Shima Onsen

Shima Onsen (l, lit. "Forty-thousand Hot Spring") is a sleepy hot spring town in the northwest mountains of Gunma Prefecture. Considered among the top four hot spring towns in the prefecture (alongside Kusatsu, Minakami and Ikaho), Shima Onsen is also thought to be one of the oldest in Japan. It is so named because it was once said that bathing in its abundant spring waters could heal as many ailments as its name implies.

With over 40 separate hot spring sources within its borders, the town relishes in its resources with dozens of ryokan, public bath houses, foot baths and hot spring water drinking fountains for visitors to enjoy. Despite its many attractions, Shima has managed to keep itself from becoming overdeveloped, preserving a small-town atmosphere. Nestled in a mountain valley, it also boasts a beautiful natural backdrop of mountains, waterfalls, a reservoir lake and a river that winds through the town. In autumn, the trees covering the slopes around the valley offer great views of autumn colors, usually peaking between late October and early November.

Shima Onsen is spread along the Shima River Valley and has three distinct town areas, each about a kilometer away from the other. The lower town area near the southern entrance to the valley is perhaps the quietest and is home to some of Shima's nicest riverside ryokan. The river also forms a small but beautiful gorge known as the Kamagafuchi Abyss in this area.

The central town area is the heart of Shima, where visitors can stroll down narrow streets lined with small shops, nostalgic game arcades, foot baths and hot spring water drinking fountains. Many of the town's ryokan and hotels are located in this area, including the standout Sekizenkan, a centuries-old ryokan with a beautifully preserved Taisho Era Roman-style indoor bath.

The upper town area is furthest back into the valley and higher in elevation than the lower areas. In this area you can bathe in the town's earliest discovered hot spring source at the Gomusoyu public bath or pray at the nearby Yakushido Temple which is dedicated to the town's founding. At the very end of the valley lies Okushima Lake, a reservoir lake formed by the Shimagawa Dam, as well as several waterfalls.

While the lower and central town areas are navigable on foot and are within reasonable walking distance of each other, the upper town area is more spread out and less amenable to pedestrians, especially in the remote Okushima Lake area. Buses run only as far as the Shima Onsen bus terminal in the central town. A rental car is recommended for exploring all of Shima's areas at your own pace.

Lower Town Area


Hours: 10:00 to 21:00
Closed: Fourth Wednesday of every month, New Year holidays
Admission: 500 yen for two hours of use
Seiryunoyu is a public bath house in the lower town area. Located along the Shimagawa River near the entrance to town, this modern facility is the only public bath house in Shima Onsen with an outdoor bath and features a lovely view of the river and surrounding mountains from the water.


Daytime Hours: 12:00 to 17:00
Daytime Admission: 1000 yen
Overnight Stay: From 12,000 yen per person including 2 meals
Yamaguchikan is one of the largest, oldest and most luxurious ryokan in Shima Onsen. The ryokan features some of Shima's most stunning baths, including two riverside outdoor baths, several indoor baths and private baths that can be reserved by overnight guests. Many of the baths are open to non-staying visitors in the early afternoon only.

Kamagafuchi Abyss

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free
The Kamagafuchi Abyss is a small, pretty gorge carved out of rock by the Shimagawa River. Visitors can walk along the riverside a short distance under a canopy of trees. The stairs leading to the gorge are easy to miss but are marked by a small wooden sign along the main road to Shima about 500 meters south of Seiryunoyu.

Central Town Area


Daytime Hours: 11:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:00)
Daytime Admission: 1200 yen
Overnight Stay: From 11,000 yen per person including 2 meals
Sekizenkan is one of the oldest ryokan in Shima Onsen with a history spanning over 300 years, which is reflected in its beautiful traditional exterior and rustic interior. It is particularly famous for its indoor baths, which were built in a style in vogue during the Taisho Era, featuring large arched windows and tiled floors that evoke the feel of a Roman bath house.

Shima Tamura

Daytime Hours: 10:00 to 15:00
Daytime Admission: 1730 yen
Overnight Stay: From 16,000 yen per person including 2 meals
Shima Tamura is an upscale ryokan hotel in the central area of town. It features several impressive indoor and outdoor baths, including a uniquely shaped outdoor bath which overlooks a small waterfall.


Hours: 9:00 to 15:00
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free
Kawaranoyu is a public bath house perched on some rocks at a fork of the Shimagawa River at the center of town. The distinctive cylindrical stone building is a beloved old icon for the town and the cozy, gender-separate baths inside make it a nostalgic gem for onsen aficionados.

