Ikaho Onsen: An atmospheric onsen town of the iconic stone steps
On the side of Mount Haruna in Shibukawa City of Gunma Prefecture lies Ikaho Onsen, a hot spring town with over 400 years of history. Its symbol is the set of long stone steps at the heart of the town, 365 steps in all. Flanking them are manju (traditional steamed cake) shops, gift shops, and arcades with nostalgic target shooting games. Half way up the steps is Yutaki (hot spring waterfall), a famous feature of Ikaho where the hot springs flow.
The steps have existed since the birth of the onsen town. In 2010, they underwent restoration.The 365 steps represent the wish for prosperity throughout the year. Also known as the “birthday steps,” it is a popular photo spot where travelers come to take pictures on the step of their own birth date.
On the steps are etched the poems of poet Yosano Akiko that further stir up feelings of wanderlust.
The water at Ikaho Onsen is the uniquely colored “Kogane no yu” (golden water) and the clear, odorless “Shirogane no yu” (silver water).
Kogane no Yu is a sulfate spring with high iron content. The distinct brown color is due to the iron in the water oxidizing when exposed to air. Sulfate springs have strong medicinal properties and are said to be good for cuts and burns. They are also known to be beneficial for nerve pain, female-specific conditions, and poor circulation. Some people also call it the “spring of fertility.”
Shirogane no Yu is a relatively new hot spring that was discovered in 1996 and has since been used for onsen. It is said to be good for recovery from illnesses, fatigue, and overall improvement in health.
Travelers can warm up in the “Shin Ishidan-gai Hiroba no Ashiyu” foot bath towards the bottom of the steps, as well as the foot bath at “Kishigon Tatsu no Yu” located in the middle of the steps. They both allow visitors the chance to get a quick taste of the hot springs.
In the depths of Ikaho Onsen near the source of the hot springs is Kajika Bridge, a well-known sightseeing spot where you can see fresh green foliage in early summer and exquisitely colored maple and oak leaves in autumn. At night, the red autumn leaves are beautifully illuminated against the contrast of the crimson bridge.
Visitors can also enjoy a cable car ride along an aerial ropeway that connects the onsen town to the observation deck on the summit of Mount Haruna. There is also the famous Museum of Literature, along with temples and shrines that offer a multitude of ways to make the most of your time at Ikaho Onsen. Additionally, there are farms and amusement parks in Shibukawa City, making it an ideal destination for families.
Tokyo Sta. -> 50 min by Joetsu Shinkansen or Hokuriku Shinkansen -> Takasaki Sta. -> 25 min by JR Joetsu Line or Agatsuma Line -> Shibukawa Sta.
Shibukawa Ikaho Onsen Tourism Association
*The information herein is as of April 2021.