Best Onsen in Japan: 12 Hot Spring Towns to Relax & Unwind

12 Hot Spring Towns in Japan to Relax & Unwind on Vacation

A few minutes soaking in these baths will help rejuvenate your mind and body.

Hot spring towns in Japan are some of the best destinations to visit when in the Land of the Rising Sun. These revitalising wonders come from frequent volcanic activity, which then pumps out mineral-infused spring water. While the spring water supposedly helps repair illnesses in the body, one thing is for certain: It can definitely help in relaxation. These destinations for onsen in Japan will help melt the stress away.

Also read: 32 Things to See and Do in Japan for First-Time Travellers

Onsen in Japan to help your body relax near Tokyo

The ever-busy Tokyo never sleeps and the fast-paced lifestyle can be stressful for some. Luckily, there are a few hot spring towns in Japan just minutes away from the city. Take a dip in these hot springs to find a bit of refuge from life in the metropolis.

1. Hakone-Yumoto

When considering the best onsen towns in Japan, there should always be an option in Hakone. Just 90 minutes away from Tokyo via bullet train, Hakone is also one of the most accessible areas for onsen. With over 17 hot spring sources, this humble town built a reputation for providing relief to weary locals and tourists who come to visit.

A good number of hot springs in Hakone can be located in the Yumoto area of the town. Since there are tons of options around the area, Yumoto onsen prices can vary. A premium option can be found at an affordable rate if you possess the patience to find one.

Also read: Top 10 Onsens in Hakone: Hot Springs for All Budgets

2. Kusatsu

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Kusatsu sits atop the mountain range of Gunma Prefecture, which is only two and a half hours away from Tokyo. This placement of the town helps create natural springs from the mountain. Since this discovery, Kusatsu has become a popular destination when visiting Japan for hot springs. With over 100 hot springs in the town, it has since become Kusatsu’s main industry. 

The most famous hot spring in the area is Yubatake, located at the centre of the hot spring town. Yubatake literally means “hot water field,” where hot spring water flows from the top of the mountain and cools down through a pool. Seeing this resort is a sight to behold and is an absolute must-visit for people who want to unwind.

3. Ikaho

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On the slopes of Mount Haruna lies Ikaho, one of the most famous hot spring towns in Japan. Found in Gunma Prefecture, Ikaho has the iconic 365 stone steps which ascend in the middle of the town’s main district. On each side of these steps, shops, inns, restaurants and resorts can be visited. Beside Ikaho is Lake Haruna, a major attraction for tourists as well as a source of hot spring water for resorts in the town.

A notable feature of Ikaho’s hot springs is the colours of their bathing water. They had two shades, the first being kogane no yu or golden water. This water comes out clear, but the iron content inherent in the water turns brown once it comes into contact with air. The water supposedly heals ailments, cuts, and burns.

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The second shade is shirogane no yu or silver water. This water was discovered in Ikaho much more recently than kogane no yu. It is milder than most spring water and is believed to have moisturising benefits for the skin, making it popular with women.

4. Kinugawa

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Some of the best hot spring towns in Japan that’s near Tokyo can be found in the city of Nikko. While Kinugawa is a popular hot spring town today, that wasn’t the case during the Edo Period. Only prominent lords and monks were allowed to bathe in its waters but it was opened soon after. The town saw popularity during the 1970s and resorts began popping up. A few notable businesses closed down during the 1991 Japanese economic recession, leaving some buildings abandoned.

While the abandoned buildings give off an intriguing atmosphere, Kinugawa’s onsen still remains popular today. The waters are said to cure a few diseases and are mild on the skin. It is a great choice should you want to visit hot spring towns in Japan, especially for people who want to try out onsen for the first time.

Also read: 16 Unique Things to Do in Japan That You Can’t Do Anywhere Else

Hot spring towns in Japan near Osaka

The port city of Osaka can be quite busy but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for fun. In fact, some of the best onsen in Japan are only hours away from this city. When visiting Osaka, here are some hot spring towns to visit to loosen up.

5. Kinosaki

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Hyogo Prefecture is known for a good number of onsen towns in Japan. One of the most popular and certainly one of the most picturesque is Kinosaki. This town has a very rustic charm to it, with most locals and tourists encouraged to wear the traditional yukata and wooden clogs when walking around the streets. The attire is usually hosted by ryokan or traditional inns found everywhere in Kinosaki. 

Staying in these ryokan is advisable, since guests are free to visit Kinosaki’s 7 Mystic Onsen once checked in. These public bathhouses allegedly possess mysterious charms and protections to those who soak in its waters.

6. Arima

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Heat waves in Osaka during the summer can be an annoyance for some. Luckily, Arima is just an hour’s train ride or so. It is cooler in Arima compared to most cities of the Kansai Region and as a result, it sees a lot of tourists during summer. The town is located behind Mount Rokko and is thought to be one of the oldest onsen in Japan. 

Be sure to take a dip in their springs, as the high salt content can easily help the body relax better.

