Onsen (hot springs) in Japan needs no introduction – soaking in piping hot waters is such a warm balm for the soul, be it recharging oneself after a long day of travelling or escaping from a cold winter day. To be recognized as an onsen, the waters must contain at least one of 19 useful minerals such as aluminium and iron, so you can rest assured that spending time in the onsen will reap you substantial health benefits. Now, with about 28, 000 hot springs all over the country available for use, the question arises as to which onsen will yield you the most pleasure for your time and money. From Hokkaido to Okinawa, this article profiles ten of the best-known and best-hidden onsen in Japan, so head on down to them to create your own priceless onsen memories!
Derived from the Ainu word “Nupurupetsu” (dark, cloudy river), Noboribetsu Onsen is arguably the most famous onsen in Hokkaido which lives up to its name by spewing 10, 000 tons of muddy water every day from the nearby Jigokudani Valley. Don’t underestimate these muddy waters as they actually contain nine types of waters, a mind-boggling range that includes salt/saline spring, sulphur spring, radium spring, among others! As you immerse yourself in such mineral-rich waters, you can also feast your eyes on the verdant greenery of Shikotsu-Toya National Park.
-English Name: Noboribetsu Onsen
-Japanese Name: 登別温泉
– Open Hours/Closed Day: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Noboribetsu Tourist Information)
-Address: Take JR Muroran Line from Shin-Chitose Airport to Noboribetsu station and from the station to the hot spring area by bus
-Budget: At least 10,000 yen per pax per night
-Lat/Long: (42.412760, 141.106632)
-Phone number: 0143-84-3311 (Noboribetsu Tourist Information)
Hakone 17 Spas
Perfect for a day trip from Tokyo, Hakone has been a well-loved onsen resort for the Japanese since the start of the Edo era in 1603. And it’s not hard to understand why: located strategically at the foot of Mount Fuji, Hakone showcases picturesque and panoramic views of Japan’s most iconic landmark. Feel your stress vanish away as you take in the majesty of Mount Fuji and realize how insignificant your troubles are in the face of this gigantic mountain. Hakone also proves to be a family-family destination as it contains Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, a fun water theme park that enables you and your children to spoil yourselves silly in intriguing waters like coffee, wine, and not forgetting, Japan’s beverage of choice, green tea!
-English Name: Hakone 17 Spas
-Japanese Name: 箱根町
– Open Hours/Closed Day: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5.45 p.m. (Hakone Tourist Information)
-Address: Take Odakyu Line to Hakone-Yumoto Station. Or take JR Tokaido Line to Odawara, and to Hakone-Yumoto station by Hakone Tozan Line
-Budget: At least 11,000 yen per pax per night
-Lat/Long: (35.233197, 139.104121)
-Phone number: 0460-85-8911 (Hakone Tourist Information)
Want to get up close with one of Japan’s top 100 hot springs during an idyllic weekend trip away from bustling Tokyo? If this sounds right up your alley, you will be elated to know that you can enjoy some much-needed peace and quiet at Shuzenji Onsen, a quaint resort town situated along the Katsura River in Shizuoka Prefecture. Revel in its rich history by visiting the 1,200 year-old Shuzenji Temple, soak up the town’s charmingly rustic ambience when using the free kawara-yu (foot bath) and don’t forget to treat yourself to unspoiled gorgeous views of the nearby rolling hills!
-English Name: Shuzenji Onsen
-Japanese Name: 修善寺温泉
– Open Hours/Closed Day: Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Shuzenji Onsen Ryokan Cooperative Society)
-Address: JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line, Mishima station, and to Shuzenji station by Izu-Hakone Sunzu Line
-Budget: At least 15,000 yen per pax per night
-Lat/Long: (34.972575, 138.933039)
-Phone number: 81-558-72-0271 (Japanese only) (Shuzenji Onsen Ryokan Cooperative Society)
This onsen in Okayama Prefecture is admittedly a little hard to get to from Okayama City, but it is worth checking out for several reasons. For one, although it is a thriving onsen town, you can soak in Sunayu, an open-air onsen for free! Just imagine the joy that will surge within you if you come to take a dip here in winter – with snow falling right before you! What’s more, Sunayu is actually a mixed-gender onsen that allows for both men and ladies to relax in the same waters. Such a novel opportunity to observe how Japanese people interact unabashedly with one another in this unisex onsen should not be missed!
