2015 Top Onsens in Japan
Onsen in Japan has been as old as history with Dogo Onsen in Ehime Prefecture (Shikkoku) probably being the first recorded Onsen in Japan history in year 712. Throughout history from the 12th to the 17th century, the culture and practice of using an Onsen has been largely credited to Buddhism influence for the religious practice of cleansing and purifying the body. In addition, there is also the widespread recognized health benefits to be obtained from different types of Onsen. Of course, with its healing properties comes numerous myths and legends of various Onsens having miraculous properties where injured warriors from the past got nursed back to health and much more … All these, together with the genuine sensation of pleasurable relaxation when one is in the hot Onsen is akin to a Gift of Nature that must be cherished and passed on for the generations to come.
Today when using Onsen, it is definitely good to have some knowledge of what the different kind of Onsen could do from the health benefits aspect before stepping in. Who knows, after the Onsen relaxation, one could also have an added health improvement bonus, all while viewing beauty scenery and enjoying the steaming hot Onsen. Sounds good, doesn’t it? 😉
Types of Onsen in Japan
|Type||Description of Onsen|
|Simple Onsen||Springs that does not contain sufficient minerals to be classified into the specific groups are known as Simple Onsen. In general, the overall mineral composition within 1 litre of water has up less than 1000mg of specific minerals. Nevertheless, while the level of stimulation is low, there are still potentially a wide range of mild beneficial effects when used.
|Carbon Dioxide Onsen||A ‘Carbon Dioxide Onsen’ is where in 1 litre of hot spring water, there is 100mg or more of released carbonic acid. This causes carbon dioxide to dissolve, creating a fine froth on the surface, and it is often referred to as a ‘bubbly spa’ or ‘soda spa’. The onsen has the effect of expanding blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure. It is also good for Rheumatism.
|There are two different types: Sodium Bicarbonate and Bicarbonate Earth Onsen, which are both alkaline onsen. It is of clear colour and has the ability to make skin feel smooth. Sodium bicarbonate onsen in particular makes skin soft and gentle, while removing dirt, often being referred also as ‘the water of beautiful skin’.
This type of onsen is good for Cuts, Burns and Chronic Skin Diseases.
|Chloride Onsen||There are 3 types of Chloride Springs (Salt, Calcium, and Magnesium ). Being an island surrounded by sea, Japan has many Salt Chloride Onsen, containing salt similar to the type found in sea water. Salt has the effect of controlling perspiration after bathing and also the body’s ability to retain heat. As such, this type of onsen is known as ‘Fever water’.
This type of Onsen is theurapetic to conditions of Cuts, Burns, Chronic Skin Disease, Chronic Gynecological Disorders, Poor Circulatory and Muscle/Joint Pain/Lower Back Pain.
|Sulphate Onsen||This spring water has a bitter taste when drunk. It is also known as ‘Water for cuts and bruises’. Sulphate onsen are divided into three categories: Calcium sulphate, Sodium sulphate, containing traces of natrium, and a regular bitter spring which contains traces of magnesium.
It has theurapetic effects for Cuts, Burns, Chronic Skin Disease, Arteriosclerosis. When drunk, it aids on Chronic Constipation.
|Ferruginous Onsen (Iron)||There are two types of Ferruginous Onsen: Carbonated Iron Onsen, and Melanterite Onsen. The water is a colourless, transparent as it gushes up, but develops into a dark reddish-brown colour when in contact with air. This type of spring helps the body’s ability to retain heat, and replenishes the body’s iron levels either through skin absorption or by drinking.
It also aids on health conditions that are related to iron-deficiency like Mentrual disorder and Anaemic conditions.
|Aluminium Onsen||Colourless and transparent, or a yellowish-brown colour with a bitter taste, these acidic springs have strong sterilising properties and are mostly found on volcanic zones. They are known to tighten the skin and mucous membranes, which helps ease symptoms of Chronic Skin Disease, Inflammation of the Mucous membranes, Athlete’s Foot and Hives.
