Staying at a traditional ryokan is a must while travelling in Japan. These Japanese-style inns combine timeless architecture with modern comforts, offering guests an authentic experience that seamlessly blends tranquillity, onsen rejuvenation, and the exquisite artistry of traditional kaiseki cuisine.
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A night in a ryokan is a unique and enriching experience that we recommend to anyone planning a visit to Japan.
Throughout our time in Japan, we had a chance to stay in a number of ryokans, but our stay at Hoshi Onsen Chojukan Ryokan in Gunma Prefecture stood out as one of the best!
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About Hoshi Onsen Chojukan
Built in 1875 at the source of a natural hot spring in Joshin’etsukogen National Park in Gunma Prefecture, Hoshi Onsen Chojukan has long been considered one of Japan’s premier traditional ryokans. Designed to be at one with nature, this onsen resort is the ultimate sustainable travel experience.
Located on the Houshi River, just half an hour’s drive from Minakami, Hoshi Onsen Chojukan is known for its long-standing history of over 140 years.
The inn is designed and modelled after a traditional bathhouse, featuring time-honoured architecture and classic ryokan elements like tatami flooring (made out of woven straw), floor cushions, traditional futon bedding, yukata robes, and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the forest and river.
Over the years, many renowned artists and writers have stayed at Chojukan, seeking inspiration and rejuvenation amongst the serene nature. Images of these famous guests now adorn the walls of the ryokan, taking you through the history of the property.
A far more secluded option than the larger nearby Kusatsu Onsen, Hoshi Onsen Chojukan offers an experience we guarantee you won’t forget!
How to Get There
Located in Joshin’etsukogen National Park, it’s just a 30-minute drive outside of Minakami town, a popular hot spring resort town and outdoor adventure hub. It’s also just a half an hour drive from Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata.
By car: From Tokyo, Hoshi Onsen Chojukan is 170 km (105.6 miles) or a 2.5-hour drive.
By train: The easiest way to get to Hoshi Onsen Chojukan is via train. From Tokyo, you can take the Jōetsu Shinkansen JR train to Jomo Kogen Station. The train journey takes about an hour and onwards, transfers from the station to the ryokan can be arranged.
Hoshi Onsen Chojukan has four different sections, including the Main Building, the Annex, Kunzanso, and Horyuden buildings, with a number of different room layouts and options to choose from.
- Main Building boasts the oldest guest room structure at Chojukan, recognized as a nationally registered tangible cultural property. Devoid of bathrooms, the rooms in this building come in different sizes and have a rich history of hosting numerous writers and artists.
- The Annex, also designated as a nationally registered tangible cultural property, was erected in 1940 and provides rooms with a picturesque view of the river, maintaining the timeless elegance of its era. Featuring bathrooms and courtyard rooms, the Annex seamlessly blends modern comfort with historical charm.
- Horyuden, a wooden two-story edifice reconstructed in 1989, comprises units with 8-jo and 4.5-jo rooms, an entrance space, and a sunken kotatsu, offering a unique and cozy setting.
- Kunzanso, a two-story wooden building erected in 1978 boasts a profound interior. This section of the ryokan provides superior rooms, each showcasing a slightly different floor plan and atmosphere.
You can stay in the oldest guest room building to take a step back in time, or you can take an option in the newer guest room building with views of the river.
All rooms at Hoshi Onsen Chojukan have been decorated in a traditional interior design style, featuring tatami (woven-straw) floors and low tables with seating cushions on the ground. Beds are traditional tatami mats, and yukata robes are provided to wear throughout the rooms and onsen areas.
Bathroom facilities are shared, except for some exceptions where the superior rooms have a sink and toilet. All bathing is done in one of the 3 on-site onsens, where visitors can enjoy the health benefits of the natural springs.
About the Onsens
There are three onsens on-site at Hoshi Onsen Chojukan, each fed by natural hot springs and mineral-rich water.
The springs are transparent calcium and sodium sulphate springs (gypsum springs) at a stable temperature of around 43°C (109 F). The water offers many healing properties and may help relieve various illnesses such as gastrointestinal issues, heartburn, and arteriosclerosis, as well as promote overall body and mind wellness.
Hoshinoyu Onsen is the most well-known and most traditional onsen of the three. It is said to have been discovered during the time of Kobo Daishi’s pilgrimage during the 9th century. This large wooden indoor bath facility is undoubtedly one of the main attractions at the Ryokan.
The bath was built over a century ago and is fed with 100% natural springs running through the cobblestones laid below. This onsen has four divided bathtubs, each with slightly different temperatures.
Hoshinoyu is the ryokan’s only mixed-gender onsen, allowing both men and women to bathe at the same time.
Tamaki no Yu
The newer and more modern of the onsens available in the ryokan, Tamaki-no-Yu is made entirely of Japanese cypress and has a more contemporary feel. It’s designed to make you feel closer to nature, with a long wall of huge floor-to-ceiling windows in front of the pools so you can gaze at the trees directly from the bath.
The glass doors open, allowing access to an outdoor bath. Come here in the evening and enjoy a stunning starry sky view while soaking in the warm onsen water.
This onsen has a rotating schedule, offering time slots for male-only and female-only bathing.
Choju no Yu
A smaller and more intimate onsen, Choju-no-Yu is ranked 6 by the Japan Natural Hot Spring Examination Organization in terms of the quality of the water source used and bathtub features and functions.
Located right by the river, it’s just a simple bathtub in a wooden room flooded with natural lighting and natural hot spring water.
This onsen also has a rotating schedule, allowing both women and men to experience at different times of the day.
Food is an essential part of the experience at Hoshi Onsen Chojukan. Keeping with the traditional nature of the property, the onsite restaurant serves an authentic Japanese breakfast and a traditional kaiseki meal for dinner.
The kaiseki meal features carefully selected seasonal ingredients from Gunma Prefecture. The multi-course meal consists of a selection of traditional appetizers, a sashimi course, cooked dishes, a rice course, and a dessert.
The chef is committed to locally sourced ingredients, like 100% Koshihikari rice grown in Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, mineral-rich water drawn from the uppermost reaches of the Hoshi River and award-winning sake to accompany the meal.
Breakfast features a variety of traditional dishes known to help kick-start your digestion and metabolism and can be served in the shared dining room or in the privacy of your room.
The meal we had at Hoshi Onsen Chojukan was an elaborate journey of the senses!
How Long Should You Stay in the Onsen
A stay at the Hoshi Onsen Chojukan Ryokan is a special experience and one worth the splurge. A night at the ryokan costs around $200-300 per person and includes dinner, breakfast, and access to all three onsen – and it is absolutely worth every penny!
If you are on a budget, we suggest staying for just one night to relax and experience the traditional culture in the onsen town. Alternatively, book yourself in for 2-3 nights and use the ryokan as a base to explore the greater Minakami area.