An onsen is a public bathing facility, very popular in Japan, usually built around natural, volcanic hot springs. Taking a bath at an onsen is much more than just a way to clean yourself and relax at a hot pool; it’s a highly important cultural aspect of the Japanese day-to-day life, especially in the most rural areas of the country. In these remote locations, it’s uncommon for households to have a shower or bath of their own, and most families go to their local onsen together as a daily after-dinner routine. Foreign visitors are more than encouraged to try the hot spring experience themselves, always respecting the etiquette within this tradition. These are some of the best, oldest and most scenic onsen that can be found in Japan!
1. Manza Onsen [Gunma Prefecture]
Credit: Wikimedia CommonsManza is a unique hot spring located in an idyllic location, 1,800 meters above sea level in Mount Shirane. This onsen resort is one of the most acclaimed in the area due to the high level of sulfur in its signature milky white water. Of course, the stunning view from the pools also plays an important role in its always increasing popularity. During the winter, the whole area is covered in snow; the water, however, remains warm year round!
Address: Hoshimata, Tsumagoi-mura, Agatsuma-gun, GunmaAccess:By train and bus: take the JR Agatsuma Line to Manza-Kazawaguchi Station. Once there, it’s a 45-minute bus ride to the onsen.Recommended period: Winter.Contact:Manza OnsenWithin Japan: 279-97-2152
2. Dogo Onsen [Ehime Prefecture]
Credit: www.flickr.comDogo Onsen, which was built over a thousand years ago, is believed to be the oldest onsen in Japan. In fact, some historians go as far as to claim it’s actually 3,000 years old. The famous wooden bath house is the main touristic spot in Matsuyama, and it attracts thousands of visitors from all over Japan every year. Dogo used to be the favorite onsen among several Imperial families in the Meiji period, and it still holds a celebrity status within the country. Fun fact: the main house featured in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was modelled after Dogo Onsen!
Address: 5-6 Dogoyunomachi Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture 790-0842Access:By train: From JR Matsuyama Station, take the tram line 5 to Dogo Onsen Station.Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Dogo OnsenWithin Japan: 089-921-5141
3. Noboribetsu Onsen [Hokkaido Prefecture]
Credit: Wikimedia CommonsNoboribetsu is the most famous onsen resort in Hokkaido, largely because of the beauty of the scenery around it. Most of the pools in the resort are reserved for hotel guests only, though many of them open their doors to the general public during the evening. The landscape is dominated by the dramatic mountains and the “Hell Valley” (Jigokudani), of highly volcanic activity.
Address: 162 Noboribetsu Onsen Machi Noboribetsu-shi Hokkaido JapanAccess:By bus: from New Chitose Airport, take a Donan Bus to the resort.Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Noboribetsu OnsenWithin Japan: 143-84-2222
4. Nyuto Onsen [Akita Prefecture]
Credit: www.flickr.comNyuoto’s history stretches over 300 years, making it one of the oldest and most rustic in Akita. Located up in the mountains, close to the Tazawako lake (the deepest in Japan), this onsen offers the most stunning views of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. The resort, which counts with both mixed and gender segregated bathing facilities, is open to all visitors year-round.
Address: Tazawako Tazawa, Semboku 014-1204,Akita PrefectureAccess:By bus: take a bus from Tazawako Station to Nyuto Onsen.Recommended period: Winter.Contact:Nyuto OnsenWithin Japan: 187-46-2139
5. Okuhida Onsen [Gifu Prefecture]
Credit: Wikimedia CommonsDeep into the Northern Japanese Alps sits the bucolic Okuhida hot spring, famous for its secluded outdoor pools with unique views of the snow-capped mountains and valleys. There’s a bath within the complex, the Hirayu Mizokukan, which also serves as a museum and educational center. The Mizokukan displays a variety of rudimentary tools found in the region.
Address: Okuhida Onsen-go, Takayama City, GifuAccess:By train and bus: take JR train from Tokyo to Matsumoto. Then transfer to a bus to the onsen.Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Okuhida OnsenWithin Japan: 0578-89-2614
6. Beppu Onsen [Oita Prefecture]
Credit: www.flickr.comBeppu is a collection of eight spectacular hot springs in the city of Beppu—the onsen capital of Japan. It’s also a near-record holder; after Yellowstone, this hot spring has the biggest volume of thermal water discharged. However, it’s not all dreamy turquoise water in this resort; the most singular bath in Beppu is a large tub were guests get buried under heated sand! This peculiar warm sand treatment is believed to help cure a number of ailments, and it’s also quite fun.
Address: Beppu, Oita Prefecture 874-0000, JapónAccess:By bus: take a bus from JR Beppu Station to Kannawa Bus Terminal.Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Beppu OnsenWithin Japan: 977-24-2828by Virginia Gonzalez