Onsen (Copper and Iron)
|Similar to the Ferruginous spring, the water oxides with the atmosphere once exposed, becoming an opaque yellow colour, and leaving a red-brown sediment. Because there are traces of iron in the spring, the temperature can be very hot, but this kind of onsen is not very effective for cleaning the body.
|Sulphur Onsen||With the distinctive and unique smell of bad eggs, this kind of spring has the ability to expand the blood vessels in the body and helps to reduce blood pressure. White it is said that the vapor containing hydrogen sulfide is good for the chronic bronchitis, it should also be noted that hydrogen sulphide is toxic in excess therefore proper ventilation is essential. The pale-yellow sediment are known as ‘Hot water flowers’. The sulphur can soften the hardened keratin of the skin, and is also good for acne and spots.
This type of Onsen is theurapetic towards Cuts, Diabetes, Chronic Skin Disease, High Blood Pressure and Joint Pain.
|Acidic Onsen||This type of spring are usually found in highlands of volcanic regions. Acidic springs has powerful sterilising properties, and a strong stimulation that permeates the skin hence good for skin conditions due to bacteria growth like Chronic Skin Disease and Chronic Gynecological Disorders. However acidic Onsen are not recommended for people with sensitive skin or weak health and they should wash their body with regular water after the bath if using.
|Radium Onsen||Only tiny amounts of radioactive minerals are found in this type of hot spring normally containing Thoron or Radon. Strong evidence has been recorded that shows the miniscule amounts of radioactivity in the water have a beneficial effect on the body like lowering the blood pressure and helping the body produce uric acid, while producing a sedative effect.
This type of Onsen is good for Gout, Neuralgia, Circulatory Disease, High Blood Pressure and Rheumatism.
|Mirabilite Onsen||Mirabilite springs are a type of sulfate spring that is colorless and salty tasting. Mirabilite spring waters contain sodium which improves blood flow and in the process ease the effects of Hypertension, Wounds and Arteriosclerosis.
|Melanterite Onsen||The negative ions in melanterite springs consist mainly of sulfuric acid ions, while the positive ions contain mainly iron ions. When exposed to air, melanterite springs oxideze and turn to a copper color. Highly acidic, melanterite spring waters also contain large amounts of minerals such as copper and manganese, and help to ease the effects of Anemia and Chronic Eczema.
East Japan (Best Onsen Town)
|Picture of Onsen||Rank / Name of Onsen Town||Location / Description|
The most prominent public baths are the Sainokawara Rotemburo (large outdoor pools in Sainokawara Park), the Otakinoyu with its unique Awaseyu baths that features multiple wooden pools with different water temperatures, and the Gozanoyu, a beautiful wooden building next to the Yubatake with two simple, traditional baths.
Other private Ryokens recommended are:
- Kusatsu Onsen Boun
- Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel
- Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Village
|Kusatsumachi, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma
Access: Kusatsu Onsen Station, JR Line
It is located in Gunma and is one of the leading Onsen in Japan. There is a symbolic facility called Yubatake (Hot water field) which is one of the resort’s main sources of hot spring water. This Onsen area is very lively and one can visit multiple hot springs for free while also enjoy shopping at variety shops there. There are nice resort inns, hotels and cafes around the city.
|2) Hakone Onsen: Link to Ryokens & Hotels offering Onsen (indoor/outdoor)|
A few recommended Ryoken/Hotels are:
- Hakone Tokinoshizuku
- Yumoto Fujiya Hotel
- Kinnotake Tonosawa
- Fujiya Hotel
- Hotel Okada
- Hotel Hatsuhana
- Hotel Green Plaza Hakone
|Hakonemachi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa
Access: 20 minutes ride by bus from Odawara Station, JR Line/Odakyu Line
It is one of the most popular hot spring areas located only one hour and a half away from Tokyo by car or train. There are many day hot-spring facilities one can go easily together with numerous shops to go in and buy souvenirs. Along the two rivers called Hayakawa River and Sukumogawa River, one will see different taste of accommodations from historic and well established ones to purely Japanese home-style to large scaled resort hotel.
|3) Noboribetsu Onsen top recommended locations:|
Daiichi Takimotokan - The bright and spacious baths of the Takimotokan are among Japan's best modern indoor hot spring baths, if not the best. What sets them apart from the rest is not only the number of pools but also the fact that they are fed by as many as seven different hot spring waters, varying in acidity, mineral contents and health benefits.
