Japan is world-renowned for its abundance of ski resorts and top-notch powder snow.
Niseko in Hokkaido and Hakuba in Nagano are particularly popular among international visitors and residents.
In fact, many come to and live in Japan for the sole purpose of enjoying some of the best slopes in the world.
Of course, some visitors may have other things in mind when visiting.
Some prefer just a taste of the snow while enjoying the scenery, shopping, or onsen. Shima Onsen offers the perfect solution to such visitors.
Although there are no ski resorts in the direct vicinity of Shima Onsen, it takes a mere 2 hours by car to get to the world-class slopes in Naeba or the powdered dreamland of Karuizawa.
Imagine taking a day-trip to a snowboarder’s paradise and returning to relax your weary muscles in Shima Onsen’s healing waters.
For international visitors who decide to rent a car, such a day-trip could be the perfect way to spend your time here at Shima Onsen.
Read on for more information on the many ski resorts in the Shima Onsen Area!
Naeba Ski Resort is a world-renowned ski resort which has hosted the Alpine Ski World Cup in the past.
Although located in the neighboring Niigata Prefecture, the ski resort is surprisingly close—only an hour and a half by car!
Just take the Kan-Etsu Expressway’s Tsukiyono Interchange (IC) to get there in a flash.
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 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.
“Hanami” is Japanese traditional custom, which means to admire cherry blossoms.
It is not an exaggeration to say that all Japanese are looking forward to the time of cherry blossom.
We, living at Shima Onsen, are not an exception. We always talk about Ohanami when It comes to a cherry blossom season at Tokyo (late March), such as “When do cherry blossoms at Shima Onsen bloom?”, “Do they bloom beautiful this year also?”, “When should we do Ohanami this year? “, and so on.
There is no so-called “Ohanami attractions” at Shima Onsen, where all over the place is covered with cherry blossoms.
Instead, there are various kinds of cherry blossoms bloom in mountains, such as wild cherry trees, weeping cherry trees, Yoshino cherry trees, double cherries, and so on.
They dye mountains with pink dots and tell the arrival of spring to the mountain village.
You can view weeping cherry trees from private open-air baths of Kashiwaya Ryokan.
You can also enjoy Yoshino cherry trees planted on the front riverbanks from deck terraces.
In addition, you can enjoy double cherries at the Shima Onsen town.
The double cherries around “old Nakanojo Municipal third elementary school,” an old wooden school building that had been closed down, are very impressive.
A weeping cherry tree at “Rinshoji,” an old temple near Nakanojo Station which is the nearest station of Shima Onsen, has height of 16m and is spectacular.
It has been designated as a natural monument of the town.
The altitude of Shima Onsen is about 650m, so the flowering period of cherry blossoms is later than that of around Tokyo, even it is at the same Kanto region.
Weeping cherry tree at “Rinshoji” near Nakanojo Station is for about 15 days from April 10.
Within Shima Onsen, wild cherry tree, weeping cherry tree, and Yoshino cherry tree are about 25 days from April 20, and double cherries are about 10 days from May 5.
(The full bloom season changes depend on the weather of the year.)
Please enjoy cherry blossoms slowly at Shima Onsen!
When you go to Shima Onsen by the public transportation, you may get lost or cannot find way easily, even though you looked for the way in advance.
Then, here’s what you can utilize.
Download these images in advance then you’re ready!
Please utilize these images.
When you get on a highway bus, Shima Onsen-go, from Tokyo
When go to a bus stop from Tokyo Station.
I want to go to a highway bus stop in front of “Seven Eleven Nihonbashi 3 Chome Shop” on Tokyo Yaesu Street.
Once you get on a bus (show this Image to a driver)
Dear a driver of Shima Onsen-go,
Thank you for driving a bus for our customer.
He/she is our customer.
He/she is getting off at Onsen-guchi.
Please take care of him/she.
When you take Shinkansen, JR Agatsuma Line, and a bus
I’m heading to Kashiwaya Ryokan at Shima Onsen, Gunma.
I use Shinkansen to Takasaki Station.
From Takasaki Station to Nakanojo Station, I use JR Azuma Line.
I get on a bus bound for Shima Onsen and get off at Seiryu-no-yu bust stop.
When you take an express, Kusatsu-go, from Ueno
I’m heading to Kashiwaya Ryokan at Shima Onsen, Gunnma.
I use JR express “Kusatsu-go” from Ueno Station to Nakanojo Station.
I get on a bus bound for Shima Onsen and get off at Seiryu-no-yu bust stop.