Gero, the hot spring capital of Gifu Prefecture, is only an hour or two from Gifu City by train. A local train on the JR line costs about 1,600YEN. The train ride itself is an experience! High mountains and low rivers with rushing water and jagged rocks make for a breath-taking, scenic ride. After passing through several mountain tunnels and over many bridges, the train will arrive at a small old-time looking station. On one side of the station is bus parking, taxi pick-up and a few restaurants. On the other side, are the Hida River and hotels, ryokans, souvenir shops and hot springs. Along these streets are fountains with natural hot spring water, and the water is truly hot! There are also natural hot spring foot baths available to the public.
In Gero’s town square, there are two statues. One is of a philosopher, who appears to be dancing with monkeys. The other statue is a seemingly out-of-place Charlie Chapman. He looks quite somber sitting alone on a bench. Right at the town square are plenty of available hotels and a café specializing in hot spring cooked puddings. The puddings are a Gero specialty. The ingredients are put into a jar and then placed into an authentic hot spring located inside the shop! The spring cooks the puddings at the perfect temperature, and they are offered in two flavors: vanilla and chocolate. In the same shop is a foot bath, where visitors can enjoy their puddings while relaxing their feet. The only downside of the pudding café is that the puddings must be consumed on-site in a very busy environment. Frozen puddings are the only take-out option.
All the hotels and ryokans in the area offer hot springs (onsens). Staying overnight in Gero is highly recommended! Dinner, breakfast and a thirty minute time slot in the private onsen are usually included in the price of an overnight stay. Private onsens can be used by one or two people. Public onsens are available at anytime with no time constraints and may be inside or outside. The onsen water usually stays around fifty-five degrees Celsius. The rooms also include traditional pajamas for their guests. Visitors are not required to stay in a hotel to access the onsens, however. Access to an onsen can be had for a small fee. There is also a free open-air bath south of Gero Bridge, but it is only for the brave, since there is no privacy and can be seen from the bridge overhead.
Aside from hot springs and souvenir shops, Gero has a historical museum and its own gassho village. The ten gassho buildings are originally from Shirakawa-go, but were transported and reassembled in Gero. North of Gero’s town square and almost two hundred steps up a mountain is Onsenji Temple. It is said that the egret (a Japanese crane) which discovered the hidden hot spring within Gero landed in the place where the temple is today. Since Gero is one of only three onsen towns in Japan, onsens are the major attraction. Any tourist looking for an invigorating yet relaxing experience in Japan should add Gero near the top of their list!