Noboribetsu Grand Hotel - This hotel's attractive and spacious indoor baths feature three different types of hot spring water (sulfur, salt and iron). The main attraction, however, is the outdoor bath that looks onto a beautiful garden with a man made waterfall.
Noboribetsu Sekisuitei - Daytime visitors to this large ryokan get access to two baths that are located in two different towers of the complex. The baths offer only one type of water, but are very spacious and attractive with views onto the forested mountain slope.
Access: Noboribetsu Station, JR Line
It is recognized as the best Onsen in Hokkaido as far as access, notability, history, and quality goes. Hot spring quality includes sulfur and hydrogen sulfide which soften and lighten your skin, and also includes iron spring which has tremendous effect on your fatigue.
|4) Ikaho Onsen: A few recommended Hot-spring Ryokens and Hotels here are:|
Fukuichi, Joshinnosato Hibikino, Kishigon Ryoken, Tsukagoshiya Kounkan, Ichikawa Bekkan Seikanso.
There are also two public hot spring bath houses that are open to day trip visitors: Ikaho Rotemburo and Ishidan no Yu.
|Shibukawa-shi, Gunma Prefecture
Access: 25 minutes by bus from Shibukawa Station
Ikaho Onsen is located halfway up Mt. Harunasan at an elevation of 700 meters. It has a long history with its name appearing in the Manyoshu, Japan's oldest surviving collection of poems, said to have been edited in the late seventh and eighth centuries. Here you can enjoy two types of onsen: "Kogane no Yu (Golden Water)", in which the iron contained in the water has oxidized to form a distinctive brownish-red color; and "Shirogane no Yu (Silver Water)", whose gushing was only discovered in recent years.
|5) Atami Onsen: Link to Ryokens & Hotels in atami offering Onsen (indoor/outdoor).|
Some recommended Ryokens:
Atami Fufu, Wafukan, Furuya Ryoken
|Higashikaigan-cho, Atami, Shizuoka
Access: JR Atami Station (Tokaido Line)
Atami-onsen dates back to about 1250 years ago, when hot water springs in the sea were found. Since the high-temperature water with its high salt content has excellent insulation properties, it works well for conditions of neuralgia and excessive sensitivity to cold. The water also attracts women who want to tighten up their skin and tone the body. An ancient document noted that the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu (1543-1616) sojourned here; he even had the water transported to his Edo Castle in Tokyo for the purpose of bathing.
|6) Nyuto Onsen: The name Nyuto Onsen means "nipple hot spring" and comes from the suggestive shape of nearby Mount Nyuto rather than the milky/cloudy appearance of the area's hot spring water. All the hot spring baths in Nyuto Onsen belong to ryokan, and most of the ryokan feature mixed gender outdoor baths, and all have various gender segregated bathing as well.|
Some of the strongly recommended Ryokens are:
- Tsurunoyu Onsen: the oldest operating ryokan of Nyuto Onsen
- Tsurunoyu Onsen - Yamanoyado: A more recent addition to Tsurunoyu, located along the road to the original inn and includes all the comforts of a modern ryokan.
- Kuroyu Onsen: Another rustic ryokan offering multiple indoor and outdoor baths including a mixed gender outdoor bath with a nice sunset view.
- Taenoyu Onsen: A modern, well equipped ryokan that sits beside the Sendatsu River. It features a mixed gender outdoor bath overlooking a waterfall.
