Falling in Love with the Onsen Experience in Gero Onsen

I first heard about this quaint little onsen resort town from Flora from her last visit to Japan during winter and I thought it sounded too good to miss… even with my onsen inhibitions.

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Gero, a resort town, in Gifu is known for their onsen

I’ve shied away from planning to visit an onsen, because of what happened in Taipei a good number of years ago in Beitou (北投). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll have to see this ridiculous video of me attempting to “hot spring” that has since garnered a whopping 747,785 views and a like to dislike ratio of 116:126. Totally, hilarious on retrospect, but not so funny back then.

I thought hot springs were so not my thing… but then again, it is 2016 and that was back in 2011. “A lot can change in 5 years, don’t ‘cha think?” I mumbled to myself. I mean, I’ve begun loving a great number of things I used to dislike, including certain veggies like broccoli.

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This is a calming respite from city life

Gero Onsen (or Gero) in mid-way between Nagoya and Takayama. It’s not extremely easy to access (e.g. no direct trains from Tokyo or Osaka) but can be reached via shinkansen (yes, read this story of how we got our stops mixed up en-route to Gero).

While most of my time was spent in the compounds of Gero Onsen Yunoshimakan, a traditional Japanese inn (or ryokan) and Gero’s oldest ryokan established in 1931, I did take some time to explore the lovely, quiet town before we left for Osaka.

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Plenty of shops selling omiyage (おみやげ), souvenirs, that are unique to Gero

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Hida River that runs through Gero (下呂市)

A beautiful river, Hida River or Hida-Gawa (飛騨川), runs through Gero. The source of Hida River is Mount Norikura (乗鞍岳) in Takayama and it flows through several towns and communities before emptying into Kiso River of Minokamo (美濃加茂市). 

This trip I travelled a lot more and away from the “main cities” like Tokyo and Osaka. I started experiencing a lot more nature. I recall at points on my journey as I looked out the window of the shinkansen, I’d be really taken by the mountains, hills, rice farms, rivers and lakes I spotted whizzing past. The bluish-green depths of lakes, the silver-grey reflective rivers peppered with rocks and the trees growing in their own way, covering hills in their deep lush emerald green, left me in awe.

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Best way to slow down – visit Gero

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Handprints of celebrities (spotted some Japanese bands and stars) decorate the bridge at Gero

I’m a city girl from a small island nation called Singapore. Hints of nature, if any, available in Singapore are well-managed and well-manicured. There is beauty in that kind of orderliness, I am sure, and this is something many tourists love. They travel to Singapore to experience a life different from their own. But now, as I travelled far away from home, it’s my turn to open my eyes to a world beyond my own. I too come to understand how expansive and diverse this world I live in can be.

I was overwhelmed by these thoughts of how I am so small in this big world of limitless possibility. I can only ever understand and experience a portion of it even if I were to embrace and explore it the rest of my life. Even then, I’d only know so much anyway, because I’ll barely scrape the surface of a certain culture and way of life since I would base my understanding of it by contrasting it to the one I know by heart: the one I grew up with.

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Resting for a bit and admiring the view

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Surrounded by nature, Gero is breathtakingly beautiful

Being away from a big city is something I immensely enjoy. I know many girls love the thrill of bright lights, breathtaking shopping and the bustle, but I am a deeply intense person and while I love the connectedness a busy city offers, being some place with a slower pace and with more sights of nature is what truly inspires me.

The slowness offers me a respite from the usual barrage of information overload and puts a stop to my unbearable impetus to act immediately, allowing me to digest and reflect. Because nothing much happens, I am able to finally take the time to make sense of everything.

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Check out the little wash basins with piped warm onsen water

Anyway, if peace is not exactly what you seek, Gero is some place I’d still recommend. Everyone needs to relax some time, and the quality and smoothness of the onsen water from Gero Onsen makes it one of three best hot springs in Japan known for its positive effects on not just the skin but in general for personal well-being. I personally felt the water left my skin glowing and radiant. Plus, all the soaking in the warm baths washed away my fatigue – quite literally.

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Alkaline onsen water from Gero is great for treating rheumatism and relieving fatigue 

If you do not wish to spend a night in an expensive ryokan, you can find a number of public bathhouses available. Or if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of soaking your entire naked body in a public bath, there are also free-to-use foot baths or ashi-yu (足湯) all over town.

Apparently, there is a wooden Hot Spring Pass that you can purchase at ¥1,200 that gives you access to any three hot spring baths out of the twenty six available in town and is valid for six months. I didn’t opt for this since I chose to stay in one of the best ryokans in Gero Onsen and wanted to maximise my time there at their luxurious onsen baths.

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Our new-found birdy friends hanging out by the onsen wash basin

True enough, five years is more than sufficient time to grow new preferences and my recent visit to Gero has really left me with positive feelings regarding the onsen bath experience and I don’t think I’ll ever visit Japan again without arranging for a day of soaking at a Japanese bath.

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