After a long day of sightseeing in Japan’s must-visit areas, you might feel a little tired and sore. There’s no better way to relax than in one of Japan’s many natural hot springs! Onsen, "hot springs" in Japanese, can be found everywhere across the country, and there are countless opportunities to try one.
One of the best ways to take an onsen bath is to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) overnight, where you can experience wearing a yukata (summer kimono), eating kaiseki (Japanese course meal), and sleeping in a tatami (rice straw) room. If you’re on a bit of a budget, it’s easy to find a public bathhouse no matter where you stay in Japan.
Before we tell you the best places to take a Japanese bath, let’s go over standard onsen etiquette!
1. Take off your shoes
When you enter, keep an eye out for the “no shoe zones.” Generally speaking, if the entryway has a recessed floor, take off your shoes before proceeding. You might get quite the tongue-lashing if you forget!
2. In the locker room
Now comes the hard part for some people: shred every stitch of clothing. Most bathhouses and hotels don’t allow swimsuits, and everyone enters Japanese onsen naked. Place all of your clothes and body towel in one of the provided baskets or lockers.
3. Use your face towel for privacy
Most facilities will provide you a face and a body towel. You can take the face towel into the bath area to strategically cover yourself, but don't let it touch the water! You can plop it on your head or place it on the perimeter of the tub for safe keeping.
4. Scrub, scrub, scrub!
When you enter the onsen area, you’ll see showers lined up one after another. Hotels and many public bathhouses provide amenities like soap and shampoo, but small neighborhood baths might not. Before you enter the hot springs, take a shower and tie up your hair if it's longer than shoulder-length.
5. Time to soak
Jacuzzi jets? Water infused with tea or other minerals? Inside or outside? It’s time to choose! Enter the tub without splashing and settle in. Again, don’t let your face towel touch the water! You can plop it on their head to keep cool or place it on the perimeter of the tub.
6. Don’t stay too long!
Take a break every 5-10 minutes, drink plenty of water, and abstain from alcohol before you take a bath. The hot temperature can potentially affect your blood pressure, and it’s possible to experience dizziness, nausea, or fainting if you don’t take the right precautions.
Are onsen separated by gender?
Most hotels and bathhouses separate baths by gender. Red or pink banners mark the women’s room and blue or green mark the men’s room. There are some mixed-gender facilities and swimsuits are generally required at these establishments.
What if I don’t fall on the gender binary?
Unfortunately, the rules aren’t entirely clear in this regard. Some onsen can be quite accommodating, but there aren’t any across the board concessions. Many transgender, genderqueer, or intersex people who don’t speak Japanese book hotels with private hot springs baths or go to mixed-gender pools for convenience.
What should I wear to an onsen?
If you stay in an onsen hotel in Japan, you’re welcome to wear a yukata. Even if you aren’t staying overnight, the hotel may provide robes for relaxing in.
What should I do about my tattoos?
If you're asking this question, you probably know that tattoos have an unfortunate reputation for being connected to organized crime in Japan. Up until a few years ago, there weren't that many onsens open to tattoos. Fortunately, with the influx of foreign tourists to Japan, more and more establishments are making changes to their policies. Tattoo friendly onsen tend to overlook small ones and provide bandage-like covers for bigger ones.
This Hokkaido onsen town is conveniently located outside Sapporo and can be accessed by express buses. The area offers many ryokans, public hot spring baths, shops, restaurants, and even foot baths to choose from.
Established over 100-years ago, this is the largest hot springs complex in Hokkaido. The various naturally occurring minerals offer 11 types of thermal water and are said to cure all types of diseases and syndromes.
The oldest hot spring resort in Hokkaido. At night, you can see fishing boats as they cross the Tsugaru Strait. The lights from the boats create a lovely view as you soak in an outdoor onsen.
This area is known as one of Japan’s prettiest onsen towns. The pedestrian-only road is lined with ryokan hotels and leads up to a 22-meter-high waterfall.
It’s said that the hot springs here were discovered in 110 AD making it the oldest of its kind. Located 880 meters above sea level, you can enjoy winter sports at the Zao Onsen Ski Resort too.
Nyuto Onsen actually refers to several hot springs located in an unspoiled beech forest at the foot of Mount Nyuto. The village consists of Tsurunoyu, Ganiba, Taenoyu, Ogama, Magoroku, Kuronoyu, and Kyukamura onsens.
Nikko Yumoto is located near Lake Yunoko and is part of the Nikko National Park. This area is especially beautiful when the leaves change colors and around mid-October.
This hot spring holds the record for holding the largest volume of water and is perhaps the most famous in Japan. It releases an estimated 4,000 liters of water per minute, and is continuously ranked as Japan’s number one onsen!
If you’re looking for onsen near Mount Fuji, look no further than the many ryokan inns and public bathhouses in Hakone. Each one offers unique experiences, some including views of Mt. Fuji!
In the northern Japan Alps of Nagano Prefecture, humans aren’t the only ones enjoying the natural waters. At Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, Japanese macaque monkeys take baths in pools designed for them, but they sometimes venture into the public baths for humans!
Not only is Gero one of the most beautiful onsen in Japan, but it makes for a convenient day trip from Takayama. Hotels get booked up quickly during the Takayama Sanno Spring and Hachiman Autumn festivals, so consider staying in this area at these times of the year.
The healing waters of Okuhida are said to help those who suffer from nerve damage, sensitivity to cold, and skin disease. The town has many ryokan to choose from including large-scale resorts and family-run inns.
Arima features three types of hot springs that are said to help with poor circulation and joint pain, high blood pressure and heart disease, and menopause and asthma. This area is also famous for geisha.
There are seven famous hot spring in Kinosaki which are collectively known as Soto-yu. Visitors can walk around the area and try every hot spring, but they must wear yukata as they do so.
Two notable places for bathing here are the hotels on Urashima and Naoshima islands. Both can be reached by boat and are open to all visitors, even if you aren’t staying overnight.
Chugoku & Shikoku
Onsen waters are generally known for their ability to rejuvenate skin, but Tamatsukuri is said to be the best. You can even take a vial of water home with you!
You might recognize the architecture of this communal bathhouse. Hayao Miyazaki took inspiration from here for the artwork in his move “Spirited Away.”
For the most luxurious experience, stay a night in the 400-year-old Kotohira Kadan inn. You can rent a room or a private villa for your getaway in Japan.
The 8 areas of Beppu provide the most diverse tour. The most popular sightseeing spot is the Bloody Hell Spring which glows an eerie crimson.
Besides the hot springs, this area hosts many museums, shops, and cafes among its beautiful scenery. The rural town offers an insight into agricultural life in Japan.
If you’re looking for the most historically authentic hot spring experience, check out Kurokawa which has been carefully preserved over the years. This town once catered to samurai seeking out healing waters for their battle scars.
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