Manza Onsen (万座温泉) is a hot spring resort town located 1800 meters above sea level, high up on the slopes of Mount Shirane at the northwestern edge of Gunma Prefecture. Its highly acidic waters are obtained from Mount Shirane and are among the most sulfuric in all of Japan. They are known to provide various health benefits through improving metabolism and blood circulation.
Manza Onsen has several hotels and ryokan with outstanding hot spring baths. In particular, the open air baths are a treat with their excellent waters and tranquil setting. Guaranteed snow in the winter makes the town one of the best places near Tokyo to enjoy an outdoor bath in the snow. The following is a list of recommended ryokan and hotels that open their baths not only to staying guests but also to daytime visitors:
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Above the town, there is a small network of pleasant walking trails around the valley which contains a lot of the hot spring sources. It is also the site of Manza's Yubatake ("hot water field"), a pool in which some of the thermal waters accumulate; however, it is too hot for bathing. One of the trails also leads to an observation point with views over the town. Due to the snow, the walking trails are unaccessible during the winter.
Instead, Manza Onsen offers skiing and snowboarding from around mid December to late March or early April. The town's small resort has four lifts and is operated by the Manza Prince Hotel that stands right next to the ski slope and also offers rental equipment and package plans that combine accommodation with ski passes.
How to get to Manza Onsen
By train and bus via Karuizawa
Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Karuizawa (65 minutes, around 5500 yen) and then a Seibu bus from Karuizawa Station to Manza Onsen (110 minutes, 2940 yen one way). Note that there are only 2-3 buses per day and that JR passes are not valid on the buses between Karuizawa and Manza Onsen.
By train and bus via Manza Kazawaguchi
The closest railway station to Manza Onsen is JR Manza Kazawaguchi Station from where there are infrequent buses to Manza Onsen (45 minutes, 1370 yen one way). In fact, there is really only just one convenient connection per day.
The fastest way to get from Tokyo to Manza Kazawaguchi Station is by shinkansen and local train via Takasaki (about 2.5 hours, 6000 yen one way), but the trip can also be done entirely by local trains (about four hours, 3410 yen one way, one transfer at Takasaki). 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, but not on the buses.
By bus from Kusatsu
Convenient public transportation between Kusatsu Onsen and Manza Onsen is currently non-existing. There used to be infrequent buses via Mount Shirane, but because the mountain is still closed to tourists, the buses are out of service.
By hotel bus for staying guests
Some of Manza's hotels offer free shuttle bus services from Karuizawa Station or packaged transport and accommodation plans for tourists departing from Tokyo.
Access to Manza Onsen from the south leads via a toll road that costs 1070 yen one way per car (overnight guests can get a waiver for the return journey from their hotels). Access from the north is not possible during winter due to road closures around Mount Shirane from around early November to mid April.
How to get around Manza Onsen
Manza Onsen is a compact, small town. Most attractions and hotels in the town center are accessible on foot, although the roads are steep and tend to be slippery in winter. The summit of Mount Shirane is located about a 15 minute bus or car ride north, above the town.