Japanese Onsen (hot springs)

Hot springs have a very long history in Japan, and they are an intimate part of Japanese culture. There are over 3,000 “onsen” – or hot springs – in Japan, many which can be found at the ryokans listed at Japanese Guest Houses. Onsens are created from water heated naturally underground, and the water varies both in degrees and in mineral composition. The water is piped into the ryokans or other establishments, and then regulated at various temperatures. At many ryokans, there will be large indoor onsen for both men and women.

They may often have several pools with wall-length windows where you can look out over a garden, river, or another natural setting. The interior may be lined with natural rocks and decorated with various kinds of tropical plants. There are also outdoor onsen called “rotenburo.” At some ryokans they can be found nearby, and they are often open all night. The outdoor onsens can be more rustic than the indoor onsens, and often they do not have any changing rooms.

Old onsen in Kinosaki Onsen – 1910

onsen iconTop 10 hot spring destinations

#1 Hakone
top 10 hot springs

Located less than one hour from Tokyo by train, Hakone is part of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Hakone is one of the most beautiful parts of Japan, and it offers everything a vacationer could hope for in their journey around the country such as mountains, lakes, hot springs, museums and interesting historical sites. Hakone is a must-see destination for any traveler to Japan.

#2 Arashiyama, Kyoto
top 10 hot springs

Arashiyama is a district on the western outskirts of Kyoto, Japan. Know for it’s scenic river views and hot spring baths.

#3 Shuzenji
top 10 hot springs

Shizuoka Prefecture is located along the Pacific Ocean, and it is full of mountains, lakes, and a long, picturesque coastline. This area contains over 2,300 hot springs, and the coastline offers some gorgeous scenery and pretty beaches.

#4 Nyuto Onsen
top 10 hot springs

Nyuto Onsen is one of the most popular hot spring resorts in Tohoku, located in the deep mountain area of Tazawa Kogen plateau, Akita prefecture. It is a perfect example of a hot spring resort in a rural setting, surrounded by deep forests and mountains.

#5 Yudanaka Onsen
top 10 hot springs

Nagano Prefecture is often referred to as the “Roof of Japan” because it is home to the Central, Northern, and Southern Japanese Alps. There are four national parks in the prefecture, and it is possible to enjoy outdoor activities all year round from camping and hiking in the spring, summer, and fall to snowboarding and skiing in the winter months. The Japanese Alps provide innumerable hot springs where you can relax and enjoy some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Japan.

#6 Kinosaki Onsen
top 10 hot springs

Kinosaki Onsen in northern Hyogo prefecture is famous for seafood, especially crab, which is best during the winter months of November through March. There are 7 public hot spring bath houses to enjoy (all of which allow tattoos in the baths!). Travelers can be seen strolling along the river in yukatas (cotton kimono) and geta (wooden sandals) enjoying cherry trees and weeping willows as well of the traditional feel of the town. Truly picturesque.

#7 Arima Onsen
top 10 hot springs

Arima Onsen (Arima Hot Springs) is located in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture and it is one of the oldest hot spring areas in Japan. Located on the northern slopes of Mount Rokko, Arima Hot Springs is full of expensive hotels, souvenir shops, and resorts. It is a very good destination for a first introduction to a hot spring resort.

#8 Nikko
top 10 hot springs

Ninety miles (144 kilometers) north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture lies the historical site of Nikko. Nikko’s colorful shrines and temples and its national park offer the visitor a wonderful combination of both Japanese history and natural beauty. This complex of temples and shrines at Toshogu are the highlight of Nikko, and afterwards visitors can explore the mountains along Nikko’s numerous hiking trails.

#9 Kurokawa Onsen
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This very popular hot spring town is located near Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyushu. Kurokawa Onsen is surrounded by the beautiful mountains and lush gorges of the Aso region. It is a typical hot spring town with the ryokans and shops lined up and down the river. Many of the inns offer outdoor public hot spring baths, including special experiences like waterfalls and grottos. You can also purchase a Hot Springs Pass to enter three hot springs of your choice.

#10 Mt. Fuji
top 10 hot springs

Japan’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji, rises 3,776 meters (12,380 ft) above sea level. Near Mount Fuji lie the Fuji Five Lakes district. During the summertime, this area is popular with tourists from nearby Tokyo. Lake Kawaguchi is a good starting point to climb Mount Fuji, and it also provides access to Mount Tenjo which has some wonderful views of Mount Fuji and the surrounding lakes.

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