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The Best Japan Hot Spring to Visit

The Japanese onsen, otherwise known as a Japan hot spring, is a place to kick back, relax, and let your worries melt away in the hot water. The tradition of enjoying the stress-relieving and healing water of hot springs in Japan has thousands of years of tradition. From remote onsen villages to full-on theme parks, visitors to the country are highly encouraged to take part in the many beautiful and unique onsens Japan has to offer.

Check this list to ensure you get to at least one of the top locations on your next visit to Japan.

What are the customs and rules when visiting a Japanese hot spring?

Japan hot springs customs and rules when visiting.

Going to an onsen in Japan is not complicated. However, there are some customs and rules you’ll want to follow at Japanese hot springs. This quick list of tips will ensure you have a smooth introduction to your Japanese onsen experience.

  • You have to be naked. Very few onsens allow bathing suits. Use the changing room and put your clothes in the provided lockers. You will generally be given a key that goes around your wrist.
  • Most onsen will be separated by gender. Red curtains mean “woman” and blue curtains mean “man.” Look for the characters 女 (woman)and 男 (man) to know for sure which entrance is for which gender.
  • No drinking alcohol, bringing glass in, or eating.
  • If you are in the men’s area, you will likely see women cleaning. Men will carry on as if they aren’t there. Quick note: This also happens in the bathrooms throughout Japan.
  • Wash well before entering the pool. This isn’t a quick rinse and go. The cleanliness of the water is taken quite seriously. People diligently clean themselves before entering the water.
  • There will be a separate area for cleaning. Stools are provided with a mirror and shower head. Usually, soap and shampoo are provided also.
  • Many Japanese people use a small towel to cover themselves when walking from pool to pool.
  • If you use a small towel, don’t put it in the water. Clothe is not allowed in the pools.
  • It’s okay to talk, but do some quietly.
  • Do not splash or swim. It isn’t a swimming pool.
  • People do not dunk their heads under the water.
  • Rinse after. Many Japanese people fully wash again after the bath, especially if the water is natural and contains a smell.
  • Dry off before going back to the changing rooms. At the very least don’t get the changing room wet.
  • After taking a bath, try drinking coffee milk or having matcha ice cream. It’s the ultimate way to refresh after soaking.

What are the best onsen villages and natural Japan hot spring options?

Hot Spring entrance in Kusatsu showing the traditional style buildings

One of the best ways to experience onsen water is to go somewhere with an abundance of temperatures and atmospheres that allow you to hop around from a relaxing location to a relaxing location.

In comes the onsen village. An onsen village is a whole town in the countryside made of onsen resorts and pools, traditional buildings, and amazing baths.

Kurokawa Onsen

Located in Kyushu in Kumamoto prefecture (recognizable for its world-famous bear mascot and castle), Kurokawa Onsen is one of the premier hot spring towns. In the mountains around a river, there are about 30 natural hot springs surrounded by thick forests and wildflowers. The mineral-rich waters are famous in Japan for their healing properties.

Many of the 30 hot spring baths are outside. Each bath costs 500 yen ($3-$5 USD), or you can buy a pass called a “tageta” for 1300 yen that allows you into 3 baths of your choice within the town. It’s common to see people walking the town in a yukata, hopping from hot spring to hot spring with wooden passes around their necks as they visit each traditional onsen to soak.

In addition to the outdoor baths, each hot spring resort or ryokan (Japanese culture-style hotel) has private baths you can rent for yourself that are great for a couple on a romantic trip or honeymoon.

Reach the village by bus or car. The journey takes about 2.5 hours from Fukuoka and 4.5 hours from Oita Prefecture and Oita Airport.

Kusatsu Onsen Hot Springs

Among the Japanese hot springs Kusatsu stands out for its hot water pipes.

Kusatsu onsen resort town is located 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Tokyo in Gunma prefecture mountains. It contains 13 public baths and is a popular tourist location. The journey takes about three hours and forty-five minutes from Shinjuku Bus Terminal or three hours from Takasaki Station.

It’s famous for the Yubatake geothermal field, a system of pools and pipes that distribute the gushing hot water to the various hot springs, and healing waters. The field is located in the middle of town and is a great place to relax between visiting onsens as you watch the plumes of steam rise into the air.

The healing waters of Kusatsu onsen town are particularly famous. Feudal lords in the Edo period carried this water as far as Tokyo for its special mineral composition and health benefits. The waters are believed to be excellent for the skin.

Enjoy this spa resort town in a yukata, snack on manju (traditional sweets), and try an onsen egg. You might see these eggs hanging in baskets from the Yubatake pipes. They are cooked in the onsen water and have a custard-like taste and texture.

Kinosaki Onsen

Kinosaki Onsen is among Japan’s most famous hot springs and villages for its beauty and place in Japanese history. Long, sweeping willows hover over the river running through the center with its stone-worked bank, creating one of Japan’s more photogenic locations, especially in the spring and winter. It’s also maintained its traditional look and allure for the 1300 years people have been coming to Kinosaki for its different mineral waters and to heal the body.

We recommend purchasing a day pass to all seven pools, or, if you are staying at a traditional Japanese inn, receive your pass as part of your accommodations. Then you can begin your “onsen-meguri”, meaning roughly “hot spring tour.” You’ll find several indoor baths and more than one open-air bath which include caves, Japanese painted screens, ceramic barrels, and more.

