650 Nagai, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun, Gunma
Ph: +81278-66-0005 (main)
Hoshi Onsen Chojukan belongs to a special kind of onsen known as hitou, or secluded hot springs. To reach it you have to travel up a deep valley in Minakami, Gunma Prefecture with no other way in or out, and nature surrounding you on all sides. You get the sensation that you are approaching something a little out of the ordinary.
A Stay at a Living Museum
Hoshi Onsen Chojukan is a very special ryokan and has been recognised as a national tangible cultural property. Catching sight of the buildings and entrance for the first time you get the sense that you have slipped into another age. There are several sections to the building that have been added to over time but you can feel its age at every turn. It has been built in a valley in stages so there are many stairs as you make your way up and down to the different levels. The materials that have been used are not the kind that you can find anymore. You can see burn marks in the wooden beams from where the lanterns used to hang. The current family has been installed here since 1875. The setting, deep in the valley, is beautiful and the building somehow manages to blend in a little with the natural backdrop.
The entrance is still the original one from its early days, and as you enter you are guided to a small hearth on your left. Known as an irori, this was the source of heat and the gathering point for each household. Wood or charcoal was burned and this heated the kettle above it. It was also used for cooking, and each morning the first job of the house was to resuscitate the fire, the embers of which were often buried in the ash to keep them glowing through the night. This warm welcome is typical of Snow Country, and is still alive and well at Hoshi Onsen. Your efforts to get to this secluded inn are rewarded with a cup of warming tea from the kettle. The old chimney up to the roof is blackened with years of use and no one is sure what color the materials used there once were.
A Warm Welcome at the Irori
Old Style and Old Appearance of the Hot Spring Baths
Much like the rest of the establishment the baths retain much of their charm and appearance from a different era. A detailed analysis of the water has revealed that the water that is bubbling up from the spring here last saw the light of day forty five to sixty years ago and has since been going through its long journey through the earth. The catchment area is known to be local too. The water quality is highly regarded for its healing properties which is likely why this spring source has attracted visitors throughout the years in spite of the journey required.
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Onsen Baths from another Era
Bathing in volcanic hot spring baths has long been a practice for health and relaxation in Japan. Hoshi Onsen have classic examples of hot spring baths from a different period and they are a must-see for many travelers who make their way into the mountains to bathe here as well as soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful, old place. The quality of the water is also highly regarded by aficionados.
There are two main sections to the ryokan which sprawls across the valley linked by stairs and corridors. The newer wing is around thirty years old. The rooms in the older wings are from a different period and are simple yet elegant with great views of nature. As you sit back and relax it is easy to forget the modern world and let your thoughts slip to earlier times.
Classic Style Rooms with a Sense of History
The rooms throughout Hoshi Onsen Chojukan vary in age but all retain the traditional charm. As was the norm when it was built, there are no rooms with ensuite facilities as guests would make use of the communal baths which are the main draw. There is something very charming about staying in rooms that have seen so much history, and it is likely that a famous writer or artist once lay where you lay and enjoyed the same views. As you glance out the window you can admire the nature in the valley which is ever changing with the seasons.
Pure Natural Water for Drinking and Bathing
Hoshi Onsen Chojukan is very aware of its role in the local ecosystem and has always tried to minimize its impact. All the water being used throughout the hotel is from a mountain spring located in the valley. The famous onsen source bubbles up through the base of the bath and the bath waters are said to have plenty of healing qualities
The unusual roofing style on some of the buildings is noteworthy. It is made from sheets of cedar bark batoned down with slats of bamboo. It is a dying art but one that the inn is committed to continuing. It needs to be changed around every twelve years and requires a large investment of time and money, but is part of the image of the ryokan and its commitment to the environment. As it ages it becomes an ideal growing medium for moss and other plants. The family feels a duty and protectiveness for the building in their charge.
Hoshi Onsen Chojukan is located just off the famous Mikuni Kaido which linked Niigata with Kanto and Edo (Tokyo) via the Mikuni Pass. As a result many famous guests have dropped in over the years. The inn has plenty of old treasures and works of art that are not on display too.
Ancestors of the current family were largely responsible for financing the Joetsu Train line that runs up through Niigata. There are displays to that history to be found in the hotel including a detailed survey that covers the length of the whole line.
The huge bits of cedar that make up parts of the bath were single pieces and taken from cypress trees over 800 years old. Some of the roof beams with their impressive thickness are from trees estimated to be over 300 years old.
The remains of the old wiring around the inn are a reminder of the early days.