Chichibu – The First Onsen

At the Ohanabatake station

I remembered we got on and off trains a lot to get to the Chichibu onsen. It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say the  journey left a deeper impression than the onsen. Yet, we weren’t done after we stepped off the last train at Minano – we still had to take a bus to our final destination, Hotel Beyer.

Now, if I hadn’t known we were headed to an onsen, I wouldn’t have thought Hotel Beyer was the onsen. It seemed inconceivable that a uniquely Japanese establishment – the onsen – could have a German name like ‘Beyer’.

Unless, I was mistaken and we were not going to an onsen afterall.

Rail crossing @ Minano station (photo credit: Welson)

Getting to Chichibu 

In fact, Chichibu 秩父 wasn’t that far from Tokyo. It was only a 1.5 hour drive from Tokyo to Minano 皆野 (Minano was a town in Chichibu District). There just wasn’t a direct rail connection between the two.

To get to Minano, we first took the Seibu Ikebukuro line, transferred to the Seibu Chichibu line then transferred again to the Chichibu Tetsudo. The Seibu lines were operated by Seibu Railway and Chichibu Tetsudo was a local rail operator. So, the (usually) omnipotent JR pass wouldn’t work here.

Here’s the route we took: Bakuro-yokoyama 馬喰横山 (because we stayed there) -> Shinjuku -> Ikebukuro 池袋 -> Hannou 飯能 (Seibu Ikebukuro) -> Seibu chichibu 西武秩父 (Seibu Chichibu) -> Ohanabatake 御花畑 (walk) -> Minano 皆野 (Chichibu Tetsudo). From Minano, the hotel provided complimentary hotel shuttle (15 minutes).

Hannou Station

Beyer Hotel and Seine no Yu

And Hotel Beyer was of course not your traditional ryokan. It was an extension/affiliate of Seine no Yu, a popular hotspring-spa in Saitama. Hotel Beyer provided accommodation for Seine visitors staying for the night (like us!).

What we got was a Western-themed multi-function hotel blending western and japanese design influences. Practical, versatile and commercially viable.

Hotel Beyer – entrance (photo credit: Mabel

The hotel entrance opened up to a very generous porch and a car park. And then we soon found ourselves deposited in front of a townhouse-like building. Made us feel like we were in Europe already. 

Hotel Beyer (photo credit: Welson)

There were hot baths inside Beyer but the real deal was of course Seine no Yu 星音の湯 (literally Sounds of Star Hotspring). Seine no Yu was a large hotspring-spa, beautifully landscaped, and only a 5-minutes walk from Beyer.

Inside Seine, there were were indoor/outdoor baths, foot baths, resting areas, spa rooms, a buffet restaurant, a shopping gallery ie the full works. The waters were drawn from natural hotspring sources.

During the day, Seine could be crowded. Hence, we went there after dinner, around 9pm, when most day trippers had left, staying till after 10pm. The spa closed at 11pm (last entry 10pm).

Girls just love dessert

Around Chichibu

The main sight-seeing hotspots were near Nagatoro 長瀞; both Hodosan 宝登山 and the Iwadatami rocks 長瀞岩畳 could be directly accessed from Nagatoro station.

Day 1, Hotel Beyer provided complimentary transport to and from the Hodosan ropeway station (30 minutes). It was already past 4pm when we got there, giving us only an hour on Hodosan before the last ropeway ride down.

Taking the ropeway (photo credit: CW)

View from the cable car (photo credit: Yin Peng)

There were many easy hiking trails around Hodosan but due to the time constraint we decided to focus on the Umehyakkaen 梅百花园 (literally the Garden of 100 Plum Flowers). I’m sure it must be breathtaking when the flowers were in full bloom but we were too early for that.

Beautiful path (photo credit: Yin Peng)

A yellow plum flower

Too early for flowers, so we took headshots

In the funicular heading back (photo credit: CW)

Day 2, after we checked out from Beyer, we returned to Nagatoro for the Iwadatami rocks. From Nagatoro station, we turned left-left towards the rail tracks to get to the rocks (500m). The river was behind the station.

If heading to Hodosan, walk straight towards the Torii gate after getting out from the station.

Torii gate outside Nagatoro Station (photo credit: Mabel)

On the way to the rocks, we had to walk through Iwadatami Dori. That’s how a 5 minute walk turned into a 15 minute stroll because there’s no stopping people from being distracted by the good stuff inside the shops. Well-known Nagatoro produce included soba, udon, pickled vegetables, sweet beans, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts.

Iwadatami Dori

At the end of Iwadatami Dori, we came to a flight of steps that led to the Arakawa river 荒川. The Iwadatami, literally “Rock Tatami” was on the right.

Steps to the rocks

It was a sprawling layered rock terrace (hence ‘tatami’) with interesting formations that immediately beckoned to the explorers in us.

navigating the rocks

Iwadatami rocks

I thought the Iwadatami was a wonderful place to do photo shoots because the rocks lent a sense of texture to the landscape; it was melancholic, rugged and sometimes dramatic. And, look out for snakes.

Quite the perfect place for photo shoots

In a  single file

Layers and layers

We beat a hasty retreat when it started to snow and huddled into Yawataya 八幡家 for hot coffee/dessert. The open hearth in the shop was the perfect gathering place for our group of 13.

take 5 at teahouse

hand warmers

Coffee set (photo credit: Mabel)

After Nagatoro, we went back to more train-hopping to get to the next onsen destination – Kofu 甲府.

Going back (photo credit: CW)

Back at Minano station (photo credit: Mabel)

Stayed 1 night on 1 March 2010
References: Nagatoromachi Tourist Association, Hiking HodosanNagatoro – Enjoy Amazing Natural Scenery And Great Local Food Near Tokyo!, Nagatoro Iwadatami, Nagatoro Iwadatami Rocks 

 

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