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Fascinating less traveled countryside and rural areas in Japan

shima onsen
‘Sekizenkan’ in Shima Onsen, one of the model of ‘Spirited Away’ movie

Lately, tourists from foreign countries seem to like to go to the countryside, or rural areas more than sticking to the “golden route” in Japan.

Outline

Traditionally, the places that tourists from foreign countries visit are famous cities or tourists destinations, such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt.Fuji, Hokkaido, and Okinawa.

But recently, the number of tourists, especially individual travelers who prefer countryside or rural area to such famous spots is increasing.

The Japanese government is encouraging this trend to help reactivate rural areas.

Shima Onsen is an ideal place where visitors can enjoy an authentic onsen culture with a peaceful atmosphere in the countryside.

Also Shima Onsen is easy accessible from Tokyo.

enjoy bikes
Shima Onsen town

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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.

Fish market, Ishikawa Pref.

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.

rural area
Magome-shuku in Gifu
Shibu-Toge, Gunma pref.

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.

Shima Blue (Oku-Shima lake)

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.

People in the countryside may not understand English. They may only speak Japanese.

Still, the countryside and rural areas in Japan are worth visiting.

We would like you to visit the traditional Japanese countryside in your next trip to Japan.

We are sure it will enhance your Japanese experience.

If you interested in Japanese style Onsen, Please click here
Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan >

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Onsen Ryokan Equipped with Beds and Western Style Meals

Onsen Ryokan entrance

There is also a proverb in Japan, meaning “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

This proverb means that if you enter a land and an environment, it is wise to follow the customs and ways there.

Once you go on a trip, you can realize deeper the country’s culture if you do so.

That is what I believe.

However, during a long journey, you will miss your usual habits.

We Japanese also visit Japanese restaurants abroad. I think this is one of the reasons.

It is a benefit for foreign customers to know about Japanese culture by staying at Japanese ryokan.

On the other hand, some customers feel stress as the life at ryokan is totally different from their usual life.

This seems to be especially strong what comes to meals and beddings.

Some customers want to sleep In Futon and enjoy Washoku as they came so far to Japan.

But others want to sleep in a bed, which they are used to, and enjoy meals other than Washoku.

We Kashiwaya Ryokan basically provide Futon in a Japanese-style room and Washoku.

But we offer other choices, thus foreign customers are pleased about it.

First, concerning beddings,

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Meal is One of the Most Important Point in Choosing Ryokan

In general, ryokan rates includes meals fee, too. If you stay over a night, ryokan prepares the dinner on the day and the breakfast on the next day. Thus you can save your time to prepare food by yourself.

Wa-Syoku

It cannot be an exaggeration if I say that meals at ryokan are one of the best parts of travel. You can fully enjoy a wide variety of delicious cuisine washoku with abundant seasonal local ingredients to Western with fruits and main meat dishes.

Grilled Fish

You can enjoy the service only at ryokan that taking onsen with a plenty of time, warming up your body, and enjoy delicious meal. Your feeling must be raised in front of lavish meals, such as you cannot eat everyday. You will be released from the stress of everyday life and spend the bliss of time.

Every Ryokan Serves its Unique Meals

It should be noted, menus and catering ways served at ryokan vary greatly by each ryokan. If you are interested in tuna, saury, chestnut, nuts, and foods of mountains, ryokan in mountainous areas is recommended. In order to fully enjoy onsen travel, you can be more enjoyable if checking what kinds of meals are served as well as onsen.

Meals at Kashiwaya Ryokan

We, Kashiwaya ryokan, basically serve “Kaiseki Ryori” that is a kind of full course among all the Japanese foods and arrange so that modern customers and younger customers can also enjoy.

Meals at Kashiwaya Ryokan
Kaiseki Ryori In Kashiwaya ryokan

In addition, although Kaiseki Ryori tends to serve lots of amount, we are committed to serve reasonable amount. For menu that changes about 5 times a year, we cook them in gentle taste.

Kaiseki Ryori is hospitality dishes to enjoy drink. The basic menu is one soup and three dishes (soup, sashimi, grilled, and boiled), side dishes for sake are added, such as Otoshi (appetize), steamed food, marinated, vinegared dish, and finally rice, miso soup, pickled, and fruits are served.