7. Dogo

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One of the oldest Japan hot springs to have ever existed can be found on Shikoku Island. But while Dogo possesses over 3,000 years of history, the hot spring still looks very modern and hasn’t aged a day. Could it be that it resembles the famous bathhouse in the film Spirited Away? Regardless, this timeless onsen remains popular among travellers because it has never failed in helping weary bodies relax.

Despite not being a traditional Japanese onsen town, the public bathhouse in Dogo brings in a lot of tourists. Its three stories were built to maximise its capacity and constantly remains packed during its peak hours. While its surrounding neighbourhoods turned into varying land developments, the area nearby the bathhouse retains a resort town feel, with most people encouraging travellers to wear yukata and wooden sandals.

Also read: 10 Destinations in Asia That Inspired (Or Were Inspired by) Studio Ghibli Movies

8. Nanki-Shirahama

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Nanki-Shirahama is among the distinct hot spring towns in Japan because it is one of the few to have a spring source beside a beach. Travellers who want to enjoy the sea and unwind in a hot spring get to do both in this humble town in Wakayama Prefecture. It’s also one of the closest to Osaka, as it takes less than two hours to travel by train. 

Nanki-Shirahama also shares the distinction with Arima and Dogo for being one of the three ancient springs in Japan. History says that the emperor visited Nanki-Shirahama’s springs frequently between the 6th and 8th centuries. Locals believe that its popularity comes from the multiple healing properties despite the spring coming from only one source.

Onsen in Japan to visit when in Sapporo

Since Hokkaido is all the way up the top of Japan, Sapporo can be cold all year ‘round. To ward off the low temperature, locals would usually visit onsen towns to thaw and loosen up. Fortunately, there is an abundance of hot springs near Sapporo. The winter weather is certainly a delightful way to enjoy the therapeutic baths!

Also read: Hokkaido in Green Season Is One of the Best Views in Japan

9. Jozankei

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For a quick and warm bath when in Sapporo, one of the best onsen in Japan is just an hour away. Jozankei is a beautiful town, even if white snow would cover its walkways and fields during the winter. Thankfully, it is also, literally, a warm city.

The bedrock that runs through Toyohira River right in the middle of the resort is the source of Jozankei’s refreshing spring waters. Its water contains a healthy amount of salt, which helps revitalise and moisturise the skin. The town is generous as well; there are a few free footbaths for locals and guests to reap the water’s benefits without spending a coin!

10. Noboribetsu

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Noboribetsu has a town dedicated to ryokan that utilises the area’s inherent hot spring sources. This source is thanks to Jigokudani (or “Hell Valley” in Japanese), a caldera formed by volcanic activity some 20,000 years ago. As a result, boiling lakes, geysers, and steam vents sprouted around the area.

But as diabolical as it sounds, the ominous Jigokudani also happens to fuel the therapeutic and nurturing onsen resorts in Noboribetsu. The onsen are so popular that they were used by medics during the Sino-Japanese War to nurse soldiers back to health during the 19th century. Needless to say, the variety of minerals provided in these springs became a major attraction for tourists visiting Noboribetsu.

11. Yunokawa

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Hokkaido seems to have a lot of hot spring towns in Japan which are conveniently found nearby places that can be easily reached. Yunokawa is one such example, since this refreshing resort town is nearby Hakodate Airport. This convenience is a good reason to create plans to visit Hakodate itself.

As if the proximity doesn’t make it popular enough, Yunokawa’s healing waters draw many tourists who wish to recuperate. Because its springs are rich in minerals such as sodium and sulphur, it is often believed that the waters help alleviate nerve and joint pains. Even snow monkeys bathe in its waters to relax during the winter!

Also read: Things to Do in Hakodate: 8 Awesome Experiences!

12. Kawayu

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Located at the heart of Akan Mashu National Park are the hot springs of Kawayu. This natural wonder comes from the Oto River, providing a warm bath for locals and tourists visiting the national park. The water’s crystal clear quality is highly-regarded and has to be seen to be believed.

Visitors can also dig their own onsen while soaking in the river. Ryokan would usually have shovels for guests to dig a hole in the river bed. This lets hot spring water seep into the hole, essentially creating an onsen on the riverbank! Temperatures can be controlled by letting in cool waters from the river. There are also pre-dug basins found in the river for guests who want to relax right away.

Also read: Traditional Towns & Villages in Japan That You Absolutely Have to Visit

Wherever you might find yourself in Japan, there will always be a hot spring town waiting for you to relax in. It is undoubtedly an immersive activity to do in the beautiful country. Should you find yourself in never-ending stress for whatever reason, a day or two to spend in these hot spring towns in Japan could be the much-needed relief that you have been waiting for.

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About Author

Aldous Vince Cabildo
Aldous Vince Cabildo

Ever since growing up, Aldous learned how to look at things from an historical perspective. So whenever the opportunity to travel arises, he makes sure to go to places that contain local stories and memories. From there, he takes in the lessons from the past and picks out what to learn, or should it interest him, what to unlearn. At any chance he gets, he also makes sure to try out local cuisine. When not charting his next destination, Aldous likes to explore worlds found in video games, hip-hop, film, and professional wrestling. He is a proud resident of Tondo.