A 400-Year Old Bathhouse in Gunma Gets a Facelift

all photos by Koji Fujii

all photos by Koji Fujii

At Maruhon Inn, a 400 year old bath-house and hotel, you can melt away your stress by soaking in a great wooden bath, filled with aromatic water from the nearby Sawatari hot springs. Faced with a dwindling clientele, the inn recently decided to invest in their most valuable asset, their onsen (or hot spring).


LEDs illuminate the space underneath the cypress walls. Water from the nearby hot springs stream from a small copper spigot set into the wall.


The inn asked KuboTsushima Architects to redesign their bathhouse in order to “increase the sustainability of a long-established hot spring inn.” The resulting wooden chamber, with gentle light streaming in at angles from slats in the ceiling, creates an welcoming space that invites guests to relax and rejuvenate. The space allows guests to fall into a light and peaceful slumber, immersed in perfectly heated water.

The bathhouse sits between two wings of accommodation, and comprises of a large rest area, with the bath below. The high sloped ceilings add a breathe of fresh air to the environment, and make it even easier to relax. Planed raw cedar decorates the majority of the bathhouses’s ceilings and walls, with the exception of the resting area’s aromatic bench. The architects had something really specific in mind here, as they “used Japanese cypress wood,” said Kubo. “It has pleasant aroma, and it makes people relaxed who recline on the bench after bathing.”


The patio offers a restful place to lean back and idly watch the sun set above the rooftops, over the distant hills.

Few other onsens or natural hot springs offer this sort of cutting-edge immersive environment. As well as being incredibly stylish, the architects have constructed the space with a keen eye for ways to introduce natural light and ventilation.

After guests have soaked for a long while, they can rest on a second, more shallow platform within the bath. There, they can sit or recline, with their heads settled upon the uppermost part. The knots in the ceiling’s wood grain offer a mesmerizing place to rest the eyes.


Light soaks through translucent slats in the ceiling.

Aromatic scents rising up from the cypress bench fill the air with a pleasing aroma, while the floor slopes up into a wall to create a single curved surface,  gently supporting a guest’s back. Guests can head to this section of the bathhouse after having soaked, to sit and enjoy the cool air flowing in.


The building’s attractive wooden facade certainly sets it apart from the surrounding buildings.


The architects used computational fluid dynamics to mechanise ventilation.


1 Comment

  1. This is absolutely beautiful. As I’m studying in Art History, Japanese art was very oriented around wood and natural materials. This is absolutely incredible and very intriguing to look at. The remodel says a lot about traditional Japanese art. It would be interesting to see the original architecture and wood designs as we can see and compare the modern wooden art of Japan. This is truly amazing.

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