An onsen is a Japanese hot spring. As a country with numerous volcanoes, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout its major islands. Bathing at an onsen is a great way to enjoy this “land of the rising sun” – Japan. It is not only a new travel experience; it is also good for your physical and mental health.
The water in onsens comes in different colors – green, black, white, brown, and so on – and they contain different natural minerals which are beneficial for relaxation or cure. A visit to an onsen may become one of the special pleasures of your travel experience in Japan.
- Japan is reputed to have over 2,500 onsens
- Hot spring temperatures vary, from nearly 100oC (211oF) to as cool as 20oC (68oF)
- The foremost benefit of hot-spring bathing is that it can relax your body and mind, stimulate circulation, and speed up body metabolism
- Japan’s onsens are often found in natural settings – among mountains, along the seashore, or in narrow valleys – which enhance the tranquil, relaxing, warm and new bathing experience
For hundreds of years Japanese people have reckoned that bathing just once in hot springs will clear your skin, and continued bathing will cure all kinds of aches and pains. The effect of hot spring bathing is basically stimulation: various minerals and other elements penetrate the body and allow the body to repair itself.
In Japan you can find thousands of hot springs and you can enjoy them in many forms, from natural hot springs to man-made ones, from public baths to private ones. In the popular onsen resort areas, you can enjoy many hot spring facilities and a distinctive atmosphere.
In spa resorts, it’s customary for overnight guests to don the yukata (cotton kimono) and geta (traditional clogs) provided by their resort for a stroll around the town. You can complete your visit by trying the hard-boiled eggs (boiled in the hot spring waters) or drinking Japanese cafe latte after taking a bath, for an authentic hot spring experience!
Types of onsens
Onsens come in many shapes and forms, including outdoor and indoor baths, public and private baths, natural and man-made, and so on. Traditionally onsens were outdoors, because the water was geothermally heated. But now many inns have built indoor bathing facilities as well, with naturally heated water.
One of the popular types of onsen is the open-air bath. This is a natural hot spring outdoors, for you who want to try the ultimate onsen experience. You can immerse yourself in an open-air bath with a mountainous view, after doing some physical exercise such as hiking.
Some ryokans (Japanese traditional inns) have rooms with private open-air baths. This kind of bath is popular since you can enjoy a bath with wonderful views, without having to worry about others.
You can alternatively enjoy an indoor bath, offered by most of the ryokan in Japan, and take advantage of the relaxation and healing sensation from it.
How to take an onsen bath
First and foremost, please go to the right baths, usually marked with blue for males and red for females. Then go to the changing area where you need to take off your clothes and go naked, with only a small towel in your hand.
After that you go to the shower area to clean yourself, before you are ready to go inside the bath. Once you finish showering please make sure you clean everything around you, including the tap, and put the stool back the way it was before, etc.
Then you can enter the bath. While bathing, you can fold up your hand towel into a little square and put it on your head.
Once you finish bathing, dry off before going to the changing area or locker area to get changed. Some places provide facilities such as hair dryers, relaxation areas, vending machines, and make-up tables. Feel free to use them.
Selected onsens in Japan
In Japan, hot springs bubble up everywhere and Japanese people enjoy them mainly for their health benefits and social intercourse. Japan’s onsens can be found in natural settings like among mountains, along the seashore, or in narrow valleys. The form and shape of hot springs also depends on the region.
There are 17 hot spring sources in Hakone which make around 25,000 tons of hot spring water every day and make the Hakone region the fifth nationwide, in terms of spring water volume. Hakone is number one in Japan in terms of popularity. The Hakone onsen area in Kanagawa has simple springs with colorless, odorless waters ideal for beginners. They are soft and gentle to the skin, and said to be good for neuralgia and back pain. We recommend two onsens in Hakone.
Hakone-Kamon Hot Springs
This is a large ryokan with a total of 20 indoor and outdoor baths. Hakone-Kamon will serve you with high-quality onsens. There is also a relaxing sauna, and indoor areas with carefully decorated stone and wooden floors. Tea is served at the end. Hakone-Kamon is near Yumoto Station.
