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Onsen in Japan

Onsen in Japan

Onsen is the Japanese word for hot spring. Back in the day they were traditionally used as public bathing places. Since Japan is volcanically active country there are many onsens scattered throughout the nation. There are many types of hot springs and can be distinguished by the minerals contained in the water. Depending on the minerals in the water certain health benefits will come about. All hot springs have a relaxing effect on the body, which would lead to a calm mind. Visitors to Japan can experience them indoors, outdoors, in gender separated or mixed baths, constructed, and natural settings. It is recommended that the best way to experience an onsen is to spend a night in a ryokan, which is a Japanese traditional inn. However, if you are on a budget then going to the local public bath houses is another option.

Onsen are an integrated part of Japanese culture and has been a growing tourist trend. The top places to go experience hot springs are in Kusatsu, Hakone, Noboribetsu, Nyuto, Beppu, and Okuhida. There are many places to go to, but it comes down to personal preference. Some people have based their decision on the health benefits that can be gained by soaking in the water. Others have wanted to enjoy the water surrounded by beautiful nature under a moonlit sky. Either way it is one of the attractions that must not be missed when visiting Japan.

photo of Onsen in Japan
How to take a onsen bath

Japanese onsen (hotspring) bath have fairly simple etiquette. Below is a description of how to generally take a bath in a hot spring or public bath in Japan. The actual rules may slightly differ between baths, but following the instructions below should be adequate most of the time.

General layout of a small indoor hot spring bath:

  1. Take off all clothes in the changing room and place them into a basket together with your bath towel. Coin lockers are often available for valuables.
  2. Japanese hot springs are enjoyed nude. Most places do not allow swimsuits. Before entering the bath, use water from either a tap or the bath using a provided washbowl to rinse your body. Traditionally, rinsing your body is considered sufficient (many older baths do not even provide showers and soap), but you will find an increasing number of people, particularly younger bathers, who insist on taking a shower before entering the bath.
  3. It is custom to bring a small towel into the bathing area, so you may have privacy while outside of the water. Once entering the bath, keep the towel out of the water. Onsen professionals put the towel on their head.
  4. Enter the bath and soak for a while. Note that the bath water can be very hot (typically 104 to 111 degrees fahrenheit). If it feels too hot, try to enter very slowly and minimize movement.
  5. After soaking for a while, wash your body with soap at a water tap while sitting on a stool after you get out of the bath. In some baths, soap and shampoo are provided. Like in private Japanese bathrooms, make sure no soap gets into the bath water. After finishing cleaning your body, tidy up your space.
  6. Re-enter the bath and soak some more.
  7. After finishing soaking, do not rinse your body with tap water. The hot spring water contains minerals to have full effect on your body.

Do not splash or play around in the water, it is not a swimming pool.
Be when entering the correct side of the onsen. Red is female, blue is male.

photo of onsen in Japan blue is male
photo of onsen in Japan Red is female

Best Onsen in Japan

photo of Noboribetsu Onsen

Hokkaido | Noboribetsu

Noboribetsu Onsen

Famous for its healing properties and the 9 varieties of hot spring waters that people can enjoy.

photo of Jozankei Onsen

Hokkaido | Jozankei

Jozankei Onsen

Known for its highly desirable sodium chloride water, said to have healing properties.

photo of Sounkyo Onsen

Hokkaido | Sounkyo

Sounkyo Onsen

Located in the northern part of Daisetsuzan National Park in a narrow gorge with 100m cliffs.

photo of Yunokawa Onsen

Hokkaido | Hakodate

Yunokawa Onsen

1 of 3 well known hot springs in Japan, located on the outskirts of Hakodate near the airport.

photo of Toyako Onsen

Hokkaido | Lake Toya

Toyako Onsen

Many hot springs which first appeared in the area after the 1910 volcanic eruption.

photo of Ginzan Onsen

Tohoku | Yamagata

Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen is a hot spring village known for its traditionally styled Japanese inns that is reflective of the Taisho era.

photo of Hanamaki Onsen

Kanto | Iwate

Hanamaki Onsen

Hanamaki Onsen is located on the west side of the city and is a collective of hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

photo of Zao Onsen

Tohoku | Yamagata | Zao

Zao Onsen

Zao Onsen is said to have been founded in 110 AD and is famous for its huge outdoor bath.

photo of Nyuto Onsen

Tohoku | Akita

Nyuto Onsen

Nyuto Onsen is a collection of ryokans (Japanese traditional inns) with hot springs unique to their establishment, which is located in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park.

photo of Naruko Onsen

Kanto | Miyagi

Naruko Onsen

Naruko Onsen is over 1000 years old and has 9 unique water properties available in the area.

photo of Nikko Yumoto Onsen

Kanto | Tochigi | Nikko

Nikko Yumoto Onsen

Nikko Yumoto Onsen is a hot spring town located in Nikko National park in the back part of the Okunikko region.

photo of Manza Onsen

Kanto | Gunma

Manza Onsen

Manza Onsen is a hot spring resort located on the slopes of Mount Shirane and has the most sulfuric waters in Japan.

photo of Kinugawa Onsen

Kanto | Tochigi

Kinugawa Onsen

Kinugawa Onsen is a hot spring resort in Tochigi Prefecture by the Kinugawa River and is a popular stop.

