Shima Onsen and the Kanto Region are full of fantastic spots for seeing the gorgeous autumn leaves. Though Tokyo is known as a bustling metropolis, there are actually many areas of Kanto that are filled with natural beauty.
The autumn foliage in Kanto is best seen between September and December, and we believe this is the next best season to visit Japan after the spring cherry blossom season. Now, allow us to introduce some of the best places to visit in Kanto during the fall. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy one of the most appealing aspects of Japan’s natural beauty!
Kanto’s Top 10 Locations for Fall Foliage
Let’s get right into it and start with our ranking of the 10 best places to see autumn leaves in Kanto.
#1: Shima Onsen / Shima River / Okushima Lake (Gunma Prefecture)
You’ll have to forgive us for putting Shima Onsen in the top spot. This is of course where our very own Kashiwaya Ryokan is located, but it isn’t an exaggeration to say that Shima Onsen is one of the best spots in Kanto for enjoying the gorgeous hues of fall. After all, we are located right in Joshin’etsu-kogen National Park.
For the past several years, Japan’s summers have been incredibly hot. In fact, from the end of the rainy season in late June through August, we often say “atsui desune” (“it’s hot, isn’t it”) instead of more standard greetings like “konnichiwa.”
Though the locals here think it’s quite warm in Shima Onsen, those who come visit from the hotter Kanto Plain area always tell us how cool it is here.
Part of the reason it’s so cool here has to do with our elevation (about 650 meters). However, an even bigger factor is the fact that the Shimagawa River, famous for its Shima Blue water, runs alongside the onsen town.
The water of Shimagawa River is cold even in summer, and the wind that blows from the river envelops Shima Onsen Town. It’s just like a natural air conditioner!
There are many areas near the river in Shima to enjoy the cool weather.
Ishigashira no Sawa is located across from Asahi Bridge, and its water runs into the Shimagawa River.
Ishigashira no Sawa is very close to Kashiwaya Ryokan, making it perfect for a morning or evening stroll. You can play in the water there, and there is also an abundance of fish that you can catch. If you are in the area now, you can enjoy the bamboo lanterns as well.
About 1.5 meters down-river from Kashiwaya you can see natural pools in the Shimagawa River called oketsu. Recently you can even see people swimming in these pools.
Step away from the lights of the central Shima Onsen area and National Highway 353 on a clear night, and you can see a beautiful night sky filled with stars and a beautiful moon.
The picture above was taken on a calm August night around 10pm at Okushima Lake, the northernmost point of Shima Onsen.
We were able to take a truly fantastic photograph of the starry night sky directly above the dam embankment where you can clearly see the Milky Way. But you don’t have to go that far to see a sight like this. Take a backroad near Kashiwaya Ryokan to get away from the streetlamps, and you can see a gorgeous night sky like that in the pictures below.
Both of these photos were taken at a location just a 3-minute walk from Kashiwaya Ryokan. Of course, the view of the night sky from our open-air baths is also excellent!
When you come visit Shima Onsen, why not try taking a picture of the gorgeous stars.
And don’t forget to share your pictures to Instagram if you take a good one!
In Japan, there are fresh seasonal fruits you can eat during any time of year. Apples, grapes, tangerines, strawberries, peaches, Japanese pears–you name the fruit, and you can find it in Japan. What’s more, there are fruits in season all year round due to the diligent efforts of our farmers.
And wherever you go, there are also tourist friendly orchards that allow you to pick your own fruit!
In Japan, all-you-can-eat fruit-picking is very popular. You just pay the entrance fee, go into the orchard, and pick as many fruits as you can eat. Popular even among international visitors, you can enjoy fruit picking right here in the Shima Onsen area.
In the Shima Onsen area, we especially recommend apple picking.
Nakanojo, where Shima Onsen is located, is a big producer of apples, and there are many growers in the area. The different varieties of apples are harvested from August all the way through November, and the apple-picking season for visitors also coincides with this period.
In early August you can enjoy the Tsugaru (notable for its fresh, sweet flavor) and Sansa (balanced sweet and sour flavor) varieties. October is the season of the juicy and deeply flavorful Akibae, as well as the bright red Yoko variety developed here in Gunma. And finally, the world-famous Fuji variety is ready to harvest in November.
Fuji apples are the most representative of Japanese apples, making up a majority 55% of all apples harvested in Japan. In recent years, they have been produced in other countries (notably, China and USA), and it is said that they are the most commonly grown apple variety in the world. The Fuji apple is about the size of a baseball and has a superbly sweet flavor. A hybrid of the Red Delicious and Ralls Genet varieties of apple, it first came to the market in 1962.
Being able to eat as many of these amazing apples for just one coin (500 JPY, or about 5 USD) is a dream come true to fruit lovers!
For apple-picking in the Shima Onsen area, we recommend Kanai Farm, Shirogami Fruit Park, and Jindaira Farm, all of which are accessible via public transportation (local bus bound for Nakanojo Station).
The fee for all-you-can-eat apple-picking is only 500 yen. If you want to take any of your apples home, extra fees will apply.
In the Shima Onsen area, you can also enjoy strawberry, peach, blueberry, and many other varieties of fruit picking during various seasons.
We hope you enjoy the diligently cultivated flavors of Japan’s gorgeous countryside when you visit.
Shima Onsen is a sprawling hot spring (or onsen) town located along the Shima River. The town area covers about 3km north to south. However, if you measure from the southermost oketsu (mysterious indentations in the riverbed that Shima is famous for) to the northernmost Shima River Dam, the onsen covers a length of 6km.
Now, this distance is only a short car ride, but on foot it might be a bit daunting. That’s why the mode of transportation we recommend for traversing Shima Onsen has to be…bicycle!
