In the middle of Izu Peninsula south of Tokyo is the onsen town of Shuzenji, named after a temple founded 1200 years ago by Kobo Daishi (Kukai). He also reputedly founded the oldest hot-spring in the town by striking a rock with an iron bar. It was a getaway favoured by artists and intellectuals in the 19th century including Natsume Soseki. Soseki came to Shuzenji to recover from a bout of gastric ulcers. The first food he had after his long illness was rice porridge, called kayu, which moved him to write the haiku:
The taste of kayu
My insides drip with spring
Shuzenji though now exists mainly to service busloads of tourists.
Entrance to Shuzenji Temple, founded in 807 AD:
Ryokan hotels line the river:
Although it doesn’t have much to recommend it apart from the onsens, it can be a pleasant place to stroll around in the Autumn with a small bamboo forest:
Taking the Tobu Line from Asakusa in Tokyo north towards Nikko, the train branches at Shimo-imaichi station – the left takes you to Nikko while the right goes to Kinugawa. Kinugawa is an onsen hotspring town that inevitably became over-developed during the Bubble years of the 1980’s/90’s. Now, twenty years later, it has settled down into a quiet getaway from the tourist-bustle of Nikko itself with wonderful onsens, some stunning autumn foliage (although we went in Summer!) and boat rides down the river.
The name, 鬼怒川 Kinugawa, means devil or ogre river, which of course is reminded to visitors with all the subtlety one might expect in an ogre:
The Kinugawa river runs through the centre of town and down out to the rock formations of the Ryuou-kyou Ravine, which you can take a boat ride down:
You can do that, but we decided to hike it down. Following the left bank along the river affords some spectacular views of the ravine:
After a while you pass a small shrine with a waterfall:
Further along there is a bridge that crosses the ravine (with a soba noodle shop on the other side!):
From there you can hike back to town along the opposite bank. The path is dotted with summer wildflowers and even the occasional wildlife. After that, it’s time to enjoy a rewarding soak in an outdoor onsen over-looking the river.