We have been writing about various atractions of Gunma prefecture.
Gunma Part 1: 2,000m mountains just 1 hour or two from Tokyo
Gunma Part 2: Water, gift from the mountains

Gunma is the Kanto region's largest Onsen, or hot spring hub. There are many unique hot springs, including ancient hot springs with a history of more than 1,000 years, hidden hot springs deep in the mountains, and hot springs with spectacular views overlooking the plateau and clear streams. As mentioned in a previous article, Gunma has many mountains, especially volcanoes, which is why it is said to have an abundance of hot springs. Notable examples include the famous Kusatsu Onsen, which was called "the King of Onsen in eastern Japan" in the Edo period, as well as Ikaho, Minakami, Manza, and Shima, which are particularly famous. According to a 2018 survey by the Ministry of the Environment's Nature Conservation Bureau, there are 96 hot springs in Gunma Prefecture, the ninth most in Japan, and of course,the first place in the Kanto region. There are also 836 hot spring facilities (582 lodging facilities and 254 public bathhouses), which is an impressive 6th in Japan and 1st in the Kanto region. As a fixer in Japan, I would like to introduce some of the most attractive hot springs recommended for shooting.

Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu Onsen is located in the northern part of Gunma Prefecture, approximately three hours' drive from Tokyo. More than 32,300 litres of hot spring water gushes out naturally every minute, the most in Japan. Together with Arima Onsen and Gero Onsen, it is known as one of the three best hot springs in Japan. Kusatsu Onsen is extremely hot, with temperatures ranging from 50°C to 90°C, so hot that it is not possible to bathe in the hot spring as it is. For this reason, the temperature of the water is lowered by the open air in Kusatsu's famous 'yubatake' (hot spring fields) and 'yumomi' (an old style cooling method) before being transported to the various inns and hot spring areas. It is also one of the most highly acidic hot springs in Japan. Please note that wearing jewellery in the hot springs will cause discolouration, so please make sure to remove it before entering. Of course, be careful not to submerge your filming equipment.

Fixer-recommended shooting point 1: Yubatake

Located in the centre of the hot spring resort, the Yubatake is the symbol of Kusatsu Onsen and is the facility used to collect hot water flowers, a component of the hot spring water, and to regulate the temperature of the water. The hot spring water is poured over the surface of the ground and into wooden flumes, and several times a year the sulphur that precipitates in the flumes is collected as Yunohana (hot water flowers). More than 32,300 litres of hot spring water gushes out every minute, and there is always a cloud of hot spring water dancing in the air. I have been involved in filming here as a fixer, and the area around Yubatake is highly recommended for filming the typical Japanese-style scenery with its tile-lined walkways, public bathhouses, footbaths, restaurants and souvenir shops.

Address of Yubatake
401 Kusatsu, Agatsuma District, Gunma

Fixer-recommended shooting point 2: Yumomi at Netsunoyu

Kusatsu Onsen, one of Japan's most famous hot springs, has a culture of 'Yumomi' that has continued since the Edo period. The source of the hot spring water in Kusatsu Onsen is often between 50°C and 90°C, and must be brought down to a temperature at which it is safe to bathe. However, if water is added to the hot spring to achieve this, it dilutes the benefits of the hot spring. The traditional method of lowering the temperature without diluting the ingredients is called 'Yumomi'. Yumomi girls line up in the bathtub and stir the water with a wooden plank about 180 cm long, accompanied by the call of 'choina choina'. Even today, the emotive pattern of the Yumomi can be observed and experienced at the Netsunoyu. A very interesting shooting point!

