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Japan is home to over 27,000 hot springs, or onsen, making it a haven for those looking to relax and rejuvenate. From the bustling city of Tokyo to the remote mountains of Hokkaido, there are onsen to be found all over the country. Each onsen has its own unique characteristics, from the temperature of the water to the minerals it contains. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a family-friendly experience, there’s sure to be an onsen in Japan that’s perfect for you.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular onsen locations in Japan, as well as the different types of onsen that are available. We’ll also provide some tips on how to choose the right onsen for you.

So whether you’re planning your next trip to Japan or simply dreaming of a relaxing getaway, read on to learn more about Onsen and discover the perfect one for you. What’s not to love? The idea of soaking in a naturally heated outdoor lake seems relaxing right? Maybe you’d like to be indoors? Either way, Japan has exactly what you need; the onsen. 

A Brief History

Dating back at least 3,000 years, the use of onsens in Japan has been the key to cleansing the body and mind for generations, and hence is the core of Japanese relaxation, acting as a place of healing but also connection with others.

There are over 27,000 hot springs in Japan, and the fact that there are over 3,000 onsen towns and 20,000 onsens across the country really highlights the importance of these springs. 

One key factor in the onsens’ success is the natural remedies and healing qualities the spring water is said to possess.

Ranging from scientifically proven benefits such as improving blood circulation and metabolism, to beliefs that the minerals in the water can heal ailments such as arthritis and diabetes, it is clear that there is a deep-rooted appreciation for the soothing effect the springs have.  

Types of Onsen

An important point to note is that there are actually different types of onsen. Here is a quick run-through:

  • Sento baths are man-made onsens, usually found in the centres of cities or in areas where there are lower concentrations of hot springs. These baths are indoors, and the water is simply heated rather than pumped from a spring. This is actually quite a popular choice amongst the Japanese, as Sentos tend to have little communities within themselves as people pay membership fees.
  • Rotenburo are the classic outdoor, natural hot spring onsens that offer the authentic bathing experience as well as stunning views.
  • Uchiburo are sort of in between Sentos and Rotenburos, as they are indoors in bathhouses but still use the hot springs to fill the baths. This is the most common type of onsen.
  • There are other options, such as Sunaburo and Ashiru (sand baths and foot baths) which are slightly different hot spring-related experiences, so be sure to explore all of the possible opportunities. 

1. Kusatsu Onsen Town  (Gunma Prefecture)

This world-renowned onsen complex is said to ‘cure every sickness except lovesickness’ and is one of the most popular onsens in Japan.

Located in Gunma prefecture, it’s not too far from Tokyo or Yokohama, so you can easily spend the day strolling the local streets and bathing. In fact, Kusatsu has multiple free admission onsens, and the local streets have many shops and cafes to enjoy food at.

There are even some nearby skiing locations in the winter and hiking trails in the summer, so a trip here can easily last a couple of days. 

2. Beppu Onsen Town (Oita Prefecture)

It’s true that all of these locations have been towns rather than individual onsens and Beppu is no exception! It is actually quite unusual to find singular onsens. This is because hot springs are usually found in groups. The exception of course is the ”artificial’ Sento. A truly unforgettable and picturesque experience, Beppu onsen is a must-visit location on your trip to Japan, widely regarded as the best onsen town in Japan. 

With multiple onsen complexes and outdoor public baths, as well as naturally heated sand and mud baths, Beppu has it all! Beppu city even has wisps of steamy smoke rising over the skyline as the onsens bubble away.

You can take a tour of the ‘hells of Beppu’: 7 unique hot springs for viewing only, as they reach temperatures of over 210℉ (100℃). In fact, you can buy snacks baked in the heat, such as boiled eggs or steamed pudding! The entrance fee is only 100 JPY, and sand bathing is 1,030 JPY.

3. Yufuin Onsen Town  (Oita Prefecture)

This wonderful getaway in northern Kyushu (southern Japan) is one of the best places for a wonderful soaking and local shopping experience all in one. Surrounded by mountains, the most prominent peaks are the twin peaks of Mount Yufu, which sit at 1,583 metres.

Yufuin has many stores, museums and cafes, so you can’t get bored and can comfortably spend the whole day in the area. Ryokans are open throughout the town at most times of day during most seasons.

4. Yamanouchi Monkey Onsens (Nagano Prefecture)

This unique and fun onsen experience is located in Nagano prefecture, which is located in central Japan not far from Mount Fuji. This makes the perfect stop-off location if you’re riding from Tokyo to the Kyoto/Osaka area.

Also, this is the habitat of the Japanese Macaque which, if you dare, you can bathe with. Alternatively, just enjoy watching as they lay in and around the onsens.

Here is a short clip of the monkeys relaxing in the springs:

YouTube video

These four onsens are just a short list of hundreds of wonderful bathing experiences you can have during your trip to Japan, at a reasonably cheap price.

As long as you book beforehand and respect the onsens and fellow bathers, there is no doubt you’ll be left wanting to soak in these hot springs again and again.