Kinugawa is one of Japan's worst examples of development gone overboard: after a serious case of boom and bust, what was once a pristine mountain valley is now a graveyard of rusting, abandoned ferroconcrete hotels. Still, the town remains within fairly convenient striking distance of Tokyo and the Kinugawa River is as stunningly green-colored as ever. If you can spare the cash and time, it may be worth it head up northward to Kawaji, which isn't quite as overbuilt.
The name "Kinugawa" literally means Angry Demon River. The exact provenance is unclear, but the most likely explanation is that this comes from the raging waters within — although the river is now dammed and considerably more placid.
Tobu runs all-reserved limited express services, known as Tokkyū (特急) trains, to the area. These trains, which use Tobu's "SPACIA" railroad equipment, have comfortable, reclining seats, with vending machines available on most trains.
The Kinu (きぬ) limited express departs from Asakusa every 30-60 minutes, and reaches Kinugawa-Onsen (鬼怒川温泉) in 2 hours at a cost of ¥2800. Ordinary rapid trains are cheaper at ¥1500, but take anywhere from 2 hours 20 minutes to 3 hours to reach Kinugawa. Kawaji is another 20 minutes up the line.
The Kinugawa Theme Park Pass  includes a roundtrip fare and access to Kinugawa Theme Park. Valid for 2 days. Cost ¥3300-6000, depending on the attractions chosen. This pass is available only to foreigners.
By JR and Tobu
The trains, called the Kinugawa and Spacia Kinugawa, depart from Shinjuku station at 10:35, 13:05 and 17:35. Return service departs Kinugawa-Onsen at 8:13, 10:36 and 15:03.
In additon, a limited express train departs from Shinjuku at 7:12 for Nikko. You can transfer from this train at Shimo-Imaichi (下今市) for a shuttle train service to Kinugawa. The last service to Shinjuku departs Kinugawa-Onsen at 16:24 (Shuttle train connecting at Shimo-Imaichi to the limited express).
Seat reservations are mandatory, and the one-way fare between Shinjuku and Kinugawa-Onsen is ¥3900. If you plan to use this train in both directions, you should purchase a JR Tobu Nikko Kinugawa Free Pass for ¥6800, which includes one round-trip on the limited express and unlimited usage of local Tobu trains and buses in both the Kinugawa and Nikko areas within a three day period.
Japan Rail Pass holders can use the new limited express service for ¥1560 each way (covering the portion of the trip between Kurihashi and Kinugawa-Onsen). The Japan Rail Pass does not cover Tobu trains or buses, so you will have to pay separate fares for those services.
You can alternatively take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya, change to the JR Nikko line for Imaichi, and then change again to the Tobu line for the final leg, but this is unlikely to be worth the hassle even if you have the Japan Rail Pass.
Kinugawa is fairly spread out. You can either use the infrequent buses, or the expensive taxis. If arriving by train, be sure to check if your lodgings are closer to Kinugawa Onsen or Kinugawa Kōen station.
There is little to see in Kinugawa Onsen itself, but the Nichien Momiji Line, the highway connecting Kinugawa and Kawaji, makes for a fairly scenic drive.
Three theme parks in the area, collectively known as Kinugawa Theme Park, are major draws for Japanese visitors:
Loll about in hot springs. More adventurous types may also want to try battling against angry demons by rafting in the Kinugawa River.
Most guests eat at their lodgings, but there are a scattering of restaurants just outside Kinugawa Onsen station.
The recession of the 1990s hit Kinugawa hard and many hotels struggle with low occupancy rates (or have been outright shut down). This means there are some pretty good bargains to be found, especially off-season.
Kinugawa Green Palace. Tel. 0288-77-2121, . Large operation offering surprisingly large and nice Japanese-style rooms. The outdoor bath on the ground floor has nice views — if you keep your eyes fixed straight forward and ignore the rumbling air/water/heating machinery on all other three sides. Still decent value at ¥8000 with two meals.
February 2008. Nikko, Tochigi-ken
Minshuku Ichinoya: 199 Nokado, 0288-97-1204, www.minshuku-ichinoya.com).
The author above never got to experience Minshuku Ichinoya in Kuriyama-mura, Nikko. Just a 30 minute bus ride from Kinugawa-onzen train station will lead you to Nokado and the traditional Japanese-style inn called Mishuku Ichinoya, a little well-kept secret of the locals and refined travelers around the world. Ichinoya has been host to various celebrities and even to some members of the Royal Family of Japan.
The winding road that climbs up the chestnut tree laden mountain offers spectacular vistas of summits and waterfalls of the famed Nikko nature. A long tunnel cuts through a foreboding mountain and emerges to reveal a paradise of lush forest and clean emerald water that seemed lost in time. The houses in Kuriyama village are as they were hundreds of years ago. People are whole-heartedly nice and welcome visitors to share in the joys of a simpler pace.
Forget the stress and noise of the city. At Minshuku Ichinoya you can relax. Take in the views of real nature as you soak in the natural hot springs. Explore nearby trails, peaks, and waterfalls. Deer, bears, monkeys, birds, and foxes are only a few of the variety of wildlife you will find in Kuriyama. Every season presents something new to your senses. There is even a farm not too far away where you can have fresh milk and ice cream daily. Ichinoya is also the ward of the Kuriyama Toshogun. Check with the proprietor of Minshuku Ichinoya for their select viewing schedules of this authentic rare antiquity.
Dinner is a banquet of fresh handmade soba (buckwheat noodles), sansai tempura (mountain vegetables), shika shashimi (deer), iwana (river fish), and many other unique gourmet and traditional Japanese cuisines. Rooms are spacious and comfortable. Rates are very affordable. Individual travelers and small groups are welcome. Large parties over 30 guests can also be accommodated. Call for more details.
Summers are usually booked. So make your reservations well in advance.
Minshuku Ichinoya (0288-97-1204) http://www.tochinavi.net/shop/shop2.shtml?s=2301