Previously, we wrote an article about how traveling by rental car gives you significantly more options on how to enjoy yourself once you arrive in a hot spring area, since there are many picturesque sightseeing locations around hot spring areas like ours that are inaccessible by public transportation.
Today, we wanted to share some more delightful news for international visitors who plan to travel Japan by rental car!
Starting October 13, 2017, you can purchase a pass that allows you unlimited access to expressways all across Japan.
It’s called the Japan Expressway Pass, and it will cost 20,000 yen for 7 days or 34,000 yen for 14 days of unlimited access.
The pass will be available at 275 rental car shops across Japan.
Unfortunately, you cannot purchase the pass in Gunma Prefecture, which is where Shima Onsen is located.
However, it will be available at rental car shops in Haneda Airport and Narita Airport, which are the airports closest to Shima Onsen, as well as in other major international airports.
People with non-Japanese passports and Japanese citizens with permanent residence in other countries will be eligible to use this pass.
(Please note that you will also need a driver’s license that allows you to drive in Japan.)
All you need to do in advance is reserve an expressway electronic toll collection (ETC) card and a rental car that is compatible with the Japanese Expressway Pass from a shop that offers the pass.
Pick up your rental car from the shop on the day of your reservation, and please enjoy a pleasant journey by car.
(Please note that the pass cannot be used on expressways in certain areas, such as the Tokyo metropolitan area or Hokkaido.)
Traveling Japan by car allows you to enjoy the countryside that cannot be accessed by public transportation, so your trip is sure to be a deeply memorable one!
Japan Expressway Pass: Click here for more details
The total number of lodgers who came from foreign countries to Japan reached a record 70 million in 2016.
80% of them stayed in descending order in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hokkaido, Okinawa, Chiba, Fukuoka, Aichi and Kanagawa prefecture.
Most of these regions are known for sightseeing, and are destinations on the “Golden Route”.
Meanwhile, the numbers of lodgers staying in Gunma prefecture where Shima Onsen is were just 210,000, 0.3% of the total.
(From the statistical survey by Japan Tourism Agency)
To get more visitors from foreign countries, we the managers of small onsen ryokans in the countryside are working hard to attract them.
The Japanese government helps us by promoting rural areas as nice places to visit and also help enhance community revitalization.
For example, according to ‘Tourism Vision to Support the Future of Japan’ drawn up by the Japan Tourism Agency in 2016, the Japanese government is actively making a plan which aims to double the number of foreign tourists visiting the countryside in Japan by 2020.
With this, the amount of money spent by foreign tourists in Japan is estimated to more than double from about JPY 3.5 trillion in 2015 to JPY 8 trillion by 2020.
(From the survey by the Japan Tourism Agency & Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management)
The Japan Tourism Agency gives tourists information about recommended tourist routes in the countryside, such as hot spring tours, visiting Japanese Sake breweries.
The Japanese government has started to support improvements to local areas which encourage foreign tourism.
Questionnaires filled out by foreign tourists who visited Japan for the first time showed that the tours they would like to do next were ones in which they could experience nature, fishing or rural areas, the four seasons, Japanese history, and the traditional cultures in the countryside.
This indicates they take more interest in the countryside and rural areas in Japan.
(From the survey by the Japan Tourism Agency)
There are many kinds of regional unique sceneries, food cultures, and onsen cultures in Japan.
Japan has wide range of climate conditions because of its length from north to south.
Japan also has a long history.
This history and climate affect the Japanese culture and landscape which can still be seen in the countryside and rural areas, but is sometimes difficult to see in the urban environment.
For example, you can enjoy beautiful nature like the amazing blue water of the Shima river which is called “Shima Blue“, In this region you can experience onsen culture as it was after the war, feel a peaceful atmosphere not found in big cities, and communicate with the warm hearted people of Shima Onsen.
However, we have some problems we have to resolve when hosting foreign tourists who don’t speak Japanese.
Public transportation information for coming to the countryside is insufficient.
We need more signs and guides in English and other foreign languages.
