The Ultimate Japanese Experience: Tsuganoki, A Traditional Ryokan In Kinugawa Onsen

Last Updated on 06/01/2024 by secretmoona

During my trip to Japan, I had an unforgettable experience staying at a ryokan. For the first time, I chose to stay at Tsuganoki in Kinugawa. Tsuganoki in Kinugawa Onsen.

Kinugawa Onsen, also known as 鬼怒川温泉, is a charming hot spring resort town in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. Located alongside the Kinugawa River, it is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway from the city, being in close proximity to the popular Nikko. Kinugawa Onsen boasts of natural beauty, including stunning outdoor onsens, beautiful scenery, and a clear river. This destination is perfect for those looking for a peaceful and relaxing break away from the crowds, with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.

How to get to Kinugawa Onsen

To get to Kinugawa Onsen from Asakusa Station in Tokyo, you can take the Tobu Railway. Simply take the Nikko-Kinugawa Line from Asakusa Station to Kinugawaonsen Station, which should take you about 2 hours. Alternatively, you can travel from Shinjuku Station in roughly the same amount of time.

From Nikko, you can take the same line to Shim-Imaichi Station and then transfer to the Tobu-Nikko Line, which will take you to Tobu-Nikko Station in about 35 minutes. If you’re an international traveller, you can take advantage of the Nikko Pass, which offers a round-trip train fare from Asakusa, train and bus fare in the Nikko area, and train fare in the Kinugawa Onsen area. Get your Nikko Pass here.

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience

Tsuganoki, a perfect destination for a ryokan stay near Nikko

Tsuganoki is a charming ryokan located in the beautiful and unspoiled resort town of Kinugawa. It is situated approximately 15 minutes away from Kinugawa Onsen Station and provides an authentic Japanese onsen experience. The hotel is well-maintained and offers a variety of Japanese and Western-style rooms to cater to the guests’ preferences.

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience

What is a ryokan, and what are the differences between a stay in a ryokan and a hotel?

Staying at a ryokan in Japan is an unforgettable experience that every traveller must have. It offers you an opportunity to relish hot springs baths, taste delicious multi-course meals, and experience the warmth of Japanese hospitality. Ryokan stays usually include dinner and breakfast. However, modern ryokans may offer buffet-style meals. Some people opt for a ryokan stay solely for the food and spa experiences.

The key difference between a ryokan and a hotel is that you sleep on a futon in a Japanese tatami room at the former, and you must remove your shoes at the entrance. In contrast, hotels provide you with a Western-style bed and carpeted floors.

The room at Tsuganoki, Kinugawa Onsen

Upon checking in, a staff member escorted us to our room and made sure we were familiar with the room’s amenities, including the location of utilities such as Yukata. Our room had a genkan, where we were required to remove our shoes and wear the provided in-room sleepers instead.

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience

Our accommodation featured a typical Japanese room with tatami mats. The room was divided into three separate areas. The first room had a closet on one side and a tokonoma, which is a raised alcove displaying a bonsai and a calligraphy scroll. The second room, separated by sliding doors, had a low table (kotatsu) in the centre but no bed. This is typical of Japanese ryokans, where the furniture is stored away at night, and futons are laid in place of beds. The third room is like a winter garden with a small table, a set of chairs, and a massage chair in the corner. Additionally, there’s a balcony that overlooks the Kinugawa River.

View from the ryokan room at Kinugawa Onsen

The bathroom at Tsuganoki is quite spacious and has three separate sections. As you enter, you will see the sink with all the amenities. There are two doors leading to the toilet and bathroom, with a shower and a bathtub. For me, and I’m sure it’s the same for many travellers, hotel bathrooms are very important and must be spotless. The one at Tsuganoki is just perfect, and the amenities on offer were amazing, too. I really liked that the Ryokan had so many beauty products, such as moisturizing cream or cleansing oil. You can almost get there without a toiletry bag, as they also offer toothbrushes. 

After checking the room, we helped ourselves to a nice cup of green tea with Japanese sweets. We took a wander around the hotel and used the onsen before dinner. When we came back from dinner, the middle room was set up with the futons laid on the tatami floor. I moved my futon to the first room, creating a bedroom for myself. The mattress was firm but very comfortable, and I had a great night’s sleep.

