Famous for its natural hot springs, onsen towns are a must-see when visiting Japan. With a dip in the pool, there is no doubt that it will leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated!
If you’re looking for some popular hot springs in Japan to relax while soaking up the local culture, this guide will give you the top onsen places all around the country.
What is an Onsen
An onsen “hot water spring" is a natural hot spring bath created by Japan’s multiple volcanic activity. The onsen water is geothermally heated beneath the ground and rises to the surface bubbling hot.
Many centuries ago, before modern medicine was invented, onsen was known for their relaxing and magical healing qualities. Disease-ridden patients would soak in the onsen for weeks and leave the pool feeling healthy again. The expansion of inns, ryoken and bathhouses built around the hot springs, have formed onsen towns today.
Types of Japanese Onsen
Japan offers numerous types of onsens that are classified by their mineral composition. These minerals are known to aid illness and injury. The theory is that the minerals found in the onsen water are absorbed through your skin and into your body, providing various medical benefits.
- Sulphur Onsen – Known for their distinct smell and milky colour, and is believed that this can help treat skin disorders and arthritis.
- Iron Onsen – Rusty coloured type of spring water that are rich in iron and helps the body’s ability to retain heat. When consumed, it replenishes the body’s iron levels, beneficial for anemics.
- Alkaline Onsen – These hot springs are suggested for women as they supposedly add “femininity" to the bather.
- Hydrogen Onsen – Are rich in carbonation, which is great for skin, giving it a smooth feeling, as well as healing cuts, burns, chronic skin diseases, and more.
- Sulphate Onsen – This type of hot spring can be classified into three types: calcium, sodium and magnesium.
- Radium Onsen – These springs are rare and usually pricey. It is proclaimed that radium hot springs with virtues of lightly radioactive radon clear skin, restore youth, and even cure cancer.
Top 4 Onsen Towns in Japan
Experience the best onsen in Japan. Warm up and rejuvenate your body and mind at these scenic hot spring resorts that are easily accessible from Tokyo. We’ve rounded up four of the best onsen resorts that have become desirable destinations for the perfect day trip or weekend break.
Nikko is a town located at the entrance to Nikko National Park. It is famous for Toshogu Shrine – a popular attraction with its five storied pagoda, many colourful buildings that are richly decorated with gorgeous carvings, and its most notable panel of the Three Wise Monkeys.
The historic Shinkyo Bridge (meaning sacred bridge) is the oldest bridge built over a gorge in Japan and is located near the entrance of the Nikko shrine area. Both sites are registered as the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Kinugawa Onsen is a hot spring at the upper stream of the Kinugawa River, which runs through Nikko. Kinugawa is actually made up of two hot springs: the Taki Onsen on the west bank of the Kinugawa River, and Fujiwara Onsen on the east. These onsens attracts many travellers every year as they’re known for their relaxing properties. Kinugawa Onsen currently has over 80 hotels and ryokans that range from traditional Japanese style to modern Western style.
Onsen towns offer a distinctly Japanese experience. But what’s genuinely authentic is Kinosaki Onsen. Kinosaki onsen is easily accessible by train from Kyoto and Osaka. Travellers can take a limited express train directly to Kinosaki Onsen Station from either city.
The hot spring is like a soundtrack with clip-clopping sounds that you can hear beneath your window. It is the ideal place for a first visit to an onsen town in Japan, as it’s foreigner-friendly, and is a beautiful destination overall. Very close to Kinosaki Onsen are beautiful beaches, adventurous highlands, and a historical castle town.
Arima Onsen, Kobe
Arima Onsen is a famous hot spring town, known for its centuries-old bathhouses. The town lies in a natural mountain setting and makes a perfect day trip or weekend getaway for travellers or locals in Kobe and Osaka. It has become a unique hot spring mountain spa resort with tranquil paths and footbridges that line the Arimagawa River.
Due to its compact size, you can explore the small town entirely on foot. There are several hot spring sources, stunning temples and shrines, and a small hot spring museum to be discovered during your time here.
Beppu is one of the most famous hot spring resorts in the city of Beppu, Kyusha island. It is blessed by eight different springs – Beppu Onsen, Kannawa Osen, Myoban Onsen, Hamawaki Onsen, Kankaiji Onsen, Kamegawa Onsen, Shibaseki Onsen, and Horita Onsen.
Together Beppu produces more hot spring water than any other onsen resort in the country. But what really sets Beppu apart is the wide range of bath types than can be enjoyed there. Beppu onsen offers steam baths that are heated by the steam of a hot spring, sand baths where bathers are buried in naturally heated sand, and mud baths which are basically muddy water baths.