Meals at Kashiwaya Ryokan

After taking efficacy rich Shima onsen that is said to work on 40,000 diseases with plenty of time, enjoy tender Washoku with lots of local Gunma fresh vegetables and utilized bonito soup that is totally unique in Japan.

If you interested in Japanese style Onsen, Please click here
Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan >

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Meal at Ryokan; You can fully Enjoy Washoku

Meals at Kashiwaya ryokan

Except ryokan in urban areas of Tokyo and Kyoto, the basic Japan ryokan accommodation system is one night two meals (Half Board) with dinner and breakfast.

In recent years, including our Kashiwaya ryokan, more and more ryokan are accepting other styles, such as B&B, accommodation and breakfast, and just sleep over.

Ryokan the Perfect Place to Taste Washoku

However, if you’re staying in long-awaited Japan, I recommend that you eat both dinner and breakfast at ryokan at least once. This is because ryokan is the perfect place to taste “Washoku; the Japanese Traditional Food Culture” registered as the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

However, a lot of ryokan provide in buffet style at relatively large-scale ryokan, so you need to be careful. Of course, I do not deny buffet style, but this is from a point of view in order to taste “Washoku; the Japanese Traditional Food Culture” registered as the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

What is Kaiseki Ryori (traditional Japanese meal brought in courses) ?

Most ryokan have their base of dinner as washoku, and many of them have the flow of “Kaiseki Ryori.” Kaiseki Ryori was originally dishes to enjoy drink and consists of various side dishes for sake, such as soup, sashimi, grilled, boiled, fried, steamed, marinated, and vinegared. Then it has a style of rice and soup (Tomewan; finish bowl) coming up at last. There are versatile ryokan; some ryokan serve traditional style of Kaiseki, some provide a little simplified, and some arrange in Western-style.

In addition, there are also ryokan, which serve “Kaiseki Ryori” that has same the reading but different kanji and has its roots in Teaism to enjoy tea and “Shojin Ryori (vegetarian food)” that does not use meat and fish.

Breakfast has more wide variety depend on each ryokan. Some ryokan serve feast more than enough to eat all even at dinner, some serve simple and basic one soup and three dishes, and some serve Western style as selected like our Kashiwaya ryokan. There are also many ryokan, which serve in buffet style only for breakfast.

Meals at Kashiwaya ryokan

Dinner at our Kashiwaya ryokan has the basic of “Kaiseki Ryori” and is arranged so that modern customers and younger customers can also enjoy. In addition, although Kaiseki Ryori tends to serve lots of amount, we are committed to serve reasonable amount. For menu that changes about 5 times a year, we use local ingredients from Gunma Prefecture, where lots of fresh vegetables are available, and cook them in gentle taste that takes advantage of bonito soup unique to Japan.

Meals at Kashiwaya ryokan

For breakfast, you can choose from Washoku, which has lots of local ingredients, such as local miso and tofu, and Japanese rice gruel, Washoku with freshly baked bread and coffee, or brunch at Kashiwaya café at onsen town.

Breakfast at Kashiwaya Ryokan
“Food” is one of the great funs of travel, so please fully enjoy.

If you interested in Japanese style Onsen, Please click here
Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan >

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Japanese Traditional Onsen | Shima Onsen cure 40,000 diseases

It is said that there are more than 3,000 onsen with accommodation in Japan.

On the contrary, looking at the number of onsen in the world, Australia is about 50 and Germany is a little less than 200, thus you can see that Japan has overwhelming onsen powers. (Source: National Diet Library database)

In addition, its history and traditions are also great.

Onsen that was Described in the Japanese Oldest Book

A relationship between Japanese and onsen is so deep that there are descriptions about onsen on “Kojiki” that is said to have been compiled in A.D. 712 and is the Japanese oldest book. We often say, “Onsen culture is due to Japanese DNA.” It is exactly like that.

Where is the oldest onsen in Japan? Onsen enthusiasts often discuss it.

From a view that are appeared in the ancient texts such as Nihonsyoki (Chronicles) and Fudoki (Topography), commonly referred “Japanese three oldest onsen” are Dogo onsen (Ehime Prefecture), Arima onsen (Hyogo Prefecture), and Shirahama onsen (Wakayama Prefecture).

