The Best Onsen in Japan for Your Next Weekend Getaway
In Japan, onsens (Japanese for “hot springs”) have enjoyed a long and celebrated history, due — at least in part — to a natural abundance of these hot springs fueled by the country’s many active volcanoes. According to the Nippon Onsen Research Institute, there are 27,297 volcanic spring sources and 2,983 onsen bathing houses near these sources from which to choose.
While onsens are often cited as a tourist attraction, there are many reasons to consider the onsen experience that have little to do with it as a cultural wonder. Namely, the many health, beauty, and anti-aging benefits that hot springs are purported to have.
Yet, even without the curative elements, an onsen experience should be prized for the total relaxation and refreshment it brings to both the body and the mind. Additionally, because onsen spots are typically tucked away in gorgeous locations, the experience is immersive and captivating, and you glimpse views of Japan seldom seen by those who only visit Japan’s urban areas.
So if you’re in the mood for planning your next weekend getaway, here are 7 of the best onsen in Japan for you to consider:
Hokkaido’s top onsen resort locale
Japan’s northernmost isle is celebrated for its picturesque nature scenes, delicious king crab, and fresh-caught seafood, but its onsen culture is also strong. Hokkaido has the highest number of onsens (244) per prefecture in Japan. Among this array of choices, connoisseurs point to Noboribetsu Spa as the top onsen spot. The Noboribetsu official website has a curated selection of ryokans and hotels that offer onsen facilities. Prices will vary from place to place, with a wide selection of stays for every kind of traveler from which to choose.
A trip to southern Japan’s acclaimed onsen town
Oita prefecture in Kyushu has the highest number of hot spring sources (3,526) in all of Japan, sending out a volume of water second only to Yellowstone National Park. Set against this backdrop is Beppu Onsen town with eight popular hot spring spots referred to as “Bebbu Hatto.” With so many onsens to choose from, we recommend starting with Takegawara Onsen (¥300), selected in a Top 20 list by Trip Advisor for day and spa trips in Japan. The area is rich in culture, history, and art, so if you have yet to visit Japan’s southern islands, this is a legitimate and attractive reason.
A luxury resort, offering the full traditional experience in Shizuoka
Zagyosoh, located not too far from Tokyo, is the right fit for those who want a complete traditional experience along with their onsen getaway. Their luxurious facility contains a beautiful open-air onsen, so you can bathe while enjoying the carefully cultivated Japanese moss garden. Additionally, you can experience a Japanese tea ceremony (¥2,000), try your hand at origami or other Japanese craft (¥1500 – ¥2000), or try on traditional kimono (¥28,000). The winner of Asia’s Best Culinary Hotel award in 2017, so the food here is guaranteed to surprise and delight. Prices vary. The villa with an open-air bath plan includes kaiseki-style breakfast and dinner at approx. ¥89,540.
Japan’s 3000-year-old traditional onsen in Ehime
Dogo Onsen is legendary throughout Japan as being one of the oldest bathing spots still in use today. This site is worth a visit, if only for the architectural craftsmanship on display, which, in 1994, was designated as a National Important Cultural Property and was rumored to be the inspiration for the bathing house in Spirited Away, the popular anime by Hiyao Miyazaki. The main building of Dogo Onsen is undergoing renovations to its upper floors, but the Kami-no-Yu onsen on the first floor remains open (¥420). Book accommodations separately and stay for a couple of days to take in the many cultural and historical sights.
The cure-all hot springs of Gunma
Frequently ranked at the top of famous onsens in Japan, Kusatsu Onsen is a wildly popular onsen destination — said to cure every ailment except for a broken heart. This location has many onsen facilities that are collectively known as Kusatsu Onsen. So rather than just one onsen experience, you can try variations of the onsen experience, from bathing in a variety of temperatures to experiencing an onsen with its own waterfall. Two of the most renowned onsen in the area are Otaki no Yu (¥900) and Sai-no-Kawara Outdoor Bath (¥600). Book accommodations separately.
Mount Nyuto’s milky-blue hot springs in Northern Japan
Nyuto Onsen is the name for eight hot spring facilities nestled together at the foot of Mount Nyuto, close to Lake Tazawako, in Akita prefecture. These hot springs are well-known for their springs’ natural milky-blue color, which are a rare visual treat. Most of the onsens here are combined with a ryokan (traditional inn). One option is to book a multi-night stay at one ryokan, and then “onsen hop,” visiting each of the other onsens on subsequent days. Our personal recommendation is to stay at Tsurunoyu (approx. ¥11,000-), which dates back to the Edo period and has an inviting traditional aesthetic. Bathing options include outdoor baths with mixed gender bathing, and non-mixed baths available indoors.
A cruise off the Southern Sea of Japan
For something slightly different, Guntû is a floating hotel with cruise routes that take you to various locations around Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Styled as a ryokan, the hotel has 19 cabins, an onboard onsen, and a sushi bar that seats six. This luxurious experience was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the world’s greatest places of 2019. The price (¥450,000 – ¥1,450,000) covers a multiple-night stay — drinking, dining, and use of facilities included. Traveling from Tokyo to southern Japan will possibly require a flight or two. This is a treat for when you are in the mood to indulge.
Need someone to make reservations or travel arrangements for you?
Why not try our industry-leading virtual assistant service today?
Pricing starts at just ¥15,000/mo — or roughly the price of one month’s gym membership. There’s no contract or sign-up fee, so you’re free to cancel at any time if you choose.
Here at TokyoMate, we say work smarter, not harder.