Best Onsen in Japan – Soak in the natural beauty of Japan. Onsen, or Japanese hot springs, are an important part of Japanese culture. Due to the country’s geography, there are thousands of natural hot springs throughout Japan. Typically, the facilities require bathers to enter the onsen completely nude – an idea that may scare off some modest foreign visitors. However, if you have an open mind, visiting an onsen is one of the most relaxing and beautiful experiences you can have in Japan.
Before taking the plunge into the hot, soothing waters, there are a few key points of etiquette to remember.
- You must wash before entering the spring
- No bathing suits
- No dipping your towels into the water
- No tattoos (unless covered by bandage)
- No splashing or general rowdiness
Of course, some onsen are less strict than others, it’s recommended to keep to these rules when visiting a Japanese hot spring. For a more in-depth review you can check out our article on the subject here: Onsen Etiquette.
Here are our top 10 best onsen recommendations in Japan.
Best Onsen in Japan #1: Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma Prefecture
Kusatsu is one of the hottest onsen resorts in Japan – not just in popularity, but in temperature too. Throughout its centuries-long history, the healing waters of the natural springs have been said to cure many illnesses. At the very least, it can certainly ease sore muscles. The mineral-rich hot springs are on full display in the middle of the town. Once you get used to the smell of sulfur, it’s very relaxing to watch the steam rising into the night sky from the bubbling water.
It is possible to take advantage the hot springs without having to stay at a hotel or ryokan. Many skiers or sightseers stop by to relax here after enjoying other attractions around the Gunma prefecture. Otakinoyu is one of the best public baths that Kusatsu has to offer. This onsen has indoor and outdoor areas for bathers each with beautiful décor and atmosphere.
One of the most convenient ways to get to Kusatsu is by shuttle bus from Tokyo. Tickets from Shinjuku are just 3,450 yen, and during the 4-hour journey you can enjoy the Japanese countryside.
Hours: 9 am – 9 pm (last entry 8 pm)
Price: 900 yen
Best Onsen in Japan #2: Hakone Yuryo, Kanagawa Prefecture
Hakone is a scenic town that is only a short 85-minute train ride away from Tokyo on the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station. Many visitors travel here for its amazing view of Mt. Fuji and beautiful nature. In addition to Hakone’s many other attractions, there also are a number of fantastic hot springs to alleviate your aching muscles after a long day of sightseeing.
Hakone Yuryo is a pleasant hot spring just a few minutes away from Hakone Yumoto Station by free shuttle bus. This onsen’s spacious outdoor bath offers a great view of the forest surrounding Hakone. The building is also well designed with a great rustic, Japanese atmosphere that welcomes visitors to stay and enjoy a delicious meal and other facilities long after their bath. Hakone is the perfect addition to a Hakone day trip any time of year.
Hours: Weekdays 10 am – 9 pm (last entry 8 pm), Weekend/Holidays 10 am – 10 pm (last entry 9 pm)
Price: 1,400 yen
Best Onsen in Japan #3: Shimoda Tokyu Hotel, Izu Peninsula
The Izu Peninsula is lined with sandy beaches and stunning views. Pictures can hardly do the scenic landscapes justice. Shimoda, located on the southern coast of the peninsula, is popular for its hot springs which overlook the natural beauty of the region.
The Shimoda Tokyu Hotel provides a more western-influenced alternative the Japanese onsen experience. The rooms and hotel services will seem familiar to foreign guests, however the indoor and outdoor baths maintain their Japanese aesthetic. The outdoor baths, partially covered by wooden slabs, open up to reveal an incredible view of the ocean. The exposed design of the onsen really allows bathers to feel one with the nature around them.
To get to Shimoda, you can take an express Odoriko train directly from Tokyo in just 2.5 hours for 6,500 yen. From Shimoda station the hotel provides a shuttle bus to pick up guests. The trip is less than 10 minutes and staff are very friendly and try their best to speak English.
Hours: 5 am – 11 am, 2 pm – 1 am
Price: from 20,000 per night
Book: Shimoda Tokyu Hotel
Best Onsen in Japan #4: Shibu Onsen, Nagano Prefecture
Though you should always remember good etiquette when visiting Japanese onsen, there is one place where monkeying around is perfectly acceptable – Jigokudani Yaen Koen. Here Japanese Macaque monkeys climb down from the snowy cliffs in the winter to warm up in the natural hot springs. The park is open from 9:00 – 16:00 in the winter and 8:30 – 17:00 in the summer for just 800 yen per ticket.