In the era when medical care was undeveloped, onsen was revered as Holy Land that has amazing efficacy for injury and illness. It was after the Kamakura era that bathing became a common culture same as modern. Then in the Edo era, “Toji (onsen therapy)” culture, that is people heal their fatigue in onsen during agricultural off-season, spread and has continued unbroken until now.

Tradition of Shima Onsen

Tradition of Shima onsen is also very old and nobody knows exactly, however, there are episodes, such as Shogun of the time, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, discovered it at Ezo conquest during Enryaku period (from A.D. 782 to 806) according to a legend, and Usui Hyuganokami Sadamitsu, a vassal of Minamoto no Raikou, discovered it when traveling From Echigo country to Ueno country in Eien 3 (A.D. 989).

The legend is like this. Usui Hyuganokami Sadamitsu was spending time by chanting while he was camping in the middle of the journey. Then suddenly, an unfamiliar child appeared and left mysterious surrender, “I bestow you a holy onsen that cures 40,000 diseases as I was moved by your sincerity of chanting. I am a divine spirit of this mountain.” Although Sadamitsu was almost falling asleep, he examined the peripheral in a hurry, and found onsen gushing out there. According to these legends, it is likely that onsen had been known before the 10th century.

It was during the Warring States Period of the 16th century when Shima onsen ryokan was full-fledged open. The length of history is also a proof of the height of efficacy. It is said that when taking Shima onsen, it demonstrates wonderful effects on improving skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis or burns, and poor physical condition of gastrointestinal system disease. Thus, Shima onsen is highly acclaimed as a premier Toji place. In addition, skin effect is also outstanding, thus many female customers also visit for cosmetic purposes.

Shima onsen is a spa town, and there are more than 30 accommodations along Shima river. One of them is “Sekizenkan main building,” which is said to be the existing Japanese oldest Yuyado architecture.

in front of Seisekikan

So, you can feel good old Japanese tradition. Sekizenkan is said to have become the model of the stage of “Spirited Away,” a Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece. If you look at the red bridge towards straight extending to the front door, many people raise impressed voice by superimposing with the world of the anime.


 Shima Autumn Festival

In October, a Shima autumn festival is held, where local young people play grand festival music works together. The traditional festival lives up the onsen town, so you can enjoy a little bit different Shima onsen’s taste from usual one.

“Yakushido,” a national designated important cultural property, that has been dedicated to Yunomae Myojin at Hinatami district is a symbol of Shima onsen tradition.

Walking around Small Town

It is said to be architecture of late Muromachi Era. The fact that there was such a splendid building from that time is also a testimony that Shima onsen has prospered from old time.

There is a system called “national resort onsen,” best onsen as resort designated by the Ministry of the Environment, in Japan. Shima onsen was designated as the first national resort onsen in 1954. This would show that Shima onsen is traditional and also has excellent medicinal efficacy.

As Toji culture had been remained until the 1975’s at Shima onsen, you can walk the streets where you can feel the Toji culture even now, such as shopping mall and drinking onsen spot.

Walking around Small Town

In addition, concerning the humanity of people living at Shima onsen, most of them do not care business profit that is same as in Toji era, thus people sometimes say that it is like the time of this town has stopped.

Fully enjoy onsen atmosphere at traditional Japanese onsen, especially among them, at Shima onsen with old history.

If you interested in Japanese style Onsen, Please click here
Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan >

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5 list of Onsen benefits and effects.

Shima Onsen is a well-known Onsen located at Nakanojo town in Gunma Prefecture.
Kashiwaya Onsen

In Japan, Ministry of Environment certifies onsen, which efficacy and integrity are recognized to be superior, as “national health resort onsen” and utilizes it as dissemination activities so that more people can familiarize onsen. Shima Onsen is the commemorable first onsen among more than 90 national resort onsens, thus can be called as the onsen with reliability proven by history and records.

Moreover, most sources of Shima Onsen are natural seep, thus you can expose the whole body to fresh water with less oxidation. Temperature of onsen is 50-80 degrees Celsius. You can thoroughly warm up the core of your body and indulge in a moment of bliss. Majestic scenery surrounding open-air bath also becomes a feast for the eyes, thus it has huge popularity as a retreat.

