Takaragawa Onsen sits along the Takaragawa River outside of Minakami Town. The riverside baths are spectacular, but the initial experience of walking into the main building is similar to being invited into the house of the crazy cat lady who lived up the street from you when you were a kid. There are rambling passageways filled from floor to ceiling with dusty bric-a-brac that seem to date back to pre-war Japan. This sense of being lost in some mad woman’s basement is further extenuated when you stumble out of the winding passageways into the bright light of day, only to be greeted by—not cats—but the sight of bears pacing nervously in their small cages.
From certain angles you can’t tell where the river ends and the baths begin. Set in the hills of Minakami, Takaragawa Osenkaku is well known for its spectacular riverside rotemburo. Takaragawa Osenkaku claims its baths to be among the largest rotemburo in Japan. More interestingly, out of its four outdoor baths, three are konnyoku or mixed baths. Which means you’d better be comfortable in your skin in front of strangers – of the opposite sex.
Takaragawa Onsen is a bit of a trek -- a long bus or car ride along twisty, mountainous roads. In winter it can be icy, so take special care of road conditions. Another curious aspect of this place is the almost museum-like entryway where hundreds of miscellaneous items have been stored. Farm tools, stuffed animals, old children's games, you name it, it's all here -- curious or even a bit creepy. And don't forget to pick out a freebie item when you buy your entry ticket. You get your choice of five different calibers of trinkets (some would say cr*p) when you pick a number from the box. Definitely, Takaragawa Onsen is not the most peaceful of spots, but it is surely one of the more memorable places you will visit on any onsen tour.
We took a trip to Takaragawa-Onsen, an onsen about 2 1/2 hours from Tokyo. The water has an ever so slight hint of sulfur. A rotemburo is an onsen located outside, so you can enjoy the hot water as you contemplate nature. In this particular onsen, women were encourages to wear “modesty towels” which actually worked just fine for me. I basically tied a towel around me then dipped in the water. It was hot, really hot, and very relaxing. For obvious reasons, we were asked not to take pictures in the onsen.