The hot springs

As Kinugawa is a hot spring town, all the ryokans in the area have naturally heated onsen facilities and the ryokan we stayed in was no exception. The hotel had two baths, one for males and one for females, which were open at all times except during cleaning. The male and female baths swapped between morning and night, allowing guests to experience both pools.

During our short stay, we enjoyed the onsen three times: before and after dinner, and again in the morning before breakfast. It’s typical for Japanese people to use the onsen several times, which might seem excessive, but when you have the opportunity to soak in therapeutic mineral water, it’s natural to want to make the most of it.

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience
credit: Tsuganoki

Tsuganoki Hotel has a sister brand called Hotel Sunshine Kinugawa, which is located right next door. This means that guests of either ryokan can use the facilities at both places. While Tsuganoki has two small baths, Sunshine Kinugawa offers two large open-air public baths that overlook the Kinugawa River and gorge. In addition to the two public baths, the hotel has a private bath that can be hired, making it the perfect option for couples, families, or individuals with tattoos. However, please note that tattoos are not allowed in public baths.

Onsen bathing procedure and etiquette

When visiting a public bath in Japan, whether it’s an onsen or not, there are some strict rules you must follow. Firstly, you must remove your clothes in the changing rooms before entering the bathing area. Once you’re in the bathing area, you must wash yourself thoroughly before entering the hot water. While walking around the facilities, you may use a towel to cover yourself, but it should never be put in the water.

The kaiseki food at Tsuganoki Ryokan

The highlight of a stay in a ryokan for me is the traditional course meal, known as kaiseki, which consists of many small dishes with different tastes, colours, and textures.

Kaiseki dish - Japanese ryokan dinner
Japanese ryokan dinner - dessert

Tsuganoki did not disappoint. Dishes were served consecutively and beautifully plated. The food was incredible, perfectly balanced, and used only seasonal ingredients.

Japanese ryokan dinner
Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience

We enjoyed all the food, although there was one dish that I didn’t like as much because I couldn’t identify the ingredients. We didn’t have our meals in our room, as some ryokans offer, but in the dining room. A member of staff managed each section of the dining room. Breakfast was equally spectacular, with a multi-course meal made with the freshest ingredients. We had everything from miso soup, tea, grilled fish and rice to hot pot.

The rate & Service

Rooms in Ryokans are priced per person and per night, unlike hotels. As mentioned earlier, ryokans usually include dinner and breakfast. The rooms are usually for two to four guests, but larger rooms are also available. We opted for a four-person room and paid 15,000 yen per person.

In Japan, customers are always treated like royalty, especially at a ryokan. From the moment we arrived, the staff welcomed us warmly. They took care of our luggage and offered us tea while we checked in. They even gave us each a cute flower pouch bag as a gift. One of the staff members then escorted us to our room and explained everything to us. She even made sure that our shoes were arranged perfectly in the genkan. When we decided to take a walk, she was ready with a map of the area and highlighted places of interest. During dinner, the staff were attentive and fulfilled all our requests. They explained the dishes and took care to follow my dietary requirements.

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience

Overall stay experience at Tsuganoki Ryokan

Although staying at a ryokan can be pricey, I had an extremely enjoyable experience during my first visit. The course meal was fantastic, and the hot spring was particularly delightful. The staff members were very friendly and helpful and were able to communicate in English fluently. The room was my highlight; it was clean and spacious and had a breathtaking view of the Kinugawa River. I would highly recommend this Ryokan to anyone who is visiting Nikko or wishes to experience authentic Japanese hospitality.

For all the properties in Kinugawa Onsen, check here.

  • Tsuganoki
  • Address: Tsuganoki – 321-2522 Tochigi, Nikko, Kinugawaonsen Ohara 1438-1
  • Book on: Booking.com

Things to do in Kinugawa Onsen

Kinu-tateiwa Otsuribashi Bridge

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen: the ultimate Japanese experience

Upon checking in, we decided to explore the surrounding area. Our first stop was the Kinu Tateiwa – Otsuribashi Suspension Bridge – a 140-meter-long pedestrian-only suspension bridge that connects Kinugawa Onsen and Tateiwa. Walking on this bridge, which is 40 meters above the river, provided us with a breathtaking view of the river’s rapids and surrounding mountains. Once we crossed the bridge, we headed to the observation deck in Tateiwa, where we were treated to even more awe-inspiring views.

