Onsen: The Best Hot Springs in Japan to Try

Feb 21, 2020 | ESCAPE, Japan, MJ Toledo

Kusatsu Onsen – Gunma, Japan © Karl Stanton

One of the most distinct parts of Japanese Culture are Onsens or hot spring baths. If you’re visiting Japan, you should make time to try this tourist and cultural attraction.

Japan sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire. While this may cause more volcanic eruptions and earthquakes than normal, there’s one positive thing about this unique tectonic placement — the formation of countless natural hot springs.

Bathing in a Japanese Onsen is an experience you shouldn’t miss. This ritual done in a geothermal bath has a huge draw among locals and foreigners. To make Onsen hunting easier for you, we’ve narrowed down our top picks.

Etiquette

Before you visit an Onsen, you should observe proper etiquette. First, remove all your clothes in the designated changing area. Bathing is a mandatory prerequisite, most use a towel to cover their bodies in the common area, some establishment also offers kimono type cover-ups.  Don’t worry, the bathing area for men and women are separate. On rare co-ed onsens, cover-ups are allowed.

Also, check if the onsen allows tattoos. Because tattoos used to be a sign of illegal affiliations in Japan, many onsens do not allow it. It is recommended to cover small tattoos with bandages. Menstruating women are also not permitted in onsens.

Our Top Picks

Here are some of our favorite Onsens in Japan.

Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma Prefecture

One of the most popular hot spring resorts in the country, the Kusatsu Onsen boasts high-quality hot spring water which is believed to cure all illnesses, except a broken heart. This particular hot spring rose to fame after it was recommended by German doctor Erwin von Baelz in the late 1800s for its countless health benefits.

This attraction is situated more than 1,000 meters above sea level. After you’re done bathing here, you can try other activities such as hiking and bathing.

Kurokawa Onsen, Kumamoto Prefecture

This picturesque onsen located in the middle of Kyushu is a sight to behold. It sits 20 kilometers north of Mount Aso and is notable for maintaining a traditional atmosphere, with no giant hotels, and distracting billboards compared to other resort towns in Japan.

Kurokawa’s landscape is dotted with natural colors, a beautiful river, stone chairs, earth-colored walls, and wooden buildings. One of the most famous hot springs in the area is called Nyuyoku Tegata, which promises to relieve nerve pain.

Take no Yu, Tokyo

If you don’t want to stay away from the vibrant city of Tokyo but still want to try onsens, head over to Take no Yu. Despite opening in 1913, this hot spring remains as a hidden gem thanks to the protection of locals. It is said to help with stiff shoulders, exhaustion, coldness, and lower back pain.

This onsen is known for its homey atmosphere which is similar to a public sento. The water of this establishment is sourced from an underground hot spring. As soon as you enter, you’ll be surprised by its dark brownish hue which resembles black coffee. It’s so dark you can’t see past your knees! This tone is made possible by the volcanic ash from the ground.

Yufuin Onsen, Oita Prefecture

Another onsen you shouldn’t miss is the Yufuin Onsen. This majestic onsen will make you think you’ve been transported back in time as you see the towering twin peaks of Mouth Yufu while relaxing in the hot spring.

There are many lodgings you can find around the area, and some inns even offer its private onsen. In the morning, you’ll see the mist taking over the landscape, which adds to its captivating atmosphere.

Yufuin Onsen also offers some of the bluest waters you’ll ever see in your stay in Japan. This onsen is said to be good for moisturizing, which is why many women and beauty enthusiasts flock here.s.

Yufuin Onsen – 由布院温泉 ©hiroooooki

A Must-Try Experience

The best way to see Japan is to immerse yourself in its culture, and since bathing in hot springs is ingrained in the Japanese way of living, it’s something you should make time for. This once in a lifetime experience will not only help you relax, it will also alleviate your health problems.