They are however not easy to book due to high demand and low room availability. Currently, bookings can only be made via www.japaneseguesthouses.com or by phone at least 4mths ahead.
Access: 45 min from Tazawako Station to Nyuto Onsen-kyo by bus
Located in the Tohoku region of Honshu, the area presents beauty throughout the four seasons. There are seven hot spring inns scattered around the western foothills of Mt. Nyuto-zan in Towada Hachimantai National Park, which is known its beautiful Japanese scenery. Nyuto Onsen-kyo Hot Spring Village spreads over a large area, blessed with natural hot spring waters that flow out from deep underneath the virgin beech forest over the valley. Even today, you will find inns that were visited by feudal lords seeking hot-spring cures more than 350 years ago, making it seem as though you have slipped back in time.
|7) Nozawa Onsen, at the base of the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort, is a nostalgic old hot spring town well regarded for its hot springs which are a relaxing diversion after a day of skiing. Visitors can bathe at one of more than a dozen small, public bath houses scattered about town that are community owned and maintained since the Edo Period. They are simple and rustic, with just a single room for each gender containing a bath and a changing area. |
Alternatively, Nozawa Onsen's hotels and ryokan each have their own hot spring baths for the use of their guests. Some of them open up their baths to non-staying guests during the day for a small entrance fee.
Access: 40 mins by bus after transfer from JR Liyama station
A charming hot spring village located at the foot of Kenashi-yama Mountain which is home to around 4,000 people. Nozawa Onsen is said to date back to 8th century and has been renowned for it’s hot springs and traditional inns since the Edo period. More recently the village has also gained popularity as a ski area that features a great variety of terrain and amazing snow that’s hard to match.
|8) Manza Onsen: Recommended Nisshinkan - The indoor and outdoor bath areas of are located in separate buildings a short walk away from each other. The serene outdoor bath offers nice mountain scenery. The indoor bath area has a beautiful wooden interior equipped with several pools and fan shaped windows. All facilities are gender separated.|
Other recommended Onsens include: Manza Prince Hotel, Manza Kogen Hotel, Manzatei
Access: Manza Kazawaguchi Station, transfer by bus to Manza Onsen taking approx. 40 mins
Manza Onsen is a hot spring resort town located 1800 meters above sea level, high up on the slopes of Mount Shirane at the northwestern edge of Gunma Prefecture. Its highly acidic waters are obtained from Mount Shirane and are among the most sulfuric in all of Japan. They are known to provide various health benefits through improving metabolism and blood circulation.
|9) Akiu Onsen: Link to Ryokens & Hotels in Akiu offering Onsen (indoor/outdoor).|
Some Recommended Ryokens:
Sakan: An inn famous for flourishing in the Tokugawa period as a bathing palace of Date Masamune, lord of the Sendai domain.
Sendai Akiu Onsen Iwanumaya: A well-established inn known for its convenience for women and families with children. Enjoy the seasonal Kyoto-style kaiseki cuisine and the beautifying waters.
|Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture
Access: Pick-up bus from JR Sendai Station is available upon reservation
It is an old hot spring whose origin dates back to the 6th century. Though Akiu is near the center of Sendai, over 90 percent of the town consists of mountain and forests. There are modern hotels in the middle of the greenery, giving it a quiet appearance.
|10) Zao Onsen: Link to Ryokens & Hotels in Zao offering Onsen (indoor/outdoor).|
Zao Dai-Rotemburo (Public Bath): Attractively situated in a forested valley right alongside a mountain river, these large, gender-separated outdoor baths are among Japan's most attractive. Unfortunately, they cannot be used during the winter months.
Other Public Baths recommended include: Shinzaemon no Yu, Kawarayu, Shimoyu
Access: 40 minutes by bus or car from Yamagata Station
The hot spring town of Zao Onsen lies attractively at an altitude of 880 meters above sea level on the slopes of volcanic Mount Zao. In winter, it also serves as one of Japan's leading ski resorts, whilst enabling skiers to also enjoy the hot spring baths. Zao Onsen's sulfuric waters are among the most acidic in the entire country with a PH value of close to 1.
