Last weekend while I was Japan I decided to spend Saturday in the little town of Gero Onsen. Gero Onsen is famous in Japan for its hot springs and boasts many free foot baths around the town for people to enjoy. I decided to sample a variety of them while I was wondering around town.
To enjoy the footbaths (足湯, pronounced "ashiyu"), you simply take off your socks and shoes and soak your feet in the water. The first one I stopped at was Geruma Footbath (下留磨の足湯). I reached it after walking thirty minutes uphill so it was a nice little break. Tucked in off the side of the road it was quiet and I had the footbath to myself which was nice.
I next headed to the Gassho Village (Entrance fee: Adults ¥800, Children ¥400), which is an open air museum with Gassho Houses that were relocated from Shirakawa-go when a dam project would have flooded them. Among the many exhibits in the Gassho Village there was of course also a footbath (合掌の足湯). It was by far the largest of the footbaths that I visited and I had a nice conversation with an elderly couple who were also enjoying the bath.
After I finished touring the Gassho Village, I visited Onsen-ji and then checked into the ryokan (Japanese Inn) that I was staying at. I relaxed for a bit and then headed out for a little more sightseeing, stopping at the Gero Museum of Hot Springs (Entrance fee: Adults ¥500, Children ¥200). In addition to having a variety of exhibits, the museum also had a footbath, of course. Called Yakushi Footbath (薬師の足湯), it consisted of two troughs lined with stones. The first was very hot that cooled down toward the end with the second being much cooler becoming downright chilly by the time it wrapped back to the beginning again.
To use the footbath, you soak your feet in the hot end until they acclimate and then walk in a clockwise circle as the water gets cooler and then loop back to the start plunging your feet back into the hot water. Walking on the loose stones barefoot was a little tricky since they were so slippery so I was glad that there was a railing to hold onto as I did my circuit. The changing temperatures is supposed to invigorate your legs and stimulate circulation and going from the cold to the hot definitely made my legs tingle a bit.
Across the way was the Sagi Footbath (鷺の足湯), which was the first footbath in Gero Onsen. Sagi means egret in Japanese and is a reference to the legend that 700 years ago an egret showed the villagers where the source of the hot springs was. There were some women already enjoying the footbath and I didn't want to intrude so I headed on.
I next walked past Venus Footbath (ビーナスの足湯), which is decidedly not very Japanese looking although it seemed quite popular.
I then walked across town to stop at Tanokami Footbath (田の神の足湯) near the Gero Onsen City Hall. I relaxed my feet for a while in the hot water before heading back to my ryokan for the day.
After enjoying a wonderful bath followed by an elaborate multi-course dinner at my ryokan I decided to make a little stop at the hotel's footbath before heading to sleep for the night.
In the morning I didn't have a lot of time before my train to Takayama, but I did walk by the remaining public footbaths in town on the way to the train station just to check them out. Three of them were right in a row along the main row through town with the first being Miyabi Footbath (雅の足湯) which is decorated with frog statues. Frogs are associated with Gero Onsen because in Japanese "gero-gero" is the sound that frogs make (equivalent to "ribbit-ribbit" in English).
Next was Sarubobo Golden Footbath (さるぼぼ黄金足湯). Sarubobo literally means baby monkey and is a faceless Japanese amulet for bringing good luck. The footbath is located at the Sarubobo Seven Gods of Good Fortune Shrine and features a golden boat with sarubobo dressed as the seven gods of good fortune. On a side note, I am really not sure why a replica of the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) from Rome was doing at the shrine. Just a titch random...
Last of the three was Yuamiya Footbath (ゆあみ屋の足湯). It didn't seem terribly relaxing being right in front of a shop with a TV playing advertisements, but you could make soft-boiled eggs in the water if you wished.
On the way back to the train station I had one last stop, popping by Mori Footbath (モリの足湯), which was quaintly tucked into a building. I wished I had time to enjoy it, but I had to catch my train and didn't have time.
I really enjoyed all of the footbaths dotted around town. They made a fun break in between sightseeing stops in Gero Onsen and were one of the highlights of my visit there.