After observing the monkeys soaking it in, you can relax in the natural springs nearby in the quaint onsen town of Shibu. Shibu Onsen maintains its traditional atmosphere by continually renovating the 1,300-year-old wooden structures. Take a walk down the old cobblestone streets and see how many of the nine baths you can visit during your trip. Visiting all nine bathhouses is said to bring good fortune.
Getting to Shibu Onsen is not exactly a straight shot. From Tokyo you should first take the bullet train to Nagano Station. Then transfer to the Nagano Electric Railway Limited Express to Yudanaka Station. Finally, from there you can take a 7-minute taxi or bus ride to Shibu Onsen Iriguchi. The whole trip should take around 2.5 hours and costs around 9,230 yen.
Hours: 6 am – 4 pm (6 am – 10 pm if you spend the night at a Shibi Onsen inn). Baths may vary.
Price: 500 yen
Best Onsen in Japan #5: Dogo Onsen, Ehime Prefecture
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live as royalty, a trip to Dogo Onsen is your chance. This historic natural hot spring in Matsuyama is frequently visited by members of Japan’s Imperial Family. A 124-year-old Meiji Period wooden public bathhouse called Dogo Onsen Honkan is the central attraction of the area. The design of the building is said to have inspired the famous bathhouse from the animated film “Spirited Away”.
Two baths dramatically named “Bath of the Gods” and “Bath of the Spirits” are available to guests to enjoy. On the upper floors visitors can relax and wait for the crowded baths to open up or cool off after a long soak. Since the onsen is very popular, it’s important to manage time well. After purchasing a ticket, guests are allowed to stay in the Onsen for up to 60 minutes.
Budget airline Jetstar has tickets from Tokyo to Matsuyama starting from just 4,000 yen. To get to Dogo Onsen Honkan, you have to first take a tram from JR Matsuyama Station to Dogo Onsen Station. From there, it is only a 4-minute walk.
Hours: 6:00 – 23:00
Price: from 410 yen
Best Onsen in Japan #6: Ibusuki Onsen, Kagoshima Prefecture
The most unique recommendation on this list is a hot spring on the eastern coast of the island of Kyushu, Ibusuki Onsen. If you are still feeling shy about bathing naked in front of dozens of strangers, instead try resting covered in volcanically heated sand next to the ocean waves. Visitors looking to relax here are provided a shaded area to be gently buried in wearing a Japanese yukata by the staff. Being covered up to your neck in the hot sand for 15 to 20 minutes is said to cure a variety of common ailments. It may also increase blood-oxygen levels and benefits the skin by opening pores.
To reach Ibusuki from Kagoshima, you can take an express train. From Tokyo, the best way is to fly to Fukuoka and take the Kyushu Shinkansen and JR Limited Express from Hakata Station.
Check out our article about Kagoshima Japan if you want to know more about visiting this beautiful place.
Hours: 9:00 – 17:30 (September – June), 9:00 – 18:00 (July and August)
Price: 820 yen
Best Onsen in Japan #7: Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido
Noboribetsu Onsen is the most famous hot spring in Japan’s northern region, Hokkaido. The oddly beautiful volcanic landscape is home to a variety of different natural springs which fuel dozens of baths in the area. The scenery dramatically changes with each of Japan’s famous four seasons, making Noboribetsu an exciting destination year-round.
Dai-ichi Takimotokan is a bathhouse that takes full advantage of the numerous hot springs. Its seven unique baths make it the largest in Hokkaido. Each bath varies in mineral composition and temperature for different health benefits. There is also a spacious outside bath which overlooks the view of the valley.
To get to Noboribetsu Onsen, you can take a cheap 500 yen shuttle bus directly to the onsen from Sapporo Station, or you can cut your travel time in half by taking a 4,480 yen train to Noboribetsu Station. From there a local bus will take you to the hot spring.
Hours: 9:00 – 18:00
Price: 2000 yen
Which onsen on our list have you been to? Share your experience on our Facebook Group.
Andrew Smith is an American writer living in Tokyo. In his free time, he enjoys, photography, live music, and exploring Japan. His goal is to visit and write about every prefecture in Japan someday.