Kinugawa Onsen a few hours north of Tokyo is in many ways the perfect symbol of Japan’s numerous old resort towns. Faded, down-at-heel places whose best days are long gone and slow decline is now the harsh and very visible reality.
Coming of age as it were during the mass tourism boom of the 1950s and 60s, the success of those times in many ways led to Kinugawa’s subsequent downfall, as it resulted in more, and ever bigger hotels, culminating in the construction madness of the bubble years. The inevitable bursting of said bubble in the early 90s, however, promptly put an end to such developments, and the area’s visitor numbers peaked around the same time. Since then it’s been a gradual spiral downwards, both in popularity and appearance.
Understandably there’s now a concerted effort to demolish the many hotels that fell foul of changing times and trends, but the damage can’t be so easily undone, as whatever beauty the river and surrounding landscape once possessed has long since been lost. Local businesses have also suffered, with many now no more, as the former white-walled behemoths that dominate the town catered to their customers’ every need, meaning guests didn’t have to leave the premises.
Several decades after its peak then, here are some photos of Kinugawa Onsen at the end of 2022. A fascinating place in so many ways, but none of them are what the money men would have hoped for when they set out about changing it all those years ago.