By Justin Calderón
Sep 22, 2021
THE BEST ONSEN IN JAPAN offer a soothing blend of ancient rituals, tranquil scenery and self-indulgent luxury that transport visitors to a calming, meditative time and place that is so quintessentially Japanese.
It’s no wonder most itineraries to Japan now feature at least one stop at an onsen. Essentially a traditional Japanese hot spring, their combination of hot water, natural mineral waters, and water vapor are said to improve physical health and mental wellbeing.
Across Japan, the more than 3,000 onsen facilities are found in a diverse variety of settings, including in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, nestled in the woods, along mountainsides, and set next to rushing rivers or placid lakes.
While onsen in major cities offer plenty, some of the most memorable onsen escapes can only be found at traditional baths that are buried deep amid natural scenery in isolation from the cacophony of the modern world.
In your search for the best onsen in Japan, it’s crucial that you understand that onsen are different from ryokan. An onsen is solely a bath, while a ryokan is a guest lodge. In this way, ryokan can be located close to onsen or form part of an onsen village, providing lodging for visitors that are visiting the area.
Keep these terms in mind as you read through our rundown of the 10 best hot springs in Japan.
1. Kusatsu Onsen
Kusatsu is one of the most popular onsen towns in all of Japan.
This particular onsen is also known as a medicinal hot spring because of long-held claims that it cures diabetes, skin conditions, and other ailments. According to one guest who went on vacation with his wife, swimming in the Kusatsu onsen healed the pain from his wife’s shoulder.
The Kusatsu Onsen has one of the highest gush volumes in Japan, spurting out about 40,000 liters of spring water every minute. Its location in a small, quiet Japanese town makes it ideal for relaxation and therapy.
The tranquility of the site also makes Kusatsu one of the best onsen in Japan for couples.
Two bathing techniques are commonly used in Kusatsu Onsen. Jikanyu, which are short but intermittent baths intended to treat diseases, and yumomi, which involves stirring the water with long wooden boards to cool it down.
And there’s also more to Kutsasu beyond the steamy spa: You can also go hiking, visit the local zoo or have a chit-chat in any of the many cafes.
Address: Kusatsu-machi, Agatsuma District, Gunma Prefecture
Directions to Kusatsu Onsen: Visitors can get to the Kusatsu Onsen via Karuizawa Station, which can be reached from Tokyo, Kanazawa, and other major stations. First, you get to the Karuizawa station by taking the Hokiruki Shinkansen line. From there, board a Seibu Bus or Kusakaru Kotsu that will then take you to Kusatsu Onsen.
2. Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen
The Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen provides one of the best views of any hot spring in Japan thanks to its panoramic vistas of both Lake Kawaguchiko and the epic Mount Fuji.
There are private and public natural hot springs, providing guests with the option to make reservations in a private area if they have concerns about going to a public onsen.
Aside from the natural springs, the Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen is also complemented by karaoke rooms (that ever-popular Japanese pastime), game centers, and other fun facilities.
Address: Fuji Five Lakes, Yamanashi, Chubu.
Directions to Fuji Kawaguchiko: From Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, take a bus heading to Otsuki Station, where you’ll board the Fujikyu Railway to Kawaguchiko Station.
3. Dogo Onsen
The Dogo Onsen on Shikoku Island is one the most iconic and storied onsen in Japan.
Among the Japanese, the Dogo Onsen has become the stuff of legends, having been a part of an onsen community that dates back more than 3,000 years.
The onsen is said to have been featured in the Man’yōshū (a collection of Japanese poems written circa 759 A.D.), hosted Prince Shōtoku (a legendary figure of ancient Japan), inspired Natsume Sōseki (a world-renowned Japanese novelist), and has been referred to in countless works of literature.
“The Dogo Onsen is the oldest and most famous hot spring in Japan,” says Hisatsugu Shimizu, founder of the Dougoya Ryokan, a guesthouse offering accommodation within the Dogo Onsen village.
“The main attraction in Dogo Onsen is the Dogo Onsen Honkan, a wooden public bathhouse, dating from 1894. It is said to have served as inspiration for Miyazaki’s popular animated film Spirited Away,” he adds.
Beyond its legendary reputation, this onsen offers a truly unmatched trip back in time to experience an ancient Japanese bathhouse as it once was.
There are also other sites worth visiting, such as the Asuka no Yu (its secondary bathhouse), a memorial museum, temples and shrines, and a park.
Address: 5-6 Dogoyunomachi, Matsuyama 790-0842, Ehime Prefecture
Directions to Dogo Onsen: From Tokyo, take the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen one stop to Okayama, where you’ll board a bus going to Matsuyama. It is then just a four-minute walk to the Dogo Onsen from the station.
4. Ibusuki Onsen
Most of the names in this list are hot water springs, but the Ibusuki Onsen is unique.
It’s a hot sand bath, known in Japanese as sunamushi.
And, yes, the procedure for a therapeutic hot sand bath is different from that of a hot spring.
First, you will change into a cotton yukata — a Japanese bathrobe worn in bathhouses. A member of staff will then lead you to a spot where you’ll lie down. Attendants then shovel sand over you up to your neck, and the sand then heats up to 50-55°C.
A towel is placed over your forehead to prevent sand from entering your eyes and stop sweat from dripping onto it.
After 15 minutes, you are dug out of the sand, then you go for a normal hot spring bath in the onsen.