The Kinugawa Line Kudari River Cruise

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience

A wonderful way to explore the beauty of Kinugawa Gorge is by taking a river cruise on a wooden boat. The views from the boat are truly amazing, especially during autumn when the fall colours are in full bloom, as depicted in the picture. The 40-minute ride is smooth and enjoyable, and the boatmen keep you entertained with their explanations of unusual rock formations along the way. They even make funny remarks about how some rocks resemble dogs or bears. As I was the only foreigner on the tour, one of the boatmen made sure to explain everything to me in a mix of Japanese and English.

Kinugawa Onsen Ropeway and Osarunoyama Monkey Park

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience

Nikko is commonly associated with monkeys, especially the three wise monkeys of Toshugu Shrine. Kinugawa Onsen is surrounded by mountains, one of which is home to monkeys. Osarunoyama Monkey Park, also known as “Monkey Mountain,” can be accessed via a ropeway. Personally, I did not enjoy the monkey park much because of the smell, but the area also features some great hiking paths. More importantly, on sunny days, it offers a great view of the town, mountains, and river below. It is definitely worth taking in the view.

Kinugawao Onsen Ropeway can be booked here.

Staying at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience at a traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen _ the ultimate Japanese experience

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

20 thoughts on “The Ultimate Japanese Experience: Tsuganoki, A Traditional Ryokan In Kinugawa Onsen

  1. Awesome! It sounds like you chose a fantastic place for your first Ryokan experience! It is hard to decide what is more awesome, those hot springs, or the food! They both look fantastic!

    I miiiiss staying in gorgeous places like this!

    1. Thanks, Josy! I was really pleased with my choice. I can’t decide either, they were both amazing 🙂

      1. If you ever fancy visiting another onsen town, my favourite one so far was Kinosaki Onsen (in Hyogo) It’s like Japanese heaven, especially when the fireflies are out in the summertime.

      2. Thanks for the tips. Aww sounds so cool! I would love to go to Japan again so yes, I will add Kinosaki to my list.

  2. Oh this looks absolutely gorgeous. We really hope to visit Japan soon and will venture for our own Ryokan experience. I love the hot springs. The food looks absolutely incredible!

  3. What an incredible Ryokan experience. I’d love to experience something similar. I love the idea of the mineral baths and all the amazing food you showed. You’ve done a fantastic job with your descriptions and pictures, so much so, I’m tempted to book a flight now and just go!! Great article!!

    1. Thank you. I absolutely wanted to try out the hot spring water having heard a lot about it. It was a great experience although I had to adjust to the heat. Highly recommended!

  4. I haven’t heard about Ryokans before, so this was such a treat to read about. It definitely sounds like an authentic way to experience Japanese culture and their customs. I think the river cruise also looks fantastic. A nice breath of fresh air after spending the day relaxing in the spa-like amenities — I’ll take it!

    1. Thanks Martha. The cruise was nice and very entertaining. The river was so clean! I had never seen such clear water!

  5. This looks like a delightful place to stay!! I didn’t know what ryokan was before this post, but they sound lovely. That food – yum!!

  6. What a great experience! The accommodation looks absolutely magical and the hot springs must have been awesome. It is great that you have enjoyed it so much and I’m surprised that it is very affordable!

    1. Thanks. It was a good deal indeed. The booking was made by one of my Japanese friends, maybe she managed to get a deal! I would have stayed there even for ¥25,000! The level of service was just impeccable.

  7. I stayed in little ryokans during my trip to Japan a few years ago and I have fantastic memories of them. I agree with you that one of the best things of staying in a ryokan is the great traditional food that you get to taste!

  8. The onsen looks amazing. Who doesn’t love a hot spring session? I love the idea of trying out a traditional ryokan!

  9. This looks like an incredibly peaceful experience. The thermal pools are beautiful. I appreciate the detail you put about the cultural norms for visiting – I find that to be one of the most intimidating things about visiting a spa in a new place. I always want to make sure I’m being respectful while also observing tradition. Your photo of the boat cruise is beautiful – I love the colors of the natural scenery.

  10. This is something I REALLY want to do! I love thermal pools and I’ve always wanted to go to a Japanese Onsen!

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