Address of Netsunoyu
414 Kusatsu, Agatsuma District, Gunma

(Contact Information for filming in Kusatsu Onsen)
Kusatsu Hot spring Tourist Association
Tel: +81 279 88 0800
Email: you-love@kusatsu-onsen.ne.jp

Ikaho Onsen

Along with Kusatsu Onsen, Ikaho Onsen is a hot spring mecca that represents Gunma Prefecture. It is a little closer to Tokyo than Kusatsu and can be reached in a little over two hours by car. Its soft, brownish-brown 'golden water' is said to warm the body from the core, and has been used since ancient times to relieve the fatigue of spa healers and tourists. The streets of the hot spring resort are full of the atmosphere of a journey, and are highly recommended for shooting a slightly retro Japanese landscape.

Fixer-recommended shooting point 1: Stone Steps

The stone steps, the symbol of Ikaho Onsen, were built 400 years ago to pray for the prosperity of the hot spring resort. The staircase was added in 2010 to pray for prosperity 365 days a year, and now has 365 steps. The difference in elevation to the top step is a staggering 68m.
The stone steps are flanked by souvenir shops, Manjū (steamed bun) shops, a free footbath and a shooting range, which, when combined with the sightseers in yukata (light cotton kimono), make for a scene that is full of Japanese atmosphere. Be sure to check out the zodiac signs and poets' songs inscribed on the stone steps.

Stone Steps Street Address
76-5 Ikahomachi Ikaho, Shibukawa, Gunma

Fixer-recommended shooting point 2: Kajika Bridge

Ikaho Onsen has a must-see spot for Ghibli fans. The impressive red suspension bridge in front of the bathhouse in the legendary animation film 'Spirited Away'. The red suspension bridge is said to have been modelled on the Kajika Bridge. This bridge is a wooden red suspension bridge on Yumoto-dori, a five-minute walk from Ikaho Shrine, which is located at the top of the 365 stone steps of the symbolic Ikaho Stone Step Street.
The bright vermilion bridge looks great in the natural landscape and allows for photogenic scenes to be taken. Maple trees grow thickly around the Kajika Bridge, and as well as the autumn leaves, the green maple trees are beautiful in summer, and in winter the bright vermilion bridge stands out against the white snow, providing a spectacular contrast. The autumn leaves usually peak at the beginning of November, and from late October, when they begin to change colour, the bridge is lit up at night, giving it a very attractive glossy look that is different from the freshness of the daytime.

Kajika Bridge Address
586-2 Ikahomachi Ikaho, Shibukawa, Gunma

(Contact Information for filming in Ikaho Onsen)
Shibukawa Ikaho Onsen Film Commission
Tel: +81 279 22 2182
Email: film"@"city.shibukawa.gunma.jp

Ryokan Sekizenkan in Shima Onsen

There is actually another ryokan in Gunma that is rumoured to be the model for the setting of Spirited Away. This is the Sekizenkan ryokan in Shima Onsen, which is a two-hour and 40-minute drive from Tokyo. Shima Onsen has a 1300-year history and was the first hot spring in Japan to be designated as a national recreational hot spring resort.
Returning to the connection between Sekizenkan and the Ghibli film, the red bridge in front of the main building is said to be the model for the red suspension bridge in front of the bathhouse, along with the Kajika Bridge in Ikaho. The building to the right of the bridge is the building where the famous Genroku no Yu baths are located, and the wooden structure above it is also rumoured to resemble the maid's room in the bathhouse in Spirited Away.
The main building of Sekizenkan was built in 1691, and is said to be the oldest surviving wooden bathhouse building in Japan. It is designated as an important cultural asset by Gunma Prefecture and has high historical value. It is a rare building that still retains a strong atmosphere of good old Japan, so if you come to the area for a story, please visit and film it.

Sekizenkan Address
4236 Shima, Nakanojo, Agatsuma District, Gunma

This time, as a fixer, I have introduced famous hot springs in Gunma Prefecture that I would like to recommend for filming. In my next article, I would like to write about hot springs and temples that I could not introduce this time.

Please read othere articles featuring Gunma.
Gunma Part 1: 2,000m mountains just 1 hour or two from Tokyo
Gunma Part 2: Water, gift from the mountains
Gunma Part 3: Hot Spring Kingdom
Gunma Part 4: Other attractions

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