Kinugawa Onsen, 75 miles north of Tokyo and reachable in about 2hrs by express train. If you look at a map, you can see that it's just past where the massive sprawl surrounding Tokyo ends. We've been talking about taking a trip together for years, but this is the first time we actually managed to make it happen. I took way to many pictures to put them all in this post, so check out my flickr to see more.
There were seven of us in total: Mamiyu, Mikuni, Yuki, Emily, Mike, Peter T., and myself. It was the first time we've ever had more native English speakers than Japanese at a Michigan event in Japan, which was pretty interesting. Ignore the random Japanese people behind us.
Our first stop was at Tobu World Square, a good size park of 1/25-scale replicas of famous building from around the world. The level of detail was really incredible and it was a lot of fun getting in close to take pictures.
Later in the afternoon, we went for a walk just outside of town. Kinugawa Onsen is tucked in between to small mountain ranges and is beautifully green. It was really nice just to get out of the city, breath the fresh air, and be surrounded by nature.
In the evening, we spent a solid hour and a half just lounging around in an onsen, soaking in the hot water and relaxing. Onsen are definitely one of Japan's best luxuries and is travel-worthy on it's own. Once we had had our fill of onsen action, we swung by a convenience store to pick up party supplies for that night, then headed over to our hotel to check in.
Our hotel was picked on one merit alone: it was the cheapest hotel in the area. As such we weren't expecting much to begin with, but were pleasantly surprised to find that dinner was included in the cost. We arrived at the hotel kind of late, so we were the last group to eat and had the place all to ourselves. The hotel manager had told us the food there was really good and he wasn't kidding! He kept bringing out huge plates of amazing chinese food, much if it not normally included in the normal meal, and even gave us a bottle of chinese rice wine for free! It was a gigantic feast and we all ended the meal absolutely stuffed. The rooms were standard Japanese ryokan rooms, nothing special, but more than acceptable for our needs.
After dinner, we moved the party back to our room and proceeded to spend four solid hours having a great time. I honestly cannot remember the last time I laughed that hard. It will go down as one of my favorite memories for our Michigan group.
Day two started with a boat ride. Mike and I had been excited about the idea of grabbing some pictures from the boat, but became more than a little worried for our gear when we saw plastic splash guards on the sides of the boats. In the end, it turned out not to be that bad at all and we both managed to take some great shots along the way. The guide at the front of the boat provided absolutely hilarious commentary throughout the trip.
After the boat ride, we set out to find some lunch and settled on a place specializing in "Japanese slow food" that we were recommended by some locals. The atmosphere was laid back, everyone enjoyed their food and the view was great. Little did we know there were much better views yet to come.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking along the mountains and river nearby. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and not even just in a "I live in the city and it's awesome to see a tree" sense. Mountains and rivers, waterfalls and rock formations, mind-blowingly green leaves, it was an honestly stunning display of nature. I really need to get out to the country more often...
Tired but satisfied, we finally made our way back to Tokyo after two packed days of awesomeness. Perhaps the best way to describe it are in Mike's words: "These past couple of days were so full of win". Seriously though, everything went right, everything was amazing. If Golden Week was suddenly reduced to just two days, I still would have been perfectly content. High fives all around!