Fellow travelers, I have some great news! I am finally back on the road again! I’m still playing things relatively cautiously in regards to overnight adventures (basically only to alleviate fears of overly cavalier Tokyoites invading rural areas) yet I’ve been making day trips whenever possible. While it looks like I won’t be able to accomplish my goal of visiting all 47 prefectures within the year, it’s great to finally be able to sate the ever-growing wanderlust. Hopefully, I can start venturing outside of the Greater Tokyo Region once again in the coming weeks.
Given I am confined to what can be done in a mere single day, I want to take this opportunity to introduce an often skipped hot spring town that I’ve been meaning to feature for some time. Known as Yugawara Onsen, this little hamlet can be found right on the western border of Kanagawa Prefecture. Though by no means an unknown, Yugawara Onsen often gets neglected in favor of its neighbor, the timeworn town of Atami. That said, this onsen collective has been around for eons and is every bit as appealing.
One thing to note is that Yugawara is a bit more mature than Atami when it comes to attractions. While Atami has a great selection of allures geared toward entertaining families and groups, Yugawara has more of a refined atmosphere to it. As such, it probably caters better to couples or those traveling without young children. While Yugawara Onsen can definitely amuse these types of parties, there’s far less options for entertaining the little ones.
How to Get There
When it comes to accessibility, know that Yugawara Onsen is as conveniently located as an onsen town can be. All you need to do is make your way to Yugawara Station. This can be accomplished either by taking the slower but cheaper JR Tokaido Line or by hopping on one of the Kodama bullet trains bound for Kyoto. As always, refer to Jorudan or a similar service for scheduling. Just note that if you opt for the more expedient method, you’ll need to actually bypass Yugawara Station and get off at Atami Station. From there, you’ll have to take the JR Tokaido Line one stop by to Yugawara.
Once you’ve reached Yugawara Station, things do get a bit more difficult. Most of the action is located approximately thirty minutes on foot from the station. While those who have wisely reserved accommodations can often arrange for a pickup, day trippers will need to either hoof it or navigate the buses. Luckily, this isn’t all too challenging. What’s more, should you find yourself perplexed, you can easily inquire about logistics at Yugawara’s Tourist Information Center. This can be found directly in front of the train station, right next to the News Days convenience store.
Before moving on, note that much like its neighbor Atami, Yugawara Onsen is easy to reach for those holding JR rail passes. This is because you can ride any of the Kodama or Hikari bullet trains without any further financial investment. While the JR Tokaido Line will take you over ninety minutes to reach Yugawara Station, the requisite travel time can be halved by taking the bullet trains. What’s more, you can also opt to explore areas like Yugawara Onsen as day trips en route to eternally popular destinations such as Kyoto.
What to See in Yugawara
Like a fine vintage wine, Yugawara Onsen is a location that should be savored. Home to a number of fine ryokan, this is an area that you seek to escape the worries of the day. As such, approaching Yugawara Onsen as a sightseeing destination is a big no-no in my book. Instead, you should really plan on overnighting in one of the many traditional Japanese inns that dot the hillside. If for some reason you insist on doing a day trip, understand that there are actually a few onsen facilities open for non-staying guests so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.
In terms of attractions, keep in mind that the main charm of Yugawara Onsen is that it is a getaway from the stress and busyness of life. That said, there are a number of spots that I suggest visitors to check out. Below is a list of the venues that I found most appealing…
- Manyo Park
Yugawara Onsen was first mentioned in the Manyoshu, a famous collection of poetry from the 8th century. In honor of this, the town erected the naturally beautiful enclave pictured above. Inside, you’ll find a hodgepodge collection of shrines, tea houses, rivers, and waterfalls. Manyo Park is conveniently located in the heart of all the onsen facilities and thereby makes for an easy add-on.
Located but a mere stone’s throw from Yugawara Station, this temple has numerous historical ties to the infamous Minamoto Yoritomo and his eventual founding of the Kamakura shogunate. Inside the temple precincts, you’ll find seven wooden statues of this legendary clan leader. Additionally, there’s also an impressive, eight-hundred year-old Chinese juniper tree here to witness as well.
- Gosho Shrine
If you’re a glutton for punishment like I am and opt to walk to Yugawara’s main onsen area, you’ll pass this shrine en route. Though Gosho Shrine holds untold claims to historical anecdotes and connections with the Minamoto clan, many of these will go right over the heads of most readers. So, instead, I’ll just recommend that you check out the ancient camphor tree at Gosho Shrine. It’s a testament to Mother Nature!
Located approximately two-thirds of the way to the main hot spring area of Yugawara Onsen, this rather nondescript temple belies a secret draw. Venture out back and you’ll find a ceramic effigy of the Buddha that was formerly housed at Nagoya Castle. Allegedly, it was created at the behest of a reigning Tokugawa shogun to mourn the passing of his mother. Today, all that remains is the head and no one knows what happened to the body.
- Yugawara Art Museum
Truth be known, I actually had to skip this museum due to the coronavirus closure. From what I’ve read, the facility houses nearly four-hundred pieces of art created by neighboring artisans living within the region. What’s more, it also seems like the works on display rotate in and out every three months. If you’re an art connoisseur, I’d add this stop to the list!
Before moving on, note that Yugawara also has a great beach too. While I can’t imagine anyone would venture down to this part of Kanagawa Prefecture simply for the beach, nonetheless the ocean awaits those looking to take a seaside stroll (might make for a good post hot spring walk). Additionally, there’s also a number of breathtaking waterfalls strewn about Yugawara for the nature lovers out there too.
Other Nearby Attractions
While I’ll risk beating a dead horse and sounding like a broken record player, I want to reiterate how close Yugawara and Atami are located to each other. Essentially, any of the myriad attractions in Atami are on the table for those staying in Yugawara. For example, you could spend the day exploring all that Atami has to offer (assuming you’re not traveling with minors, be sure not to miss the Atami Adult Museum) and then head back to the stillness of Yugawara for the evening. This way, you can sample the best of both onsen towns.
To avoid this article being any longer than it needs to be, I am going to defer to my previously published guide to Atami here. The piece is ranking very highly in Google and is sure to answer any queries you may have about the lovely, oceanfront onsen town.
Until next time travelers…