Among the scores of ancient ryokan in Gunma, Hoshi Onsen is the real deal. It was built way back in the day before the onsen could be brought to the inn and the inn had to be built at the source of the hot spring. Consequently it is down a narrow, windy 5 km long road which means it belongs to a special class of secluded onsen.
Situated on what was once the main route up from Kanto into Echigo prefecture it was a real travellers' inn, offering a chance to soak away the dust and grime of a long journey. The Mikuni Kaido is still dotted with venerable ryokan that have been operating for generations.
Secluded is definitely the right word, and the drive up the 5 km track takes you deeper into the mountains with awesome views through the trees. Passing Akazawa ski resort and signs warning you of just about every kind of wildlife in Japan, you finally reach Hoshi Onsen ryokan and it looks old.
Ducking to get through the entranceway there is a little fire pit on your left where you can enjoy some tea from the kettle gently simmering above the coals. The main section of the ryokan is all wood and there are photos of some of the ryokan's many famous historical visitors dotted along the walls. Some of the wings are of a more recent vintage and suitably equipped with modern technology but the very oldest rooms house guests as they did hundreds of years ago. The hot spring baths are the reason for the ryokan's location and are rightly famous. Modeled on the original bathhouse and with an outdoor bath a recent addition, you still feel as if you are stepping back in time as you enter. The soft lighting and trickling water are conducive to a nice relaxing soak and their very distinctive style has become a representative image of the area.
The setting is gorgeous, with wooded slopes all around and the bit of landscaping that has been done blends in perfectly with the natural backdrop. Even the old ryokan does not look out of place.
Whether you are headed there for an unforgettable stay or are just going to relax in its famous onsen, Hoshi Onsen Chojukan is a real treat.