You can find hot springs in several countries, but Japanese onsen are an important part of the Japanese culture, and is one of the most sought-after experiences for visitors of Japan.
Onsen or hot springs are geo-thermally heated, and contains lots of minerals, such as iron, sulphur, and metabolic acid. While traditionally, onsens are located outdoors, many resorts have built indoor facilities for visitors to enjoy it in more comfort. Onsen water is believed to have healing power and can help achieve overall wellness, as well as heal specific ailments.
Whether you’re looking for a healing remedy or just a relaxing soak, this is the list for you. We’ve recommended 12 most popular onsens that you should look out for when you’re in Japan.
1. Arima Onsen
One of Japan’s most powerful rulers, Hideyoshi Toyomi, loved this place dearly for its Kinsen (Gold) Spring. Incidentally, the Gold Spring’s waters are high in saline, so they warm your body to the core and help treat many skin problems. Nearby, the Ginsen (Silver) Spring’s silky, colourless waters help with neurological pain. Both springs are accessible via public bath, but you could just pick a Ryokan from this list and enjoy a stay.
2. Noboribetsu Onsen
Hokkaido’s top spot for onsen hunters has got to be Noboribetsu. The region is home to a spectacular remnants of volcanic eruptions, active steam vents and sulphur streams. This means mineral rich waters spring forth from the earth, perfect for a soak to give you smooth skin and great complexion. Having been there myself, I can tell you that a few soaks in the hot springs here will revitalise your skin! The area is home to multiple Ryokans, so pick one, and enjoy your stay!
3. Beppu Onsen
Located in Oita, Kyushu, the Beppu hot springs yield the largest amount of hot water in Japan. This gives rise to a special mineral mud bath that is great for the nourishment of skin. The area’s Myoban hot spring, in particular, is home to the Beppu Onsen Hoyoland, a relatively affordable public bathhouse. This specific pool of water contains crystals of aluminium and iron sulphate compounds, which contribute to great skin.
4. Ibusuki Onsen
This one is unique! It’s a sand bath, for goodness’ sake. Yes, this onsen is home to “sunamushi” or natural sand bath. Taken from a 300 year old tradition, being buried in this mineral rich sand will help you to relieve nerve and muscle aches, so it’s perfect for all you gym rats out there! In case you’re wondering, all the inns here offer this treatment.
5. Kawaguchiko Onsen
If you want a top notch onsen experience that incorporates an enduring symbol of the country, look no further. This hot spring allows you to bask in the presence of Mt. Fuji, while enjoying a relaxing soak. For best effect, book a luxurious stay at Koraku Onyado Fujiginkei, which has rooms facing Mt. Fuji!
6. Gero Onsen
Gifu is a beautiful place to be in. Surrounded by natural beauty, and home to one of Japan’s top three hot springs. Gero Onsen holds that distinguished spot, and with good reason – the hot spring is the country’s go-to spot for people who are seeking to beautify their skin. The waters come from a pure alkaline spring, and has the same feeling as smooth beauty lotion running off bather’s skins. People don’t just visit once, and this habit has given rise to the Yumeguri Tegata spa pass. Pass holders can get the most out of the Gero area, as they get to enter three different baths in the Gero Gifu area.
7. Shibu Onsen
If you’re wondering where this place is, then perhaps the description of a monkey soaking in a hot spring surrounded by snow will trigger some kind of impression. Yes, Nagano’s Shibu Onsen is the only place you can see wild monkeys hanging out in hot springs. If you’re not really into monkeys, then hide away from these agile apes in one of the nearby public bath houses. The town of Yamanouchi is beautiful, so it’s perfect for a post-onsen stroll!
8. Dogo Onsen
Matsuyama’s Dogo Onsen is Japan’s oldest hot spring. The 3000 year old (!) hot spring is capped by a giant public bath called the Dogo Onsen Honkan, said to have inspired the bath house in Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away”. Besides the age, there’s the legend that this hot spring’s waters were so effective at healing wounds that a villager had seen an injured white heron take flight after bathing in the spring’s waters.
9. Kinosaki Onsen
Located just two and a half hours away from Kyoto, Kinosaki Onsen possesses Kyoto’s elegance. The town is steeped in classic Japanese architecture, with cherry blossoms lining the river that runs through the place. The hot spring water here is full of sodium, calcium and chloride, all great for restoring the body from fatigue and helping it to fight aches and pains. There are seven bath houses in Kinosaki, and if you stay overnight in any Ryokan in town, you’ll get access to every one of those bathhouses!
10. Ikaho Onsen
Located midway up Mt. Haruna, Ikaho Onsen’s reddish brown spring waters are well-known. These iron-laden waters are lauded for relieving joint pains and fighting fatigue. It feels like the town is stuck in a time warp; when you get off the train, you may feel almost like you’ve stepped back 50 years in time.
11. Laqua Onsen
Instead of nestling within quiet towns and mountains, Laqua is in the middle of busy Tokyo. But unlike most public baths in cities, the water they use isn’t simply heated water from normal water pipes. The Tokyo Dome’s architects drilled 1700 metres into the Earth to find a natural spring before figuring a way to send all that water up the Tokyo Dome! The sodium chloride-strong hot spring water is not just good for your skin, it’s also great in assisting with blood circulation.
12. Atami Onsen
Shizuoka prefecture’s Atami Onsen goes back to 1200 years ago, and just happens to sit near the beautiful coast just 50 minutes away from Tokyo. There are two types of spring waters here: chloride and sulphur. While both are good for the body, the sulphur springs alleviate skin conditions and help to make skin soft, supple and smooth. It also doesn’t hurt that the Atami Onsen area is remarkably scenic!