Shionoyu Drinking Fountain

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free
One of several hot spring water drinking fountains scattered throughout the town, the Shionoyu (lit. salty hot water) fountain is centrally located on the main street through the town. The water is, as the name implies, a bit salty tasting, but drinking it is thought to help relieve a variety of ailments.

Ochiai Dori

Hours: Most shops open in the evenings
Closed: Varies, many shops closed on Tuesdays
Ochiai Dori is a narrow street in the central town area lined with several small restaurants, bars and old game arcades. The street has a pleasant, nostalgic atmosphere, best enjoyed in the evenings amidst the glowing signs and the sounds of the 1950s-era game machines. It can be rather deserted on regular weekdays.

Kashiwaya Cafe

Hours: 10:00 to 17:00 (11:30 to 14:00 weekends and holidays);
Last order 30 minutes before closing
Closed: No regular closing days, may be closed on occasion
Kashiwaya Cafe is a laid back coffee shop located at the center of the main street. As the town's only option for relatively chic dining, it can get rather crowded during busy seasons and weekends, but the food and relaxed atmosphere can be worth the wait.

Yakimanju Shimamura

Hours: 10:00 to 17:00
Closed: No closing days
Price: 300 yen per stick
Directly across the street from Kashiwaya Cafe, Yakimanju Shimamura serves yakimanju, steamed and grilled buns on a stick slathered in a sweet and savory miso-based sauce. The inviting smell and rustic storefront are a pleasant addition to the quaint, main street atmosphere.

Upper Town Area


Hours: 9:00 to 15:00 (public bath house); Always open (foot bath)
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free (donations encouraged)
Gomusonoyu or "the hot spring of dreams", is thought to be Shima's original hot spring source. According to local legend, the discoverer of Shima Onsen's hot springs walked through the forested valley at night reciting Buddhist sutras, led in a dream by a mountain god to the source of the hot spring. Today, a small, free public bath house and an outdoor foot bath give visitors a chance to soak in its waters.


Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free
Located next to the hot spring source of Gomusonoyu, Yakushido is a small, quiet Buddhist temple that enshrines Yakushi, the Buddha of healing and medicine, who is often venerated at temples in onsen towns. The hall was built in the late Muromachi Period with thatched roofing.

Shimagawa Dam and Okushimako Lake

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free
Okushimako Lake is a reservoir lake formed by the Shimagawa Dam, surrounded by forested mountains and fed by dozens of small mountain streams and waterfalls. Located at the furthest point back in the valley at a higher elevation than the town below, it is best accessed by car from the lower parts of town. The road that loops around the lake provides access to the dam itself, a public bath house and several waterfalls.

Getting there and around

By train and bus

By train you can travel as far as Nakanojo Station, from where there are local buses to Shima Onsen (50 minutes, 950 yen, one bus every 40-70 minutes). The Japan Rail Pass, JR Tokyo Wide Pass, JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass, JR East Tohoku Area Pass and JR East South Hokkaido Pass are valid on the trains to Nakanojo Station, but do not cover the bus to Shima Onsen.

There are several ways to reach Nakanojo Station from Tokyo. The most convenient option is the direct JR Kusatsu limited express which connects Tokyo's Ueno Station and Nakanojo in about two hours for around 4500 yen. However, there are only 2-3 trains per day from Ueno Station.

For more frequent (but more expensive) connections, take the JR Joetsu Shinkansen or Hokuriku Shinkansen to Takasaki Station (about one hour, around 5000 yen, frequent departures) and transfer to the JR Agatsuma Line to Nakanojo Station (about one hour, 770 yen, one train per hour).

Alternatively, you can do the whole trip by local trains, which takes about 3.5 hours, requires a transfer of trains at Takasaki or Shin-Maebashi and costs 2640 yen one way from central Tokyo (e.g. from Tokyo, Shinjuku or Ueno stations).

By highway bus

Kanetsu Bus operates one or two direct highway buses per day between Tokyo (Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit) and Shima Onsen. The one way ride takes 3.5 hours and costs 3150 yen. A round trip ticket is available for 5200 yen. For timetables and online reservations, click here.

By car

As Shima Onsen is fairly spread out, a rental car can make exploring the area easier than relying on public transportation. Rental car outlets are available at Takasaki Station. The drive takes about 1.5 hours from Takasaki Station or 45 minutes from Nakanojo Station. There are parking lots available next to most of the town's main attractions, including a large, conveniently located parking lot in the central town area. Most ryokan also provide free parking for their guests.