Sunday, 10 March 2013

On the road to Takaragawa Onsen

One happy traveller
On Google maps it looked like there were two ways to get to Takaragawa Onsen from Nikko. A shorter northern route over the mountains and a longer southern route that looped around west then north to Takaragawa. Some roads across the mountains are closed in winter. We knew this from the last time we visited Japan. There were two roads into Shirahone Onsen, only one was open to traffic in the Winter. I had a sneaky suspicion that would be the case here so we decided to go to the visitors information centre in Nikko and ask. I think the guy there said he didn't know about the northern route or it was closed. His English wasn't great and my Japanese is non-existent. Either way he did indicate that I should take the longer southern route.
Supply stop

We were kind of disappointed we couldn't take the mountain route but it was better to be safe than sorry. We would be spending plenty of time in the mountains anyway. Or we hoped so. We'd also be leaving Tochigi Prefecture and going to Gunma Prefecture.

Most of the way was freeway/tollway/expressway again until we turned off for Minakami. Then we hit snow, real snow, for the first time. It wasn't snowing but there were still huge drifts each side of the road and covering trees and houses. Finally we were back in the snowy countryside of our last trip to Japan. I know if you're from a climate where you get big snow drifts an blizzards every Winter it can be mundane or a pain in the arse but for us from sunny Australia, where we rarely see snow like this, it is a Winter wonderland.
Come on Michelle, don't be shy
That's better. Starbucks iced latte found in all good convenience store fridges

The town of Minakami is in a long narrow valley that stretches for miles. It is on the train line so even though it feels isolated it is reachable from civilisation. We stopped at a Yamazaki, Bread & Food, to pick up supplies. Isolated Ryokans can be limited in the junk food they carry, if any, so we wanted to stock up on chocolate and snacks and yoghurt and bananas for Georgia. We've been looking for gloves for Georgia too. We tried in Australia and it was too soon. By the time we got to Tokyo it was too late. We're hoping, in a ski resort (Minakami is a ski resort), we might be able to finally find gloves in small child sizes. Now that there is so much snow on the ground gloves will be essential.

After passing though Minakami we're directed off the main road up a slight incline and winds into the hills. The road we're following has a concrete centre line with what appears to be brass or metal plugs. I can only assume they stick lane dividers into the holes which are every few metres? God know why though, because the road is fairly narrow. After a few bends another another steep valley opens up but there is more of a flood plain.The river appears wider at this point but it is hard to tell where fields begin and the river ends because it is all covered with snow and ice. We drop down to valley floor and cross a bridge into the tiny snow drift covered hamlet of Fujiwara. We take a left at yet another valley fork and follow the river to Takaragawa Onsen. This valley is steeper and closer. It is almost more like a canyon. Takaragawa Onsen is the end of the road and seemed to be only a collection of a couple of hotels. I'm not sure if all the hotels are the one complex or not but our hotel is called Osenkaku Ryokan. The car park of our hotel is the end of the road as far as our GPS is concerned. It looks like one road in, one road out. The hotel is perched above and along the river, the Takaraga, that cuts through the valley.

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