Shima Onsen is written as 「四万温泉」 in Chinese characters. It means the number 40000. It is said to be named as “forty thousand Onsen,” meaning  that the effect of full onsen  heals 40000 diseases.

There is originally a culture of “Toji” in Japan, meaning cure in onsen. Many people used to heal fatigue of body and mind by staying at onsen for one week to one month up to the 1970s.

why does onsen have a potency to heal sickness and fatigue of body and mind?

Supposedly ,It is due to the combined effect of 5 elements. Those elements are;

    • “Pharmacological effect” by efficacy components,
    • “Thermal effect” by the heat of onsen,
    • “Buoyancy effect” and “pressure effect” during bathing, and
    • “Changing environment effect” by changing environment.

Then, I introduce the detail of these five benefits.

1: “pharmacological effect”.

Shima Onsen

Quality of Shima Onsen is “sodium-calcium chloride, sulfate onsen”, of which main components are sodium chloride, calcium chloride, and sulfate ions. As it contains abundant sodium ions, you can taste little salt with a little lick.

When taking onsen, a large amount of sodium chloride components cover the body like a veil, and bring perspiration like sauna. As moisturizing effect can  be available as well as waste discharge, you can enjoy the efficacy to become beautiful moist  skin that is an eternal yearning of women. Besides anti-aging effects, improved efficacy of skin disease-relation is also known, such as abrasions, burns, atopic dermatitis, heat rash, and eczema.

In addition, minerals such as calcium and magnesium are also abundant. If bathing thoroughly, nourishing ingredients penetrate into the body, and work for relief of symptoms of neuralgia and arthritis. Relaxing effect of negative ions loosens entrenched body, and also contributes to fatigue, such as muscle pain and joint pain.

2: “thermal effect.”

TSUKI-no-yu

By warming the body in onsen, blood circulation is improved and metabolism increases, and you will see the effect preeminent in terms of both beauty and health. Customers from abroad often ask, “Why do Japanese people enjoy taking this kind of hot water in such hot summer season?” I think this is because Japanese know by instinct the utility of thermal effect. Please try to observe the situation when Japanese get into a bathtub. Most people get into bath with really pleasant voice, such as “Fu ~” and “Ha ~.”

3:”buoyancy effect” and “pressure effects.”

 “buoyancy effect.”

Kashiwaya Onsen

Buoyancy acts when entering water, such as a pool not limited to onsen, you feel like the body became lighter. This buoyancy releases from gravity, muscles loosen, and that leads to relaxation of body and mind.

 “pressure effects.”

Ashi-yu

It is said that “legs are the second heart” as about one-third of the total blood volume gathers to legs, and this blood is sent back to the heart. When bathing, blood vessels become narrow in water pressure, blood is pushed toward the heart, and as a result, the flow of veins in the lower extremities is improved, thus circulation of blood and lymph also become active.

 4: “Changing environment effect.”

Walking around Small Town

I feel that positive impact given by changing environment effect to body and mind is very strong. You may have experienced that you got refreshed by leaving a home land and placing oneself in a different environment. Starting with Shima Onsen, many Japanese onsen are located at scenic places full of the nature, this changing environment effect is especially outstanding. Traveling from overseas to Japan itself is already changing environment effect!

Walking around Small Town

By the way, Shima Onsen is renowned as “drinkable onsen,” and there is also a way to enjoy drinking onsen water as well as bathing. If you go to drinking onsen spots that are installed in some places at the onsen town, you can drink onsen water with rich nutrition. As components can be directly absorbed through digestive organs, there is a profound effect on improving disease of constipation, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal system diseases. It is said that there is also the effect on other illness, such as diabetes and gout.

Origin of the onsen name, “onsen that heals forty thousand diseases” is not a fake. Many people from all over the country visit on a regular basis for onsen treatment purposes. While eating good food, please come and experience the culture of onsen recuperation imprinted in the DNA of Japanese.

Take Shima Onsen with rich effects, heal fatigue from the journey, and enjoy  your trip to Japan trip to your heart’s contents.

If you interested in Japanese style Onsen, Please click here
Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan >

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