Entrance fee: adults ¥2,000 ($18), children ¥1,200 ($11)
Opening hours: 10.30 – 17.00
Hakone Yuryo is a traditionally-styled countryside hot spring resort. For an extra fee, it also offers massages. It is one of the onsens within Hakone’s forests. Hakone Yuryo offers a large communal bath and 19 private open-air baths.
Communal onsen (daily fee): adults ¥1,400 ($13), children (6-12 y.o.) ¥700 ($6.5)
Private onsens (hourly fee): ranging from ¥4,000 to ¥6,000 or from $36 to $54 (depending on the capacity of the room).
Minakami onsen dragon ball
Most of the onsens in the Minakami Onsen area in Gunma are acid springs and sulfate springs, supposedly effective for healing wounds. Minakami Onsen is located alongside the mountain stream that comes down from the Tanigawa mountain range; it is also adorned by a beautiful natural environment. We recommend two onsens in Minakami.
Tanigawa Onsen offers a relaxing hot spring resort with the stunning scenery of Mt. Tanigawa throughout all four seasons. The hot springs overflow with nutrients which bring over 20 health benefits.
General fee: ¥600 ($5.5)
Opening hours: 09.00 – 21.00
Takawagawa Onsen welcomes both overnight and day visitors. Its boast is that it is the largest open spa, accommodating up to 200 people in mixed bathing!
General fee: ranging from ¥1000 to ¥1500 ($9 to $13.5)
Opening hours: 09.00 – 17.00
Arima Onsen is a famous hot spring town in the city of Kobe, located behind Mount Rokko. It is regarded as one of Japan’s oldest hot spring resorts. There are two types of distinguished and rare onsen in this town: the Kinsen (“gold water”) and the Ginsen (“silver water”). There are two public bath houses and many ryokans to help you enjoy the onsen experience. We recommend two onsen ryokans for your consideration:
This has one golden and one silver hot spring bathtub, plus 4 private onsens. Located in the high ground near the mountain in Arima Onsen, you will enjoy the green countryside while bathing in Taketoritei Maruyama.
Room price: $354 - $782 (there is an extra ¥150 hot spring charge)
Opening hours: 06.00 – 00.00
Hyoe Koyokaku is a long-established ryokan, with 700 years of history and tradition. It provides three large public baths and you can enjoy the “golden spring” onsen with a high concentration of iron and sodium, supposedly helpful for those with anemia.
Besides, the best thing about bathing in natural hot springs is that you can get physically and mentally refreshed. Room price: ¥14,000 – ¥38,000 ($126 – $342)
Opening hours: 06.00 – 01.00
(Hot springs in Hyoe Koyokaku are only for those who stay in the hotel. Opening hours differ depending on the services.)
The Kurokawa Onsen area is in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu Island. You can feel the therapeutic and relaxing atmosphere while bathing in this hot spring. We recommend two ryokans in Kurokawa.
You can console yourself in Japanese tranquility at Waterfall Spa, one of the top 100 hot springs nationally. General fee: starts from $173 per person
“Kurokawaso” is a real traditional Japanese-style inn located north of Mt. Aso. You can enjoy the milk green hot springs of Kurokawaso and also the perpendicular cliff and the superb views throughout all four seasons, looking up from a wide outdoor hot spring.
Room price: starts from ¥31,314 ($282) per night.
Some onsens prohibit entry to people with tattoos, but some overlook small tattoos. You can ask first. Before going inside the bath, please make sure you put your stuff in the locker or in the proper place. If you have long hair, tie it up, because nothing should touch the water.
When you are inside the big common bath, be sure not to talk in a loud voice or splash. Also, please mind the heat! You can combine or mix with another kind of bath if you feel too hot in one spring. Please don’t swim inside the bath.
You are also not allowed to bring your camera or smartphone because there are many naked people around. After bathing, please make sure you are not still dripping wet before going back to the changing room.
Enjoy Onsens with Asia Highlights
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