Although Taiwan’s Jiufen is the original inspiration for Hayao Miyazakai’s Spirited Away, Gifu Prefecture’s enchanting Japanese bathhouses will leave you with the same sense of awe Chihiro felt when she first stepped foot into Yubaba’s bustling bathhouse. Gero, located in Gifu prefecture, is considered one of the top three hot springs location in Japan. With a myriad of public foot onsens, traditional bathhouses, and the gorgeous Hida river running through, Gero is a quaint town with big views to boast.
Alex, my beloved friend from university that I met through my Japanese class, is here for the week and we thought, what better way to start a Japan tour than some hot springs exploring? (“Alex Who Came From the Stars,” is the funny title I came up with for Alex’s quirky eating and traveling habits–I swear I’ll make it into a movie one day Alex!) So with a location in mind, and a reservation at a gorgeous ryokan, we set off for Gero, Japan. Tip #1 for traveling in Japan? Buy some snacks and an お弁当 (bento box) for your long journey because a boxed lunch coupled with some amazing views from your train ride make for a scenic dining experience!
From Tokyo Station, we took the Nozomi Train and then the Wide View Hida Express from Nagoya to Gero. The trip took us roughly around 4 hours, which we thought was reasonable. Our ryokan, 湯之島館 Yunoshimakan is a grand bathhouse established in 1931 that’s accommodated a long list of celebrated guests, including previous Emperor Showa and current Emperor Akihito. Standing in a great forest, Yunoshimakan really is a enchanting ryokan with amazing views of Gero–its wooden interiors were gorgeous and refined, a testament to the building itself being designated a National Tangible Cultural Asset. Tip #2 Always book a ryokan over a hotel when in Japan, you won’t regret this cultural experience!
After checking in with our gracious hosts, we chose two colorful Yukatas, Japanese casual summer kimonos, and headed to our suite. Each Yunoshimkan suite has a different name, and ours was the 青嵐 (‘Seiran’). After settling in, we decided to do some exploring within the ryokan–check out the pictures below of Yunoshimakan’s rooms, foot onsens, and lovely views!
The part of the day we’d been looking forward to: dinner! We selected our dinner courses before our arrival, the first night was an A5 Hida Beef and Abalone Dinner Course, and the second night was a A5 Hida Beef Sukiyaki Dinner Course. What’s with all the Hida Beef you ask? Probably one of the top reasons we came to Gero of course! Hida Beef, is the name given to premium beef from black-haired cattle from the Gifu Prefecture–we had been dying to try some since we got to Gero. On top of that, Yunoshimakan uses only A5 Hida Beef, meaning the highest grade given to only the finest beef. Tip #3 If you have the option, try all the different types of Japanese Wagyu Beef!
The dinner course was a lavish and seemingly, never-ending food affair. The Hida beef and abalone were served in a variety of ways–my favorite being the sukiyaki beef and then the grilled abalone. It was my first time having abalone so I’m not exactly sure what abalone from elsewhere tastes like, but it was very delicious! An acquired taste, but definitely worth a try. Dessert was an extraordinary scoop of home made peach ice cream–you know when you can tell it’s freshly made ice cream? That was one of those moments. And lastly, to celebrate our arrival, Alex and I had some Fresh Mixed Berries Cream cake–light and fluffy, it was the perfect sweet end to a long and delicious day.
Stay tuned for our Gero trip Part II.! It’ll include our day time explorations of the Gero town and all the delicious snacks we ate–which by the way, was a lot!
And lastly, an iconic quote from Dead Poet’s Society because Robin Williams was a hero of mine growing up, teaching me that laughter is the best bandaid to heal a wounded knee and pride.
‘Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.’