A Complete Guide to Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs

Blessed with active volcanoes, Japan has all kinds of onsen hot springs all over the country. You may have heard of the etiquette and rules to follow before entering, as well as the various types of water with different functions. In this article, we will explain them easily so that you can have a relaxing onsen experience without misunderstandings, as well as some of the best areas in Japan to enjoy them.

Medicinal onsen are onsen that can be used for medical purposes, onsen that contains special substances, or onsen that have a temperature of 25℃ or higher. Onsens are typically marketed in Japan based on many qualities, such as chemical composition, temperature, color, scent, and so on. The kinds and amounts of chemical components contained in the water define the quality of onsen, which can be divided into different types.

Simple Onsen

Element:minimal
Color:colorless
Smell:odourless
Function:stimulate metabolism, treat fatigue, nerve pain, insomnia and hypertension

Chloride Onsen

Element:salt ions
Color:colorless
Smell:pool smell
Function:For muscle and joint pain, cuts, burns, skin disorders

Sulfur Onsen

Element:hydrogen sulphide
Color:milky white
Smell:sulfuric smell
Function:dilates the blood vessels and softens the skin

Carbon Dioxide Onsen

Element:CO2 gas
Color:colorless with bubbles
Smell:odourless
Function:dilate vessels and reduce bloodpressure

Iron Onsen

Element:iron
Color:shade of brown
Smell:rust
Function:retains heat and increases body iron

Iodine Onsen

Element:iodine
Color:light yellow
Smell:bit like mouthwash
Function:anti-bacterial action

Read more about the different types of onsen water: Types of Japanese Onsens: Different Hot Springs Water and Their Functions

Much loved by locals and visitors, the well-developed facilities of the hot springs gather in many towns or resorts for people to fully feel the charm of the onsen with plenty of things to do.

Arima: For the old Edo atmosphere, you can choose Arima Onsen, with thousands of years of history lined with Edo-style wooden buildings. Located in the city of Kobe, it is easily accessible by Shinkansen within 20 minutes after the food tour in Osaka. This is one of the most famous onsen areas, where you can not only enjoy the golden or silver hot springs, but also taste the authentic Kobe beef.

Kusatsu: It is highly recommended that you take your Japan onsen tour in Kusatsu during the winter. As this popular resort is located at a fairly high latitude and has a gentle slope, you can also try your hand at downhill skiing at the ski resort, which is just 5 minutes uphill by bus. Autumn is also a good time for hiking. After admiring the tranquil lake at the top and the red maples along the way, soak yourself in the warm spring water and wash away your tiredness.

Hakone: Hakone's onsen offers a wide range of options for your onsen visit, from simple yuccas to private open-air hot springs with stunning views. However, if you want to have a hot spring experience in Hakone, make sure you choose an outdoor hot spring. This is because Hakone is relatively close to Mount Fuji, which means you have the chance to soak in the hot spring while enjoying the view of the marvel of Mount Fuji in the distance.

Noboribetsu: A trip to Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, will show you the source of the hot spring water. Above the town is the valley known as Jigokudani, where the still active crustal movement has caused the lake between the valleys to boil, steam and bubble. Even the Oyunuma River that flows out is warm. You can take a footbath here while admiring the view of the mountains and save the full body soak for when you get back to the resort.

Atami: The name of Atami can mean the hot ocean filled with hot water, is about a two-hour train ride southwest of Tokyo. It is a pleasant coastal town with beaches facing the Pacific Ocean, so you can combine the onsen experience with the azure sea and sky. If your tour in Atami is in the summer, you can also enjoy the outdoor footbaths that are easy to find in Atami without worrying about the summer heat. Such as the one at Atami Castle, where you can relax in the hot water with the sea breeze and the festival fireworks.

An onsen tour in Nagano would be quite exciting, especially when you head to the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, a hot spring park with plenty of nature onsen that usually gathers the bathing snow monkeys in winter. Below the park are the nearby onsen resorts, where you can relax and warm up. As this place is often covered in snow, you can choose an open-air hot spring to feel the falling snow, which is quite romantic and surprising as you may occasionally encounter visiting monkeys.

As a country with over 25,000 hot springs, the following article will tell you more about the most popular onsen areas: Hot Spring Areas in Japan: Where to Find the Best Onsen

  • Take a shower before entering
  • Be completely naked when you enter onsen
  • Cover your tattoos when entering onsen
  • Do not drink alcohol in onsen
  • Do not take photos in onsen

You may be interested in finding out more about the Onsen Tips: Japanese Onsen Tips | Dos & Don'ts for Hot Springs

After learning about the different types of water and the most popular places to soak, how about following this guide to start planning your Japanese onsen trip? Use etiquette to get the most out of your experience. If you are still curious, please contact Odynovo; we are always happy to help. To further enhance your Japan tour, feel free to contact our specialists for a customized itinerary that also covers the most wonderful Onsen spots!

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