West Japan (Best Onsen Town)
|Picture of Onsen||Rank / Name of Onsen||Location / Description|
|1) Arima Onsen|
Visitors to Arima Onsen can enjoy hot spring bathing at the two public bath houses (Kin no Yu, or Gin no Yu) or at the town's many ryokan.
Some highly recommended Ryokens/Hotels are as follow:
- Arimasansoh Goshobessho
- Arima Onsen Tosen Goshobo
- Arima Onsen Taketoritei Maruyama
- Miyukisou Hanamusubi
- Negiya Ryofukaku
|Kita-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Access: Arima Onsen Station, Kobe dentesu Arima Line
It is one of the oldest and most well-known hot spring in Japan located an hour away from Osaka. It is famous for the hot spring Hideyoshi Toyotomi who was one of the powerful well-loved historical rulers. There are reddish brown hot spring called Kinsen (Gold spring) and clear hot spring called Ginsen (Silver spring).
|2) Yufuin Onsen|
Some strongly recommended Ryoken/Hotels are as follow:
- Yufuin Gettouan
- Yufuin Sankouen
- Yufuin Kotobuki Hananosho
- Yufuin Ryokuyu
- Yufuin Tsubaki
- Yufuin Santoukan
- Yufuin Hanayoshi
- Oyado Ichizen
|Kawakami, Yufuincho, Yufu-shi, Oita
Access: Yufuin Station, JR Line
It is stretched across the foot of Mt. Yufudake in Oita. It is voted as the top hot spring area in Kyushu in many surveys and is popular especially among women. Accommodations are located in rural areas where one can enjoy fantastic scenery. Additionally, there are individual museums, fashionable restaurants and shops found everywhere, the way most women would like.
|3) Beppu Onsen|
Recommended Ryokens/Hotels include:
- Umikaoru Yado Hotel New Matsumi
- Tenku Yubo Seikaiso
- Beppu Showaen
- Shiosai-no-yado Seikai
- Suginoi Hotel
- Ryochiku Bettei
- Hotel Shiragiku
- Hotel Sun Valley Annex
Access: Beppu Station, JR Line
It is located in Oita, Kyushu. The number of hot spring wells and the yield of hot water found here is the largest in Japan. There is a famous tour called Beppu Jigoku Meguri (Beppu Hell Tour) where one can see different types of Jigoku springs such as Sea Hell, Blood Pond Hell, White Pond Hell and Tornado Hell. You can also have their specialty onsen eggs which are specially steamed or boiled in the hot spring water.
|4) Gero Onsen|
Recommended Ryoken/Hotels include:
- Hotel Kusakabe Armeria
- Gero Onsen Fugaku
- Gero Onsen Yukyunohana
Access: Gero Station, JR Line
It is located in Gifu and is one of the most famous three hot springs in Japan. The spring quality is alkaline which is smooth to touch. There is village called Gero Onsen Gasshomura where one can see houses with steep roofs. From spring to fall season, they have morning fairs called Ideyu Ichi that one might enjoy.
|5) Kinosaki Onsen|
The real draw to Kinosaki are its seven public bath houses (sotoyu) with the following being more outstanding: Goshono-yu, Mandara-yu, Kono-yu.