Currently we are developing communication systems like Wi-Fi in the countryside.
The accommodation of Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan usually includes dinner and breakfast (one night stay and two meals per day).
You can enjoy your stay in a traditional Japanese Ryokan that has Japanese features such as tatami rooms, an Onsen (hot spring), and Japanese cuisine.
We are happy to have received a lot of good comments and reviews, especially about the cuisine.
The dinner in the evening is truly the best bit though… A 12 course meal with so many different things to try from Japanese cuisine…
The food was amazing, they happily accommodated my vegetarian request and the in-room dinner and breakfast made the stay feel like a real traditional Japanese experience.
Breakfast is served downstairs, but dinner is served in your own room – both are a delicious parade of more than ten different dishes!
Recently the number of guests at our Ryokan from overseas has been increasing.
In the last four months alone (January to April) this year, we have welcomed guests from more than 30 countries and regions.
So, we have also had variety of requests for special menus (especially vegetarian and vegan).
Therefore, Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan has created five special menus.
Regular dishes that we usually serve and many of our guests enjoy.
2. Menu with no meat
Substitute other ingredients for all meat in the regular menu.
Seafood, egg, dairy products are still used.
3. Vegetarian A menu
No meat and seafood, but a basic element of Japanese cuisine, ‘Katsuo Dashi’ (Japanese-style broth with dried bonito(fish) ) is used. Egg and dairy products are also used.
4. Vegetarian B menu
This meal does not contain meat, seafood, egg or dairy products, although ‘Katsuo Dashi'(Japanese-style broth with dried bonito) is used.
As it was mentioned above, ‘Katsuo Dashi’ is a basic element of Japanese cuisine.
5. Vegan menu
This menu does not contain meat, seafood, egg or dairy products. Special broth with edible kelp, mushrooms, and vegetables is used instead of ‘Katsuo Dashi’ (Japanese-style broth with dried bonito). There is an extra charge of 2,000yen per night per person.
We are afraid that we cannot accommodate fully for food allergies.
We will try to do our best. However, some ingredients may contain allergens, and allergens are handled and prepared in the same environment with all other food items, so trace amounts of these allergens may be found in all dishes.
We appreciate your understanding in this matter.
We are sorry to say that we cannot currently prepare halal food.
It is difficult for us to divide our cookware and utensils to prepare a halal menu.
In addition, some seasonings contain a little alcohol.
Please choose one of the five menus above, if possible.
We appreciate your understanding in this matter.
Likes and dislikes
We highly recommend that you try Washoku (Japanese cuisine). It is a great opportunity to enjoy it. There may be some dishes and ingredients that you are unfamiliar with, but they are worth trying.
Please let us know any of your menu requests in advance.
We may not able to accommodate you if ordered on the same day.
Nakanojo Biennale is a big contemporary art festival held once in two years at Shima Onsen and it’s around town, Nakanojo with a theme of “Celebration of Onsen + Home + Art.”
Pictures, sculptures, and photos are exhibited at everywhere at Shima Onsen town and Nakanojo town, such as no longer used old wooden school buildings.
In addition, there are various workshops and performances are held during the period.
In 2017, 154 groups of artists will be invited from September 9 to October 9.
It will require about three days and two nights to move by a car and enjoy thoroughly the arts widely exhibited at the city of around Nakanojo Station, onsen town of Shima Onsen and Sawatari Onsen, Kuni and Isama districts, which have been certified as the most beautiful villages in Japan.
The winter road closures, which seem to be related to customers to Shima Onsen, are the following two sectors.
Route 292, From mid-November to late April
It is a road, which passes from Shibu-Yudanaka Onsen in Nagano famous with snow monkeys to Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma, through Shiga Kogen.
Route 120, From late December to late April
It is a road, which passes from Nikko in Tochigi with Nikko to Katashina in Gunma, through Konsei Toge.
If you’re planning to drive to snowy places during winter, obtain winter road closure information in advance and act with spare time, such as by inquiring to hotels and ryokan you are planning to stay.