First of all, let’s preface this post by saying that I really really really love onsen culture in Japan! :D
Onsen (温泉) is Japanese for hot spring, and they can be found all over Japan. If you see the ♨ symbol anywhere, it usually means you are in store for some naked chill time. ;) In a nutshell, onsen facilities are usually gender segregated, often don’t allow in people with tattoos, and require you to be nude save for a small towel that people either hold in front of themselves, or place on their heads. It takes some getting used to, but it’s something that I advocate everybody does at least once when in Japan, even if it means renting your own private bath!
Some places, like the town of Gero in Gifu prefecture, are hot spots for hot springs, and have turned into resort towns with hundreds of hotels, foot baths, Japanese-style inns, and so on, where you can refresh yourself in geothermal waters.
Eager to be in onsen heaven, after my journey to Shirakawa-go, I took a bus and train over to Gero, where I spent a night.
In the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), Gero was named one of the three best onsen areas in Japan. It has since been built up, although it is still a very small town that you can easily walk in a day. It has developed into a kind of resort town with hot springs at every corner, from 5 star hotels to free, open air baths, one of which can be found under the main bridge, for all to see (!!!).
It is a charming town though! I had very, VERY low expectations after reading online that it was an ugly town with little to do. If you are not interested in onsen, then yes, there really is little to do, and honestly, I don’t see staying here for more than a day or a weekend to be necessary. However, it was not so ugrly, and the time I spent there was nice and relaxing!
Something cute about Gero is that it’s town mascot is a frog! The sounds that frogs make in Japanese is “kero kero”, and since kero sounds like Gero, voila! That is how they got their frog mascot! It’s kind of adorable, and one of it’s eyes is bigger than the other, which makes it endearing to see all over the town. :3
We arrived at night, so all we could really do was check into our hostel, where the owner recommended us to eat dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant, and watch fireworks that were starting in 15 minutes. So we did just that!
Our first surprise was the fireworks, which were set off the river bank. I didn’t manage to get a clear shot, but I will say, this was one of the most pleasant fireworks experiences I have ever had! I really hate battling crowds, standing on tiptoe to look past somebody, or worse, getting somewhere 6 hours ahead of time to secure a good spot… -_-
But this was so refreshingly different! We were standing on a bridge, which wasn’t too crowded – we came a minute before the show began and we were one person away from the railing, with a clear view. The fireworks show was varied, and the sounds echoed off the mountains around us. It was short enough that we didn’t get too cold standing in the brisk winter night weather, but long enough that it made an impression. :) Here’s to unplanned, lovely moments that surprise you!!
Our second surprise was a rather unpleasant one. We were staying in the 10 person dorm of our hostel, which was a bit stuffy, and unfortunately had one of the LOUDEST most SAVAGE snorers I have ever encountered. I have never felt more helplessly enraged than I did that night. #hostellife
Ok, so let’s get to the good stuff!!
Gero’s main pride and joy is the quality of its onsen, and they have a little wooden tablet you can buy, called a Yumeguri Tegata for 1300 yen, with which you can enter up to three different onsen.
What the blogs and websites did not tell us was that the pass could only be used during limited times (each hotel/onsen had various windows, some as short as an hour, or only on weekdays), making it a bit difficult to use on a trip that was less than 24 hours… But whatever, it is still a cool souvenir!
I only managed to make it to one onsen with the limited time schedule I was on, but it was a small, open air bath and I was the only one inside! I had a view of the town and snow frosted hills surrounding it as I sat in the small pool. It was surreal! The onsen I visited was Suihouen, and I went super early in the morning due to wanting to get out of the hostel and away from the snorer ASAP.
In an effort to get my beef fix, which had been struck the day before due to a delayed bus and shifted lunch plans, we went to a place and both had a beef set lunch. I really tried to find a beef on a leaf place, but alas… beggars can’t be choosers!
We were no longer in the Hida region – quite a bit south of it, but Hida beef seemed to be the pride of Gifu, and so we were able to find a restaurant which had it (I think!?).
Justin had a kind of rice bowl set:
I had a beef shabu shabu set, which was in a tiny, personal hot pot, along with beef strips that I swished around in the boiling water to cook:
The meal was pretty delicious, and while I can’t tell Kobe beef, from Matsusaka beef, from regular beef, I still enjoyed it! No matter what form it comes in, Hida beef is worth a try for those out there with more sensitive taste buds than me. :P
Anyway, that’s Gero for you! Worth a short trip up if you are into onsen! Spring for a ryokan or a nicer place than a hostel, if you can! They all look beautiful, have wonderful local meals, and will probably make for a much more relaxing experience than laying in silent, trembling, fury on the top bunk of a hostel, unsure whether you want to cry or kill the snorer. ;)