Kaminoyama Onsen in Japan was a place we had never heard of before.. But we are so glad that we ventured out to visit here!!
While activating our JR passes at Shinjuku train station, Gerard gets distracted by a tour brochure. It’s easy to see why as this tour goes to an incredible looking volcano crater lake!
Unfortunately the tour starts from the day after we were leaving Japan… major bummer! Gerard isn’t giving up on seeing this beautiful crater though. So, after lots of internet research on my part, I eventually find a way we can make this adventure happen.
Apparently there is a free shuttle bus that leaves twice a day from Kaminoyama Onsen station! Which also happens to be on the JR line.. winning!!
Work out we can fit this northbound mission in for the last two nights of our trip. Reserve our shinkansens there and back, now to work out where to stay?
Kaminoyama Onsen is a small hot spring town at the foot of Mt Zao. Which makes it the perfect place to base ourselves for our crater adventure! And to get such much needed R & R after a hectic two weeks in Japan.
It doesn’t take long to find Hotel Koyo. A five star, Onsen resort with breakfast included… sold!
On arrival to this quaint little town, we realise it is very different to the mega cities we were just in. It’s very quiet with few people around.
There is a man at the station holding a sign up but it’s in Japanese so not sure what it says. He keeps looking at us but figure it’s just because, by the looks of it, we are the only westerners in this town.
Once we charade our way of working out where the shuttle bus picks us up, and what time. We set off in the direction of our hotel. Google tells us it’s approximately 20 min walk.
Off we go, bags in tow. We see our hotel in the distance, sitting ontop of a hill. So know we are going in the right direction. About 15 minutes into our walk, a van pulls up aside us. It’s the guy from the train station asking where we are going? We point to the hotel on top of the hill and he says he is here to pick us up!
Didn’t know we had a shuttle service included and couldn’t remember telling the hotel what time we were arriving… But didn’t want to walk up the hill with our bags, so we get in. Think Japan is one of the only countries you would get into a car that pulls over on the side of the road haha.
When we arrive at the hotel, get a very warm welcome from all the staff. There is even an Australian flag on the reception counter!
A porter and a lady escort us to our room on the top floor.
Her English is very minimal but she tries to explain the hotel, Onsen times, where the restaurant is etc.
She also shows us the robes and slippers which we assume are to be worn around. When she leaves, quickly get acquainted with our robes, which we hope we are wearing the right way.
For some strange reason the restaurant doesn’t do dinner per se, but there is a place that does ramen from 9 pm-11.30 pm. We are super hungry and considering it is only 6 pm, change back into our clothes and head out to get some snacks from 7eleven. When we get back, redress in our robes and go experience the Onsens for the first time.
There are male and female areas, the males get the rooftop Onsen from 1 pm – 1 am. The ladies get the ground floor. Between the hours of 4 am – 12 pm, it’s the other way around. When I go to the ground floor I’m delighted to see I have the whole area to myself!
I have never been to an onsen before but from what I have heard, I’m assuming this is supposed to be an all nude bathing area. Considering I can’t read the signs or see any other bathers, I go in my bikinis just in case. I sit on the little stool and use the shower. Hop in the main pool, water is a lil hot at first but quickly get used to it. Very relaxing. After about 5 minutes start to get a bit hot, so decide to give the -5 sauna a go.
It’s a nice change to the hot water and quite invigorating. After it feels like my core temperature has been brought right down, go outside and try out all the different outdoor baths.
While out here I see a few very naked ladies enter the indoor area… whoops! Quickly retreat to the changing area and robe up before anyone is none the wiser.
Head back up to our room feeling refreshed and relaxed. Gerard’s experience wasn’t as relaxing as mine. The rooftop Onsen was packed and he felt obliged to go in naked as everyone was staring while he was in board shorts.
Unfortunately the staring didn’t really stop after he took them off! After a rather quick and uncomfortable dip in the water he retreated back to our room.
Once 9 pm comes, we head down to dinner. Now for the next challenge.. deciphering this menu.
Google translator isn’t working the best and the language barrier is proving to be strong here. We order dinner. Hopefully it is the warm sake, chicken karrage and pork ramen, we think we have ordered. We are successful.
After dinner, we retire for the night in readiness for our adventure to the amazing Okama crater lake tomorrow! Wake up early and have an Asian style buffet breakfast.
Then head to the station to catch the shuttle bus. Get there early and wait… a bus eventually shows up. In keeping with the theme of getting in strange cars, we hop in. Show the driver a picture of the crater and he just nods. Off we go to see the crater!!!
On the way back down the mountain we stop at a closed ski resort for nearly an hour.. why you ask?
We aren’t totally sure but think it must be the ski resort who puts on the free shuttle. Which is a pretty clever way to still keep a bit of money coming in. We’re just grateful that they have beers for sale!
Arrive back in town just after 1pm. This gives us time to check out the Kaminoyama Castle.
Also get to see a real Samarai’s house in the small Samarai district near the castle.
Wander around town and while there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on right now, imagine it really comes alive in the wintertime. One thing I really like is while wandering around you will come across several foot baths. Good way to relieve our tired feet from all the walking!
On our way back to Hotel Koyo, we walk past some bar/restaurants that look like they open from 7pm. Chill in our room for a bit and head back out after dark. Again we charade our way through ordering dinner, plenty of yakitori and warm sake!
After dinner, we have one last foot bath before heading back to the hotel.
Kaminoyama Onsen is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities of Japan. Was great to spend our last few days here, the next day we catch the shinkansen back to Tokyo for our flight back home.
Highly recommended the trip out here to Kaminoyama Onsen! Perfect place to base yourself for anyone who wants to see Okama crater. Added bonus is getting to stay at an authentic onsen ryokan. Or just use it as an excuse to a get away from the big smoke!
For more on Japan, check out these posts 👇