What’s more, we offer free rental bikes to our guests at Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan, so please don’t hesitate to use them!
Kashiwaya Ryokan is located at an elevation of about 634 meters, the same as Tokyo Sky Tree in Asakusa. The elevation at Okushima Lake is about 770 meters, so to get there you would climb 130 meters. Climbing up the dam itself Is roughly 70 meters, which means it’s only about 70 meters from Kashiwaya Ryokan to the bottom of the dam (the Hinatami area).
In other words, it’s a very gentle slope that you can take your time climbing without getting too tired out.
From the central town area to Arayu District is about 2km, or 10 minutes, and from Kashiwaya Ryokan to Okushima Lake should take about 30 minutes.
We had biking trip to Okushima Lake, so be sure to check it out!
Let’s start on our bike ride to Okushima Lake!
Onsen guchi Area
The area around Kashiwaya Ryokan is known as the entrance to the hot springs (Onsen Guchi).
2min, 450m –
Handmade soba and udon noodles at Tsuchiya.
3min, 800m –
Ichiriki Sushi, Shima Onsen’s only sushi restaurant.
Washinoya sells alcohol, craft beer and foodstuffs like a convenience store.
Enjoy a free foot bath at Okinaya.
When you come to Japan, where would you like to go? Maybe to Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world. Or to Kyoto, full of ancient shrines and temples. Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan are major draws, and then there’s Mount Fuji…
This country is full of so many things to see and enjoy.
Overseas guests who stay with us here at Kashiwaya Ryokan in Shima Onsen tell us that they’ve come from Kyoto or that their next stop is Hiroshima, or that they’re on their way to Nagano to see the Snow Monkeys, or Matsumoto Castle. It’s amazing how many places they visit while they’re in Japan.
Visitors who have already enjoyed most of their trip tell us how glad they are to have arrived at such a quiet, relaxing place. They say they feel far away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world.
In fact, Shima Onsen has long been known as a place “to wash away the dust and dirt of the world,” where guests can relax, enjoy the healing waters, and take a break from their cares. Visitors from abroad usually don’t know about Shima Onsen’s reputation, but we don’t think it’s a coincidence that they feel the same way about it Japanese have felt for hundreds of years.
Guests are delighted, of course, with our three private baths where tattoos are allowed, Japanese cuisine, Japanese-style accommodations and the service provided by our staff. We suspect, though, that their favorite part is the quiet of Shima Onsen, and its old-fashioned Japanese atmosphere.
Words we often hear from our guests are “relaxing,” “peaceful,” and “quiet.”
Here’s a suggestion for travelers: choose Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan for the last night of your trip to Japan. Read here about the experience of one of our satisfied customers.
When I think about staying at a Japanese Ryokan, the first thing that comes to mind is relaxing in a yukata. A yukata is a type of light cotton kimono that all onsen ryokan have available to guests. Yukata are popular even among our international guests, and they allow you to relax during your stay at a ryokan while experiencing Japanese culture on a deeper level.
We’ve put together some essential information about yukata and how to wear them here.
First, the yukata is just one type of traditional kimono in Japan. This means there are many other kinds in Japan. For example, women can wear one of two kinds of kimono at formal occasions: tomesode for married women or furisode for unmarried women. There are also plain black kimono for mourning, which traditionally have a family crest embossed on them. There are even special kimono just for guests.
For men’s formalwear we have the nagagi robes, haori jacket, and hakama trousers which form the base of the outfit. On these robes there may be as many as 5 family crests depending on the person’s rank. There are also black habutae kimono made from silk. And for men’s everyday wear, there are the iromuji, samue, and jibei robes.
Anyone who speaks English probably knows the proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In Japanese we also have a very similar saying: 郷に入れば郷に従え（go ni ireba go ni shitagae). It means that if you enter a foreign country or region, it is wise to follow the customs and ways there.
I believe that travelling is about not only seeing new sights, but also learning more about another country and culture.
However, during a long journey you will naturally miss the customs of your home country. We Japanese sometimes visit Japanese restaurants abroad. I think this is because many of us become homesick while travelling. Of course, I also believe it is a benefit for international travellers to step out of their comfort zone and learn about other cultures. That’s why I highly recommend staying at a Japanese ryokan.
The number of international visitors to Japan has been increasing at an incredible rate. According to the Japan Tourism Agency, there were 8.3 million international visitors in 2007, while there were 29 million in 2017. That means in just 10 years the number of international visitors has more than tripled. These visitors come in many forms: some in groups, some on business or with family, and, of course, many travel alone.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, 11.8% of tourists come alone. Travelers from America are especially likely to travel on their own. While 30% of all visitors who visit Japan for sightseeing travel alone, if we include travelers on business this number increases to 52.9% among Americans.
So, where do you think these travelers are choosing to stay?
Of course, some stay in traditional Japanese accommodations such as ryokan, while others stay in standard hotels, rental houses, or Airbnb rentals. And still others choose to stay in Japan’s capsule hotels, an oddity you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
While there are a variety of options for accommodations, all can be suited to the solo traveler. Though many guidebooks state that traditional ryokan did not originally accommodate individual travelers, this is no longer the case. In fact, many onsen ryokan now welcome guests traveling alone.
We at Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan in Gunma Prefecture have had the pleasure of boarding many international guests traveling alone. Whether men or women, such travelers have indeed been increasing steadily in recent years.
Our onsen ryokan has even been featured on Japanese media because of how accommodating we are to solo travelers. Once when we were being featured on TV, there happened to be an American woman staying here by herself, and she was kind enough to speak with the TV crew. Continue reading →