-English Name: Yubara Onsen
-Japanese Name: 湯原温泉
-Open Hours/Closed Day: Open 24 hours (Sunayu)
-Address: 2 hrs 35 min by bus from JR Okayama Sta. to “Yubara Onsen” with a bus change at “Katsuyama Bus Center,” and then 5 min on foot
-Lat/Long: (35.075602, 133.75273)
-Phone number: 0867-62-2526 (Yubara Tourist Information)
Naoshima Bath "I♥湯"
Hot springs that boast amazing natural scenery are everywhere, so how about immersing yourself in the arts while rejuvenating yourself in a hot bath? This rare experience will be yours for the taking if you visit “I♥湯” (“I Love Yu”), a public bathhouse situated in Naoshima, an island renowned for its outstanding art facilities. Be prepared to keep yourself busy with the bright tiles and eye-catching art installations decked out in psychedelic, bold colors. From the walls to the bathtubs and even restrooms, “I♥湯” will definitely enhance the therapeutic effect on you with its two-pronged approach of art and onsen water!
-English Name: Naoshima Bath
-Japanese Name: I♥湯
– Open Hours/Closed Day: Weekdays (2:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.), Weekends/Holidays: 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
-Address: 2252-2 Naoshima, Kagawa 7613110 Japan
-Budget: 510 yen
*15 and under: 210 yen（free for children 2 and under）
-Lat/Long: (34.457031, 133.975827)
-Phone number: +81-(0)87-892-2626 (Town Naoshima Association 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.)
Mention Kumamoto Prefecture, and its irresistibly cute mascot, Kumamon springs to mind. However, do you know that Kumamoto is also home to Kurokawa Onsen, a cluster of 30 onsen that are located along the Tanoharu River? Here, instead of gazing longingly at faraway mountain or ocean views, you can gain a cozy experience as you take a dip in hot springs located just beside romantically trickling streams and lush greenery. What better way to get up close with Mother Nature? Also, Kurokawa Onsen scores points for letting visitors buy a cedar pass for 1300 yen that gains them entry to three onsen of their choice. Thus, die-hard onsen lovers can enjoy three distinct experiences in one day. How freaking cool is that?
-English Name: Kurokawa Onsen
-Japanese Name: 黒川温泉
-Open Hours/Closed Day: Open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Kurokawa Onsen Ryokan Association)
-Address: Take JR Yufu-DXExpress to Bungo-Nakamura station, and from Bungo-Nakamura to Iida-kogen-kyoku-mae (Kuju) by Nishitetsu highway bus
-Budget: 1300 yen (entitles you to visit 3 onsen)
-Lat/Long: (33.098660, 131.07037)
-Phone number: 0967-44-0076 (Kurokawa Onsen Ryokan Association)
Tsuboyu Onsen may appear to be an insignificant place at first, for it is just a small stone bath in an equally small cabin set atop Yunotani River in Wakayama Prefecture. However, its reputation packs a powerful punch as it is a World Heritage-listed site! Linked closely to the Kumano pilgrimage, it bore witness to how pilgrims far and wide braved long journeys to get a respite from the healing waters – a fine example that we ought to emulate. Only 2 people can use the bath at any one time, so it is recommended that you come early in the day so that you can wait successfully for your turn. When your turn has come, be sure to stay in the waters for the whole of the 30 minutes allocated to you so that you can get a thrill if the water of Tsuboyu Onsen changes color. (It is said to change color a whooping seven times a day!)
-English Name: Tsuboyu Onsen
-Japanese Name: つぼ湯温泉
-Open Hours/Closed Day: Open from 6 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. (Tsuboyu Onsen)
-Address: Yunomine, Hongu-cho, Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture
-Budget: 770 yen
*12 and under: 460 yen
-Lat/Long: (33.728034, 135.377768)
-Phone number: 0735-42-0074 (Kumano Hongu Tourist Association)
Which of the above onsen best catches your fancy? From artistic baths and solitary onsens to lively onsen resort towns and theme parks, Japan truly has a diverse spectrum of onsen experiences that will satisfy everyone from the backpacker travelling on a shoestring budget to the well-heeled traveller willing to splurge on exotic stuff to the family-minded visitor keen to give his loved ones an awesome time. I sure hope that you derive some inspiration from this list and make your way to some of these onsen on your next trip!