The popular movie “Thermae Romae II” was released on April 26, on the Hot Spring Day. It’s a humorous fantasy story involving a time travel. A lot of hot springs in Japan were featured in it which attracted the attention of many travelers and hot spring lovers. One of them, which I will introduce now, is Takaragawa Onsen in Gunma prefecture’s Minakami town. In the movie this facility was directly linked to Ancient Rome.
The mountain lodge where the movie characters gathered
Takaragawa Onsen is a hot spring inn located at the end of a mountain road surrounded by green nature. Its name comes from Takaragawa River which flows right next to the inn. While not historically proven, the legend says that Japan’s 12th emperor Yamatotakeru recovered from a disease in this hot spring after conquering the eastern provinces.
In the first part of “Thermae Romae” Aya Ueto’s character Manami originally came from Tochigi prefecture’s Kita Onsen. In the sequel her home has moved to Takaragawa Onsen. Therefore this hot spring features a lot in the new movie. Of course, many other characters gather at this inn.
The large open-air bath where Manami and Lucius were bathing
Takaragawa Onsen’s pride is the large open-air bath built right next to the river stream, as part of the natural landscape. There are 3 gender-mixed and 1 women-only open-air baths with a total surface area of 450 tatami mats! Such large baths need a constant inflow of hot spring water. Indeed, there are 4 hot spring sources near Takaragawa Onsen with about 1800 liters of water per minute, which is enough to fill 4 barrel drums every minute.
The largest open-air bath is the gender-mixed “Kodakara no yu”. The movie scene where Manami and Lucius bathed together was filmed here. Actress Aya Ueto, who had never tried a gender-mixed bath before, said in an interview that this experience turned out to be a lot more comfortable than she expected. Indeed, the surroundings are really tranquil and the murmuring of the stream is the only sound you hear. At night time the hot spring is lit up with lamps but you can still see the starry sky.
You can enter the gender-mixed baths covered with a bath towel. A bathing suit is offered for female guests of the hotel, so it’s safe to enter and enjoy your time. Of course, there’s also a female-only bath called “Maya no yu”.
This open-air bath is at the top of the Japanese ranking and is popular among foreign visitors
Takaragawa Onsen’s most famous open-air bath is “Maka no yu” with its surface area of 120 tatami mats. In spring and early summer you can see the reflection of the green trees in the water; in autumn you can enjoy the red colors, while in winter you can watch the snowy landscape. This impressive open-air bath tops the ranking of Japan’s open-air baths. Many hot spring inns have constructed their facilities to resemble this one.
Nowadays Takaragawa Onsen is also quite popular among foreign tourists. Popular guide book “Lonely Planet” gives this facility first place in its “Japan’s Top 10 hot springs” ranking. When I went there, I saw plenty of foreigners bathing in ecstasy. It seems like not only the people from Ancient Rome visit this hot spring. Our Japanese hot spring culture attracts many visitors from all over the world.
You can drink this hot spring's water
The hot spring water has a healing effect also when you drink it. Since the effect is much stronger from within your body, you shouldn’t drink more than 1 cup of water. There are several places to drink hot spring water scattered around the grounds of Takaragawa Onsen. Scoop a bit of the fresh water and taste it. It’s simple thermal water with no smell which makes it easy to drink. But don’t drink too much.
Whether you've seen the movie or not, Gunma is your hot spring paradise
Gunma prefecture has the largest concentration of famous hot springs in Japan. Other popular places like Hoshi Onsen and Kusatsu Onsen appear in the movie “Thermae Romae II” as well. Visiting the hot springs featured in some of the popular scenes makes for a great trip around Gunma. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, you’ll really enjoy this trip.
“Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku” Address: Gunma prefecture, Tone-gun, Minamaki town, Fujiawa 1899 Telephone: 0278 75 2611, 0278 75 2121 (for reservations) Day trip bathing is available.