For private Ryokens, the following are recommended:
- Yuraku Kinosaki Spa & Gardens
- Kinosaki Onsen Nishimuraya Hotel Shogetsutei
|Kansai, Hyogo Prefecture
Access: Kinosaki Onsen Station by JR Sanin Honsen Line
Kinosaki, on the Sea of Japan coast in northern Kansai, is the quintessential onsen town. With seven public baths and dozens of onsen ryokan, this is the place to sample the onsen ryokan experience. You can relax in your accommodation taking the waters as it pleases you, and when you get tired of your ryokan’s bath, you can hit the streets in a yukata (light cotton robe) and geta (wooden sandals) and hit the public baths. It doesn’t hurt that the town is extremely atmospheric at night, and the local winter speciality, giant crab, goes down pretty nice after a day of onsen-hopping.
|6) Wakura Onsen|
Recommended private Ryoken/Hotels are:
- Hotel Kaibo
- Yukemurino-Yado Biwanso
Access: Wakura-onsen Station
Wakura Onsen history dates back to approximately 1200 years, beginning around the same year the hot springs began to flow. Initially, the hot springs began gushing in Maruyama’s Yunotani, west of Yakushidake, and then it was said that due to tectonic activity, the spring opening moved 60 meters off the coast into the sea. Later, during the Eisho period, a fisherman couple living in Wakura saw a white heron healing its body from steam, rising from the ocean and that’s how the yu-no-waku-ura (bay of the rising steam) or wakura was discovered.
|7) Dogo Onsen|
Besides Kami no Yu & Tami no Yu, the following Ryokens are recommended:
- Dogo Prince Hotel
Access: Dogo Onsen Station. From JR Matsuyama Station, take tram line 5. From Matsuyama-shi Station, take tram line 3.
The steam rising from this split-level wooden bathhouse complex may well be the mist of legend - its history dates back more than 1000 years with its origins rooted in folk tales about the princes and gods who were healed here. Kami No Yu is the larger public bath, Tama No Yu the smaller, quieter and more "noble" option (pricing levels vary between them). Recently, the city of Matsuyama has sprawled around the natural springs but Dogo remains preserved in its own ancient bubble, the structure resembling a kind of village unto itself and inspiring the otherworldly design of the much-loved animated movie Spirited Away.
|8) Kurokawa Onsen|
The following are strongly recommended locations:
- Kurokawa Onsen Oyado Noshiyu
- Miyama Sansou
- Yamabiko Ryokan
- Satonoyu Waraku
|Minami Ogunimachi, Aso-gun, Kumamoto
Access: 1 hour ride by bus from Aso Station, JR Line
It is located about an hour plus north of Mt. Aso in Kumamoto and almost every inn here has an open air hot spring. One can bathe in any 3 hot springs among all those if one buys a bathing pass called “Nyuyoku tegata”. Spring quality here has a beneficial effect on nerve pain.
|9) Shirahama Onsen|
The onsens of particular interest would be the two outdoor baths, the coastal Sakinoyu and the Shirasuna public spring baths that are directly facing the beach.
|Shirahama, Wakayama-ken, Kansai
Access: Shirahama Station by JR Kinokuni Line
There’s something peculiarly pleasing about watching waves roll onto the beaches between the ocean and the natural hot-spring bath while immensed in the sensation of hot onsen temperature coupled with cool sea breeze, a feeling that is uniquely enjoyed here. At Shirahama, a beach town in southern Kansai, there is a onsen right by the beach and Sakino-yu Onsen is one just spectacular onsen.
|10) Ibusuki Onsen|
The most popular bathing spot is the large Saraku Sand Bath Hall while another fantastic bathing alternative can be enjoyed at the outdoor baths of Healthy Land.
For private Ryokens, that following are recommended:
Access: Ibusuki Station, JR Line
It is located an hour and 35 minutes away from Kagoshima Airport by dedicated bus service. This Onsen is famous for its natural sand bath called “Sunamushi”. It is a unique bathing method where one is covered by sand at the beach. It has beneficial effects on nerve pain and muscle aches, and also has effects on your beauty like salon treatment.
The Ryoken/Hotel recommendations listed above are not those of BigGlobe, rather they are the more popular Onsens in those top-ranking Onsen towns. If there are any Onsens that you have experienced and find that it should be added to the list, feel free to drop me a note 🙂
Shortly somewhere next week, I will also compile the List of Top Ranking Ryoken/Hotels with Onsen by BigGlobe to share with everyone.
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Cheers! 😉 ]