photo of Kusatsu Onsen

Kanto | Gunma

Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu Onsen is located in the center of Gunma and is the most popular onsen in Japan.

photo of Ikaho Onsen

Kanto | Gunma

Ikaho Onsen

Ikaho Onsen is one of the four famous hot springs in Gunma and is known for their Golden and Silver water.

photo of Hakone Onsen

Kanto | Kanagawa | Hakone

Hakone Onsen

The onsen in Hakone have been known as a popular destination for hot spring resorts for centuries.

photo of Kaga Onsen

Chubu | Ishikawa

Kaga Onsen

Kaga Onsen is a mecca of hot springs and is located south of Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture.

photo of Kawaguchiko Onsen

Chubu | Yamanashi | Mt Fuji

Kawaguchiko Onsen

Lake Kawaguchi has a few ryokans (Japanese traditional inn) with onsen (hot spring) baths that has views of Mount Fuji.

photo of Yudanaka Onsen

Chubu | Nagano

Yudanaka Onsen

Yudanaka Onsen is a hot spring resort that has been around for hundreds of years.

photo of Nozawa Onsen

Chubu | Nagano

Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen is located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture and has 13 traditional style public baths.

photo of Gero Onsen

Chubu | Gifu

Gero Onsen

Gero Onsen is one of the three best onsen in Japan as said by Hayashi Razan, a Confucian poet from the Edo Period.

photo of Atami Onsen

Chubu | Shizuoka | Izu Peninsula

Atami Onsen

Atami Onsen has been around since the 8th century and the water from the onsen was transported to Edo Castle.

photo of Wakura Onsen

Chubu | Ishikawa | Noto Peninsula

Wakura Onsen

Wakura Onsen is a hot spring area located next to Nanao Bay on the Noto Peninsula.

photo of Okuhida Onsen

Chubu | Gifu | Okuhida

Okuhida Onsen

Okuhida Onsen was discovered by Takeda Shingen’s troops and has healing waters for a variety of ailments.

photo of Kanzanji Onsen

Chubu | Shizuoka | Lake Hamanako

Kanzanji Onsen

Kanzanji Onsen is the center attraction of Lake Hamanako and offers a wide variety of water qualities.

photo of Shirahone Onsen

Chubu | Nagano

Shirahone Onsen

Shirahone Onsen is a rural hot spring resort surrounded by nature in a deep gorge by Mount Norikura, a sacred mountain.

photo of Shibu Onsen

Chubu | Nagano

Shibu Onsen

Shibu Onsen is located in Yamanouchi and maintains a traditional atmosphere reminiscent of the Edo Period.

photo of Shirahama Onsen

Kansai | Wakayama

Shirahama Onsen

Shirahama Onsen is located in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, and is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan.

photo of Arima Onsen

Kansai | Hyogo | Kobe

Arima Onsen

Arima Onsen is located in Kobe and is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan.

photo of Kinosaki Onsen

Kansai | Hyogo

Kinosaki Onsen

Kinosaki Onsen is one of the many famous hot springs in Japan and is located northern area of Hyogo Prefecture.

photo of Katsuura Onsen

Kansai | Wakayama | Kumano

Katsuura Onsen

Katsuura Onsen is one of the famous hot springs located in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

photo of Tamatsukuri Onsen

Chugoku | Shimane | Matsue

Tamatsukuri Onsen

Tamatsukuri Onsen, known as “the baths of the gods”, is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. It is renowned for its rejuvenating properties found in the water.

photo of Shinjiko Onsen

Chugoku | Shimane | Matsue

Shinjiko Onsen

The Matsue Shinjiko Onsen is a hot springs resort for Lake Shinji and has a free footbath (ashiyu) at the station.

photo of Dogo Onsen

Shikoku | Ehime | Matsuyama

Dogo Onsen

One of the oldest hot springs and landmark of Matsuyama City located in Ehime Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Konpira Onsen

Shikoku | Kagawa | Kotohira

Konpira Onsen

A popular hot spring resort area in Kagawa Prefecture, Japan filled with many traditional Japanese style inns.

photo of Beppu Onsen

Kyushu | Oita | Beppu

Beppu Onsen

Beppu Hatto and the Hells of Beppu both contribute into making Beppu Onsen one of the most famous and popular hot spring areas in Japan.

photo of Yufuin Onsen

Kyushu | Oita | Yufuin

Yufuin Onsen

A popular hot spring resort town filled with entertainment and traditional ryokans with an amazing scenic view of mountains surrounding the area located in Oita Prefecture, Japan

photo of Unzen Onsen

Kyushu | Nagasaki | Shimabara Peninsula

Unzen Onsen

A famous hot spring area located in Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan known for the Unzen Hells and scenery.

photo of Ibusuki Onsen

Kyushu | Kagoshima | Ibusuki

Ibusuki Onsen

Ibusuki is famous for hot sand baths. Covered by sand that is warmed up by hot springs under the ground.

photo of Kurokawa Onsen

Kyushu | Kumamoto | Kumamoto City

Kurokawa Onsen

A traditional hot spring area in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan known for the Rotemburo Meguri public bathhouse activity.

photo of Kirishima Onsen

Kyushu | Kagoshima | Kirishima

Kirishima Onsen

A sulfuric hot spring area located in Kagoshima Prefecture with a view of the nearby Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay.