Japan is a country of hot springs and geothermal energy, with more than 100 active volcanoes that are still erupting today. There are also thousands of hot spring resorts scattered throughout the country.
If you’re looking for some relaxation after a long day exploring the city or hiking through the countryside, then there is no better place to be than at one of these amazing hot spring destinations.
The most popular type of hot spring in Japan is onsen (温泉), which literally means “hot water” (see also, ‘Best Onsen in Japan‘).
Onsen are typically found in natural volcanic hot springs, but they can also be man-made by pumping warm water from nearby rivers into large tanks where it mixes with naturally cold mountain spring water.
This combination creates a comfortable temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius.
While many people visit onsens as a relaxing way to spend their time, others use them for bathing. Some even claim that drinking the water has health benefits, although this is not supported by scientific evidence.
In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at the best hot springs in Japan.
Best Hot Springs In Japan
The best known onsen destination in Japan is probably Hakone, an area famous for its beautiful lakes and mountains. It’s easy to get to Hakone from Tokyo thanks to public transportation (see also, ‘What is a Rickshaw?‘), and the resort town offers visitors a variety of accommodation options.
Another great option would be to travel to the northern island of Hokkaido, where you will find the picturesque city of Asahikawa. Locals often enjoy spending weekends visiting the numerous hot spring baths located in and around the city.
Another unique Japanese experience is soaking in kyokoya (浴場). These are traditional bath houses built right inside local communities.
You enter the building, take off your shoes, clothes, and swimwear, and walk down a corridor until you reach the changing room.
Once ready, you step outside the changing room into another small space where you change back into street clothing before leaving the building.
Kyokoya were originally used for communal bathing, but nowadays, they are becoming less common because of urban development. However, if you do decide to try one, make sure to ask permission from the locals first!
There are so many hot springs in Japan that it’s impossible to list all of them here. But we did pick out ten of our favorite hot spring destinations in Japan. Check them out below:
Hakone Onsen, Kanagawa
Located in the center of the Kanagawa Prefecture, which is on the doorstep of Mt. Fuji, lies Hakone.
Just a two-hour journey from Tokyo, is Hakone… You can also stay in one of the many ryokans in the area- a ryokan is a small luxury inn- or in a nearby resort, some of which have their own private onsen available to use.
One of the most well-known is Ryokan Koganei, which dates back to 1872. Today, guests can choose between Western-, Japanese-, and family-style rooms. All accommodations come equipped with private bathrooms, tatami mats, and simple furnishings.
Guests can relax in the outdoor baths, soak up the views, or simply lounge in the indoor baths while enjoying the soothing sounds of nature.
Some of the best-reviewed luxury ryokan with their own onsens include Yamanochaya, Hakone Suishoen, Hakone Kowakudani Onsen, Gora Hanaougiand Gora Kadan. All these resorts boast beautiful scenery and are full of the Japanese landscape views.
Kinosaki Onsen, Toyooka
For the average tourist and non-Japanese speaking person, it may be intimidating to get into the culture of onsens, especially because the signboards are not always translated into other languages.
The hot springs in Japan are not always open to the public due to no-tattoo policies.
However, Kinosaki is an exception to the rule, because here, everyone is welcome. There are several hot springs that are tattoo friendly and all create an authentically traditional experience for all visitors.
There is a river lined with willow trees that runs through the old-time ryokan.
This picturesque onsen is just a two-hour express train ride from Kyoto or three from Osaka. Nearby, there is an endangered stork sanctuary as well as an abundance of other activities to take part in, from zen meditations to green tea picking (see also, ‘What is Hojicha?‘).
Kurokawa Onsen, Kumamoto
Described as ‘heaven on earth’ by many visitors, Kurokawa Onsen is located in central Kyushu. The quaint town has maintained a traditional feel and offers hot spring baths outdoors, which is located right by a tranquilly flowing river.
This onsen has been around for over 300 years and was initially used by weary travelers to recover from their fatigue. One spring in the cluster was believed to be effective in curing wounds.
The spa is well-kept and is regularly used as a public bathing space.
Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata
The hot spring inns or ryokans in Ginzan are surrounded by the Ginzan river. It gives visitors a nostalgia and feels like something out of the acclaimed film, Spirited Away.
At night time, the wooden inns are illuminated by old-school gas lamps which take you back to another time.
This is a must-visit in the winter as snow blankets the whole area, making it look like a winter wonderland. In the winter months, it is filled with tourists and because of its popularity, it is essential to book in advance-and even up to months in advance.
As far as scenery goes, this is top of the list and is an enjoyable experience for all who come here. It is about a three-hour train journey from Tokyo to Oishida and then another 40-minute bus trip to the Ginzan Onsen. It is a long journey, but well worth it.
Dogo Onsen, Shikoku Island
As one of the oldest onsens in Japan, the 3000-year-old Dogo Onsen had its main bath house constructed in the 1800s and looks like a castle. Inside are many ryokans that offer a range of hot spring experiences.
The building itself is majestic and colorful. Inside, features the hot springs which are made famous by all the local myths and legends associated with it. The water is alkaline and extremely gentle on the skin which is only heated from its source and is not reheated.
To do it any justice, you will have to go and visit it but book accommodation elsewhere as there is nowhere to stay overnight.
Yufuin Onsen, Oita
On the foot of Mt. Yufu you will find the famed Yufuin Onsen located in the Oita Prefecture. It is situated in a valley between the hills of the mountain and so provides a spectacular surrounding view.
It is probably one of the hidden gems amongst onsens as it is not over-crowded with tourists and will give you an authentic onsen experience.
Yufuin hot spring water is known for its medicinal properties and has been said to cure and ease arthritis, neuralgia, and fatigue.
There is a bounty of ryokans (see also ‘Best Ryokan In Japan‘) to choose from in this onsen area.
In the mornings, you will be greeted with mist coming in from the mountains and in the spring months the cherry blossoms and mustard flowers dot the landscape with their beautiful pink and yellow color.
No matter what time of the year you visit you will be treated with a beautiful surrounding and tranquility that is unmatched. Although it is quite a rural location, it is about a 10-minute walk from the Yufuin train station which you can get to with a bit of effort.
It is close to Beppu and so may be best to get to Beppu and then to Yufuin which is about a 40-minute drive.
Beppu Onsen, Oita
A list of the best Japanese hot springs would not be complete without including the hot springs that are found in Beppu, the hot spring capital of Japan (see also, ‘What is the Capital of Japan?‘).
Beppu is located in the Oita Prefecture, and so even though it is quite the journey to get there, its rural location is what makes it special.
At Beppu, there is a collection of 8 onsen areas and offers a variety of different types of baths, such as mud baths, sand baths and steam baths.
Additionally, it is worth checking out the Hells of Beppu which are the hottest springs of the region and boast incredible views and is declared a Designated Place of Scenic Beauty of Japan.
They are also famed for their sand bath on Shoningahama beach. Here, you will be bathed in volcanic sand, heated by the volcano whilst overlooking the ocean. This is probably the best destination for hot springs on this list and is a must-visit.
To reach this absolute gem of a hot spring destination, you can fly into Oita and travel by bus to Beppu or take the train from Tokyo-the later is a five-hour journey so it may be quicker to fly in.
Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma
Nestled in the Gunma Prefecture, the Kusatsu Onsen is the most popular onsen destination in Japan, as voted by various travel companies in Japan.
The water of the hot springs flows from Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane is quite acidic, with a pH of 2, and so before it reaches the spring, goes through a neutralization process.
The water after it is heated is extremely hot and so there is a stirring process used to cool the water down without having to add in cold water.
This process is called yumomi and every time the water needs to be cooled, they give a performance for the guests enjoying the hot springs.
There is a strong sulfur presence in the water and this, along with various other minerals present in the water, is what is known to give the water its healing properties.
Several hot springs can be visited free of charge here, with ryokans to stay overnight or over a weekend.
Because it is near the mountains, there are other activities to try out while you are there as well, for example hiking in the summer months or skiing in the winter.
There you have it, a list of some of the best hot springs or onsens found in Japan. Of course, before going, do thorough research on how to get there and also check for any restrictions on tattoos and other rules that you will have to follow.
If you are unsure about how to conduct yourself in a hot spring environment, be sure to ask a tour guide for assistance.
Hopefully, through this list, you will have found a hot spring or two that you would like to dip into. Happy bathing!
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