Located just 2.5 hours from Kyoto in Hyogo prefecture, it’s a great addition to any Kansai trip. Even more, it’s popular due to its welcoming atmosphere. All seven pools are tattoo-friendly and you’ll find it easy to get around due to a handy map of the town.

Arima Onsen and the famous Kinsen and Gisen hot spring water

Traditional-style Japan hot spring like the ones found at Arima.

An onsen village within the city limits of Kobe that is easily accessible from Kyoto or Osaka year-round. Arima stands out among Japan’s hot springs for its more than 1,000-year tradition of bringing healing through its two distinct hot spring water sources.

Arima Onsen is believed to be the oldest hot spring resort in Japan. It’s also one of the most famous for its “kinsen” and “ginsen” hot water sources. Each spring contains different minerals believed to cure the body of ailments. The kinsen (“golden spring”, 金泉) features yellow-brown water of iron and salt that people say can cure muscle strain and joint pains. The “ginsen” (“silver spring”, 銀泉) is clear and contains carbonate and radium. People believe ginsen helps with gastrointestinal issues and circulation.

There are two public bathhouses and many private ryokan in the traditional style villa. Admission for a day to one bath costs between 500 yen and 3000 yen ($3-$15).

Science has yet to confirm the healing properties of the onsen, however, that doesn’t stop the day and weekend trippers from coming. The trip takes about 30-40 minutes from Kobe’s Shin-Kobe Station or about an hour from Osaka-Umeda Terminal.

Where is the monkey onsen? And can I soak in the natural hot spring with them?

Nagano snow monkeys bathing in a natural onsen

Nagano prefecture is home to the Jigokudani Yaen National Park, often called Monkey Park. The park’s name literally means “hell valley” and comes from the boiling water that pours out of the mountainsides to form the pools. All year, especially in winter, the snow monkeys bathe in the waters of a natural hot spring.

The park is not easily accessible, which keeps the crowds to a minimum. It’s high in the mountains and is covered in snow 4 months of the year. A fairly steep hike through 2 km (1.2 mi) of forests and rock is required to see the furry bathers.

Visitors cannot bathe with the monkeys in the park. However, you can stay close to the Yaen National Park at Korakukan Jigokudani Onsen. The Ryokan features outdoor and indoor pools. The monkeys sometimes visit the outdoor bathes to soak with the guests.

Where is the wine and coffee bath?

Kanagawa Prefecture makes claim to the hot spring theme park called Yunessun on the Izu peninsula. More than just a collection of hot water, it features swimming pools, slides, and a variety of unique bathing experiences you won’t find anywhere else.

Among the most notable experiences are the various additive onsens. A red wine bath has actual wine added to the onsen waters. It’s believed to be good for the skin, as well as inviting as a decadent experience. There are also coffee, sake, and green teen pools. Drinking the water is prohibited, and you wouldn’t want to anyway with all the swimmers inside.

The amusement park requires a bathing suit for many of the outdoor facilities and special pools. There is also a traditional style onsen. Tattoos must be covered.

It costs 3500 yen (around $17-$20 USD) and 1800 yen (around $12-$14 USD) to enter.

To get to the park, take the train from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto Station. If you are coming from Haneda Airport, take the train to Shinagawa Station and then transfer to the bullet train to Oadawara Station.

Transfer once more to the bus and arrive at the Kowakien bus stop. The park is across the street from the stop.

How can I see Mount Fuji from an onsen?

Mt Fuji viewed from Lake Kawaguchiko

Shizuoka Prefecture is home to Mount Fuji and plenty of onsen bathing options with a view of the famous active volcano. The geothermal life in the region and the plentiful water resources allow for a true onsen experience overlooking the majestic mountain. As it’s just a couple hour’s reach from Tokyo City the trip can be done in one day, or stay overnight for the ultimate traditional inn experience.

The most famous viewing location is Lake Kawaguchiko, one of 5 lakes encircling the volcano. Our top recommendations for the view are

  • Kukuna Resort. The resort is on the lake and offers one of the best views of Fuji plus a panoramic view of Lake Kawaguchiko. Stay or pay the day-use fee of 3000 yen (about $20 USD) to use the onsen facilities.
  • Hottarakashi Onsen. A public bath with a higher elevation view due to being 700 meters above sea level. Get a view of the Kofu Plain, Fuji, and the surrounding mountain range. There are two baths. Each costs 800 yen ($6-7 USD).
  • Yurari Onsen. With 16 types of baths, two of them outdoor, Yunari provides a luxurious and varied onsen experience. See the mountain in the distance from these exquisite pools. Costs 1500 yen (around $10 USD) for adults. Pay extra to rent towels.

Buses and trains are available from Shinjuku and Tokyo Station to Lake Kawaguchi. The journey will require between 1500-2000 yen and take about 2-2.5 hours.

Summary

Japan hot springs are more than just a bath. They are a rich cultural tradition that brings people out to remote places to relax, refresh, and enjoy the scenery and elegance of Japan.

We sincerely hope on your next visit you’ll get a chance to enjoy one of the onsen villages, public hot springs, or other pools listed here. It’s one unique experience that most travelers miss about their time in Japan. We are sure you’ll enjoy it too, and it’ll give you just another reason to fall in love with the country.

Jonathan Mcnamara

Jonathan is a veteran of the Japan and Korean expat life. He lived in Japan and Korea for almost 10 years, and speaks Korean and Japanese. A blogger, a writer, website maker who's had his share of relationships while living abroad, he's now turned his attention to helping others navigate traveling, living, working, and relationships in Japan.

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