Japanese sand baths are said to have detoxifying results. Visitors report feeling refreshed, relaxed, and rejuvenated after experiencing a sunamushi. You’re also likely to feel quite special, having experienced a wellness treatment that is found few places in the world.
Address: Ibusuki-shi, Kagoshima Prefecture
How to get to Ibusuki Onsen: Take a train from Kagoshima-Chuo Station to Ibusuki Station. Then take a direct bus to the onsen from there.
5. Beppu Onsen
If you can stand the heat, the Beppu Onsen is ideal for you.
The Beppu Onsen is one of the eight hot springs collectively known as the Beppu Hatto (meaning the ‘Eight Hot Springs’).
Together, they are a force of nature to be reckoned with: All of the Beppu Hatto account for more than 10% of Japan’s total hot spring vents.
The estimated 130,000 tons of steamy water gushing from underground supplies the springs, making Beppu Hatto the largest hot spring by water discharge in Japan, and the second worldwide.
A visit to the Beppu Onsen offers steam baths, sand baths, as well as an admixture of both — mud baths.
Beppu City is a must-see site, if only for its natural steam vents. The city has become famous for so-called hells, or jigoku in Japanese — pools of bubbling mud and other hydrothermal activity too hot for humans to enter — which are scattered throughout the town.
Beppu is home to some of the best onsen ryokan in Japan, and if you want to go onsen-hopping, you’ll have multiple options to choose from as you bounce among the other seven hot springs that compose Beppu Onsen: Hamawaki Onsen, Horita Onsen, Kankaiji Onsen, Kamegawa Onsen, Shibaseki Onsen, Kannawa Onsen, and Myoban Onsen.
Address: 16-23 Motomachi, Beppu, Ōita Prefecture
How to get to Beppu Onsen: From Tokyo, connect to Kokura Station via the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, from where you can take a bus to Beppu Station.
6. Hakone Onsen
Hakone City is host to some of the most popular hot spring resorts in Japan.
It has a variety of baths, as well as some of the best onsen ryokan splashed across the city, providing lots of great opportunities to go onsen-hopping.
Some of the local onsen you can explore are Hakone Yuryo, Yumoto, Tenzan, Hakone Kamon, Yunosato Okada, Kappa Tengoku, Kowakudani, and Sengoku.
This unique agglomeration of hot springs have become known in Japan for their high-quality water, luxurious hotels, and comfy inns.
Address: Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0631, Japan
How to get to Hakone Onsen: From Tokyo, catch a train to Odawara Station. From there, take a 20-minute bus ride to Hakone.
7. Yufuin Onsen
Yufuin is a renowned hot-spring resort town. It hosts many onsen spread throughout the city, with some of them opening up to non-lodged guests during the day.
The city also offers delightful scenery, including a spectacular view of Mount Kyushu in the backdrop and its surrounding mountainsides.
Yufin is also popular for its culture, and features art exhibits, a creative community of cafes, and boutique shopping.
Just next to Lake Kirinko, another natural landmark, you can also spot many traditional farmhouses where locals cultivate rice.
Address: Kawakami, Yufuin-cho, Yufu-shi, Oita
How to get to Yufuin Onsen: Take a line from Beppu Station to Oita Station. From there, take a train to Yufuin Station.
8. Biwako Hanakaido Onsen
The lakeside town of Biwako Hanakaido plays host to magnificent indoor and outdoor pools.
It has public, private and rental onsen (used for special occasions), and the city also offers beautiful natural scenery and cultural sites, with attractions such as Lake Biwa, Lake Biwa Museum, Mount Hieizan Enryakuji Temple, and more.
The tranquility and calm location of Biwako Hanakaido make it one of the best outdoor onsen in Japan, as well as one of the best for couples seeking a secluded romantic getaway.
Address: 1-3 Ogoto, Otsu, Shiga 520-0101, Japan
How to get to Biwako Hanakaido: From Kyoto, drive to the Ogoto Onsen Station. Biwako Hanakaido is a five-minute drive away.
9. Noboribetsu Onsen
Noboribetsu means “the thick colored water” in Japanese.
The hot springs of Noboribetsu are filled by the Hell Valley — a famed body of sulphur-rich, mineral-dense waters in the area.
The hell valley, known as jigokudani in Japanese, is a stretch of land with visible hot steam vents and volcanic gaseous leaks. It mixes with the oyunuma, a sulfuric, high-temperature spring and flows into the onsen.
The onsen experience in Noboribetsu will have you surrounded by deep nature, including dark forests and Lake Kuttara.
Address: Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, Japan
How to get to Noboribetsu Onsen: In Tokyo, transit from the JR Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. From there, take a train to Noboribetsu Station.
10. Kurokawa Onsen
Right in the middle of Kyushu, Japan’s southerly and third largest Island, is a bucolic gift of nature.
The Kurokawa Onsen is shrouded in a well-planned natural environment, making the outdoor hot springs scenic by secluded.
It also offers a variety of onsen; a visitor can decide to bask in an acidic, alkaline, sulphuric or hydrogenated hot spring — or try them all in small daily doses throughout your stay.
Address: Minami Ogunimachi, Aso-gun, Kumamoto
How to get to Kurokawa Onsen: Board a bus from Fukuoka Airport or Hakata Station to Kurokawa Onsen.