If you’re heading to Japan for vacation, you absolutely need to visit an onsen hot springs. Onsens are natural hot springs that have been created by volcanic activity. A visit to these healing hot spring waters is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and is a healthy, rejuvenating and incredibly relaxing experience. There are a whopping 27,000 hot springs sources spread across Japan, many of which even have their own town built around them. We’ve rounded up the best onsens in Japan, and have thrown in some top tips for bathing etiquette too.
1. Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma
The Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma is one of Japan’s most famous natural hot springs. It’s known for its ancient bathing rituals and the waters are said to be so potent they can cure all illnesses, except lovesickness (sorry for those with broken hearts)! At Kusatsu, you can visit several hot springs, free of charge, and there are several onsen resorts and traditional Japanese inns, or ryokans, where you can spend the night after a busy day of doing nothing in the warm waters.
2. Yufuin Onsen, Kyushu Region
The Yufuin Onsen offers one of the most spectacular views in Japan. The onsen is surrounded the Kyushu mountains and you can see the jaw-dropping twin peaks of Mount Yufu as you kick back in the hot springs. There are plenty of ryokans dotted around the town, many of which have their own private onsens. If you’re not staying at a resort or a ryokan, you can often still access their baths with a day-pass, which can cost between 500 and 2,000 Yen ($4 – $18 USD). Around Yufuin, there are also some perfectly blue-colored spring waters that are said to have a moisturizing effect upon the skin, making them a big draw for women and those interested in beauty care.
3. Hakone Onsen, Kanagawa Prefecture
If you’re pushed for time and visiting Tokyo, you’ll find the relaxing Hakone Onsen under two hours away. The hot springs have over 1,200 years of history and are a top vacation getaway from those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The area is known for its beautiful view of Mount Fuji, along with incredible surrounding mountain scenery and is a great place to unwind.
4. Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen, Yamanashi Prefecture
Imagine bathing in natural hot springs located on the base of the mighty Mount Fuji. Yes, it’s possible! Head to the Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen, where you can find a number of guesthouses and ryokan inns, with both indoor and outdoor bathing options. It’s one of the best onsens in Japan and the ideal time to visit is in the spring when you’ll be surrounded by cherry blossom trees in all their glory.
5. Dogo Onsen, Shikoku island
Dogo Onsen on Shikoku Island is known to be the oldest onsen in Japan, dating back 3,000 years. Its main bathhouse was constructed in the 19th century and resembles a Japanese wooden castle. There are several ryokans nearby offering a variety of different hot springs experiences.
6. Nyuto, Akita Prefecture
Nyuto is an onsen village located in the heart of the mountains in the Akita prefecture. It’s known for its stunning blue, milky waters and the best time to visit is in winter when the surrounding area is covered in a thick blanket of snow, making it a truly spectacular sight. It’s one of the best onsens in Japan and bathing in its hot waters while it’s snowing is an unforgettable experience.
7. Beppu Onsen, Oita Prefecture
Beppu Onsen is home to a whopping 2,000 hot spring sources and the Beppu hot springs officially consist of eight areas that are collectively called “Beppu Hatto”. You’ll find a variety of bathing options in the area, from sand baths to mud baths. When in the area, be sure to try the specialty onsen eggs, which are steamed or boiled in the hot spring water, and said to be incredibly good for your health.
On entry to an onsen, you’re going to have to prepare yourself for your nostrils to be filled with the smell of sulfur. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the smell quickly and won’t notice it too much after a few minutes in the baths.
In many of the ancient onsens, complete nudity is mandatory, so get ready to bare all. Remember, however, to be respectful and not stare or behave unnaturally in the onsen.
You’ll have to scrub your body in the shower before entering an onsen.
Some of the onsens feel very hot at first, but you will acclimatize to the temperature of the water quickly.
Your hair is not supposed to touch the water, so just submerge your body to your shoulders. If you have long hair bring a supply of hairbands.
Bathhouses are social places and many bathers enjoy having a chat while relaxing. Keep voices low, however.
Drink plenty of water before and after your visit — the heat will certainly dehydrate you.