One of Japan's Three Famous Springs (日本三名泉 Nihon Sanmeisen), not to be confused with Japan's Three Great Springs and several other competing variants, The town's hot springs made their first appearance in print in the Engi Era (901-923). The present incarnation is packed full of colossal concrete hotels and bars advertising nude shows.
Gero Onsen's train station, Gero, is located on the JR Takayama Line.
The easiest method of reaching Gero Onsen is to take a shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya and transfer there to the Wide View Hida limited express train. From Tokyo the run takes about 3 1/2 hours via Nozomi at a cost of ¥13500. The Japan Rail Pass is NOT valid for Nozomi trains; using the Hikari service will take about four hours, including transfer time.
Gero is a 2 1/2 hour ride from Kyoto using the Nozomi to Nagoya (¥8880).
If you take local trains from Nagoya, the ride will take approximately three hours, with transfers required at Gifu and Mino-Ota, at a cost of ¥2210.
If you decide to take all local trains from Tokyo (i.e. while using a Seishun 18 Ticket), you will need to depart Tokyo very early in the morning, or stay over at an intermediate stop, since the ride to Gero will take about nine hours. A 7:00 departure from Tokyo will have you arriving in Gero after 16:00. (Without the Seishun 18 ticket this will cost ¥7670.)
Whatever method you choose, the views of the valley and the Hida River below as you approach Gero station are spectacular.
Gero Onsen can be covered on foot, although if you have much luggage you'll want a taxi or arrange a pickup with your lodgings — the train station lies on the south side of the river, while most hotels are across the long bridge to the north.
There are nice mountain views on the way in to Gero, a few distinctly ordinary temples, and one attraction:
- Gassho Village (合掌村 Gasshō-mura). A traditional-style village with thatched-roof gasshō-zukuri (hands in prayer) houses. At least one house is authentic, having been constructed in the mid-1800s, and later relocated here to escape being submerged behind a dam. You can paint pottery and make paper yourself, and they will mail your handiwork back to you for an additional fee. There are displays of traditional festivals, and a museum of guardian-dog statues (狛犬) used at shrines. Admission is ¥800. To get there from the station, take a 5 minute/¥150 bus ride (buses run about once per hour), taxi for the base fare, about ¥650, or walk, about 20 minutes.
As you'd expect in a hot spring town, the major attraction in Gero is to soak in hot springs. An easy way to sample a number of them is to buy the Yu-meguri Tegata (湯めぐり手形) pass, a wooden amulet sold all over Gero. This will get you into 3 hot springs of your choice from a choice of over 20 for the flat price of ¥1200, which can be used up at your own pace as you'll get a stamp each time you visit.
- Foot baths (足湯 ashiyu) are popular in Gero, as the waters are reputed to have curative properties. True to the name, you just take off your shoes and sit down with your feet in the water. A number of free foot baths can be found around town, including the decidedly tacky Venus Foot Bath in front of the Shirasagi Hotel — no prizes for guessing what the statue in the middle is doing.
- A giant hot water pool (野天風呂 notenburo) can be found to the west side of the bridge, with access via the south side. Note that there are no facilities to speak of and the bathing area is mixed and clearly visible to passersby on the bridge above, but admission is also free so you get what you pay for.
Gero is also quite popular for sightseeing of seasonal cherry blossoms and fall leave colors due to its mountainous location.
The most popular souvenir from Gero (and the Hida region in general) is the sarubobo, a small hooded red baby monkey.
The tomato bowl is a known favorite in several eating establishments throughout the town.
Gero has a number of high-class inns where you can soak in luxury on a mountainside without ever trudging through town going from bath to bath.
- Fugaku (冨岳), Yunoshima 898 (by Main Street; 10 minute walk from JR Gero station; shuttle from JR Gero station available; free parking), ☎ +81 576-25-4894, . Fugaku is Japanese traditional natural hot spring hotel, along Hida River. They have 6 onsen baths (2 indoor, 2 outdoor, and 2 private for families), free wi-fi service in the lobby, tatami-mat rooms with air-conditioning, LCD TVs and refrigerators in rooms. In-room dining features 10-course meals of Hida beef. Walking distance to riverside and downtown, 15 minutes to onsen temple, 25 minutes to Gasho Village and Morning Market. 2 guests in 1 room from ¥10,500/person, meals included. edit
- Yukyunohana (悠久の華), Yunoshima 898-1 (shuttle from JR Gero station available, request in advance), ☎ +81 576-25-4894, . Brand new ryokan, supposedly to open in 2012 (as of November 2011); foreign visitors apparently quite welcome. In this newly built ryokan, the decor is traditional, but everything else is modern: all rooms have a small private onsen bath on an open-air patio, as well as LCD TVs and wired Internet access (with free Wi-Fi available in the lobby). Rooms are not as spacious as at some of the other ryokan in Gero, but you get a lot more features in your room, so it's a very fair trade. Meals are taken in their private restaurant. There is also a karaoke room available for ¥2,100/hour. Traditional room with private open-air bath from ¥19,950/person. edit
- Yunoshimakan (湯之島館), Yunoshima 645 (shuttle from JR Gero station available, request in advance), ☎ +81 576-25-3131, . This multi-building onsen ryokan sits on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley and the city. Features 7 baths including 2 outdoor baths and a foot bath, and a large gated garden. Dinner and breakfast are included and are 12-18 courses. Enjoy wandering through the odd-angled hallways and extensions to the original building; they even made a stamp-hunting game of it (pick up a blank sheet from the front desk). Since the rest of the rykoan is the same no matter which room you get, you can save yourself some money by going for the cheaper rooms. Main hall from ¥19,250/person, meals included; annex from ¥25,850; state room from ¥37,850. edit
- Gero's small tourist office, next to the station, can help you book if you arrive with no reservation.
- Hida-Takayama, with its preserved Edo architecture is just a short ride away down the JR Takayama line.