave you a glimpse of the “other side” of Kinugawa Onsen, we must not forget the 40 or so accommodation facilities in the town. Plenty of other fine hotels and ryokan dot the area, including “Hoshino Resort KAI Kinugawa” and 130-year-old “Asaya Hotel.” You can enjoy a soak in the hot springs known to be beneficial for fatigue and overall health as well as the free foot baths around the town.

Since 2020, tourism in Kinugawa has taken a dip due to COVID-19. Even so, one cannot help but wish for the swift end of the pandemic and the return of the lively bustle of earlier years.

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The information herein is as of October 2021
I am Masa from Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. I love drinking and partying and hope to have happy days with everyone! Recently, I am into walking and I walk for one to two hours if I have time. I passed the inbound certification exam to be an expert of the inbound tourism business. I am totally ready to share information about various attractive aspects of Japan to visitors from overseas in an easy-to-understand way!

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