JAPAN: Gifu (Gero Onsen)

Despite the fact that its name, which means lower bath, is pronounced the same as the slang word for “vomit,” Gero Onsen located in Gifu enjoys over one million visitors each year. It is no wonder as this hot springs was considered one of the top three onsens in Japan since the Edo Period!

As with most hot springs towns, Gero-shi is famous for its public bath houses and ryokans (inns) that cater to visitors year round. There is even a large open-air bath (rotenburo) located at the south end of Gero Bridge which can be used free of charge. But keep in mind, if you choose to bathe here, you are exposed to passersby on the bridge above. If you are shy about immersing your body in the hot spring baths, there are various foot baths scattered throughout the town where you can soak your feet free of charge.

But Gero-shi has much more to offer than just the hot springs. Onsenji Temple located atop a hill behind Gero Onsen Museum is a place of tranquility and incredible views of the valley below. There is no doubt that you will be rewarded for your efforts after climbing the 173 stone steps to the top.

Foot bath

A quirky place to visit is the Kaeru Jinja or Frog Shrine. You will notice many references to frogs around Gero-shi because in Japanese the word “gero” is also the sound a frog makes, therefore it is a playful connection to the town. The shrine is filled with all kinds of frogs.

Just twenty minutes on foot, northeast of Gero-shi is Gero Onsen Gassho Village where ten thatched A-frame houses from the UNESCO World Heritage site of nearby Shirakawa-go have been re-assembled. Here you can view the houses, see performances and try your hand at traditional folk art. The village is open to the public between the hours of 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM and there is a nominal charge of ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for children.

Gero-shi also hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. On February 14th, a festival originates at the Mori Hachiman Shrine which involves young people dancing while wearing colorful paper hats. On August 1st, the Ryujin Fire Festival takes place. A five-headed dragon and Mikoshi (portable shrine) are paraded through the streets of Gero and men dressed in traditional clothes dance amongst firecrackers. On August 2nd, there is a parade of Geisha floats and Geisha dances are held. A music and fireworks festival takes place on the river bank on August 3rd.

Gero-shi is easily accessible from Nagoya via the JR Hida Limited Express and you can use your Japan Rail Pass!

Web page:         http://www.gero-spa.or.jp/english/

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