With the high level of volcanic activity in Japan, it is no surprise that the country boasts many natural hot springs. These hot springs, or onsen, attract international and domestic visitors alike. From clear, steaming pools, to iron-rich baths, there are variety of bathing experiences to be had. Each soak refreshes the senses and the body. alike. A dip in any one of Japan’s famous hot springs is said to aid stress, exhaustion, and other health concerns. Over the centuries, resort towns have sprung up about these natural wonders, providing excellent food, entertainment, and shopping.
Has a look at our summer exhibition After the Bath sparked a desire to soak in an onsen yourself? While there are myriad options for experiencing onsen culture, Ronin Gallery has selected ten of the most popular onsen in Japan today.
Located in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu, Yufuin Onsen rests in the shadow of Mt. Yufu. Resting in a valley surrounded by mountains, this onsen is ideal for open air baths. Visitors can take in the scenery and the beauty of Kirin Lake during their visit. In addition to its natural wonders, Yufuin offers many other attractions such as a host of restaurants and shops, as well as several museums. Yufuin Onsen is consistently ranked as a top hot springs destination.
Kusatsu Onsen is known the quality of the water that fills its hot springs. Located in Gunma Prefecture, this onsen is also known for the yubatake, or “hot water field,” in the middle of town. As water springs from the earth, it is too hot for bathing. The water temperature is brought down through the practice of yumomi, where the water is manually cooled to bathing temperature with large wooden paddles.
Within an easy train ride of Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka. Arima Onsen is located in Hyogo Prefecture. This historic area is best known for its specialty baths. The akayu, or “red bath,” gets its name from the dark color caused by the water's natural iron content. This mineral-rich bath is also known as the “golden spring.” Another specialty bath is known as ginsen, meaning silver spring. While the water lacks surprising colors, the water is naturally carbonated.
Located in Gifu prefecture, Gero Onsen provides natural beauty and historical character. Like Kusatsu and Arima, Gero Onsen has been praised for its superior baths since the Muromachi period (1392-1573). The three public bathhouses offer a variety of bathing experiences, while nearby waterfalls and lava flows provide natural attractions to visit in between soaks in the hot springs.
Dogo Onsen has been an popular destination since the writing of The Tale of Genji in the 11th century. Located in Ehime Prefecture, the focal point of this historic hot springs is its stunning main building. Dating to 1894, this multistory bathhouse is listed Important Cultural Property. It is said that this historic structure inspired the design of the supernatural bathhouse in Hayao Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away. In addition, Dogo Onsen is home to an annual art festival.
Beppu is a resort town in Oita Prefecture. Beppu Onsen is one of eight distinct onsen areas in town, which include Hamawaki, Kanikaiji, Hotta, Myouban, Kannawa and Shibaseki. Each has a different character and bathing experience. Plans are in place to build a onsen amusement as well! Beppu is known for particularly thick steam from some baths. These pools are more of a spectacle than a bathing choice. The thick steam results from soaring temperatures that are far too hot to sit in.
Kinosaki in home to seven public baths and a vast array of traditional Japanese inns. Located in Hyogo Prefecture, these hot springs have attracted bathers for more than 1,000 years, when pilgrims were said to have climbed the mountain to enjoy the warmth and healing power of the water.
To the north in Hokkaido, Noboribetsu Onsen offers a snowy bathing experience. Under an hour from Sapporo by train, Noboribetsu onsen offers a variety of bathing options, including sulfur, iron, and hydrogen baths. This onsen is also known for the nearby Hell Valley, named for the clouds of steam emitted from the earth. While Hell themed drinks and food can be found throughout the year, each August a Hell-themed festival is held, complete with elaborate floats and fireworks.
Only 1.5 hours from Tokyo, Hakone offers a quick escape from the city. The hot springs are surrounded by traditional inns and plentiful shopping. The popularity of Hakone stems not only from its convenience, but also for the breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji. Nestled within the mountains at the edge of Lake Ashi, visitors can take in views of Japan’s most sacred mountain from their bath.
From lush forests to Toshogu Shrine, a visit to Kinugawa offers more than a bath. Kinugawa Onsen is located in Nikko, an area known for its striking natural beauty. Waterfalls, wooded trails, and rivers create a beautiful backdrop for the bath, while inviting adventures beyond the tub.