If you are interested in onsen in Japan, you have come to the right post.
The following is a list, compiled by dedicated experts from Japan who have stripped and dipped in every prefecture of this beautiful archipelago, represents our pick of the best onsen hot springs in Japan. Don’t forget, there are many wonderful onsen like these that we have yet to discover, so this list is not exhaustive! I’ve listed our 15 fabulous favorites in no particular order.
Located in Akita Prefecture, Japan’s northern Tohoku region, Nyuto Onsen is one of the most famous hot springs in Japan. The name means “nipple spring” (apparently named after the shape of a nearby mountain), and the water here is milky in color, almost blue in some lights.
Tsuboyu (Yunomine Onsen)
Tsuboyu is the only hot spring bath in Japan designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an idyllic, steaming pool surrounded by spectacular views, with water the consistency of milk and honey. In fact, what makes it up is a hut that covers a shadowy stone the size of a dresser, which stands out from a river and although its smell is very strong (sulfur) it is an experience that you have to live
Kurama Onsen Just 30 minutes by train from the heart of Kyoto, the beautiful hot spring town of Kurama Onsen is the perfect choice for those who do not have time to venture into the deepest countryside of Japan in search of a nice swim. For the best experience, head to the onsen after walking from the neighboring village, crossing the mountain pass.
I Love Yuu Bathhouse
Rustic and traditional onsen are lovely, but the I Love Yuu Bathhouse on the artsy Japanese island of Naoshima is truly a breath of fresh air. The name is a multilingual play on words, as yuu is the Japanese word for “hot water,” and inside you’ll bathe in cheesy bathrooms decorated with erotic art, pink palm trees, a giant elephant statue, and much more. Do not miss it!
This venerable bathhouse in Matsuyama City is the oldest surviving bathhouse in Japan, said to have inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away. The current building opened in 1894, but the spa has a history dating back more than a millennium. Commoners like us can bathe here in the main baths, there is a special bath reserved for the exclusive use of the Japanese royal family!
In a similar vein to Dogo Onsen, Funaoka is one of the most famous and beloved bathhouses in Kyoto. Opened in 1923, the dressing rooms are decorated with wood carvings depicting the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (controversial), and the bathhouse features a variety of indoor baths, outdoor baths, cypress trees, herbal baths, and even a bathroom with electric current running through it! Funaoka is technically a sento, not an onsen.
Osaka Spa World
Osaka Spaworld is essentially an onsen theme park, with several different floors offering restaurants, beauty treatments, shops, pools, and of course, baths. There is an Asian floor and a European floor, each with baths ranging from a Greek bath with columns and fountains, to a milk and honey bath in a cave, to a bath with giant fish tanks on the walls, to a Finnish sauna se complete with wolf models, and much, much more. Spa World is incredibly epic.
Located in Hyogo prefecture in southwestern Japan, Kinosaki Onsen is a classic hot spring town nestled between mountains and sea. The hot springs were discovered here in the 8th century, and today visitors continue to come to stay in the beautiful traditional inns and take the waters in the seven beautiful bathhouses, connected by wooden bridges illuminated with lanterns.
Japanese mother and baby snow monkeys in natural hot spring bath.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
A monkey park? But this is an article on hot spring baths? Indeed it is, and no discussion of hot springs could be complete without mentioning the onsen-bathing snow monkeys of Jigokudani. They are adorable. Unfortunately you can’t just jump into the monkey fountain, but there are human springs in the nearby town of Yudanaka Onsen.
A new addition to our favorite onsen list, Hirayu Onsen is one of five onsen towns in the Okuhida area north of the Japanese Alps. Of the five, Hirayu is the oldest and the largest, said to have been discovered in the 1560s. We recommend going to the onsen after a long day of skiing on the nearby slopes.
Located on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, in the interior of the Kii Peninsula, Kawayu Onsen is a hot spring town not far from Yunomine Onsen (mentioned above). Our favorite hotel in the city, the Fujiya Ryokan, sits on the banks of the Ohto River and is famous for its giant senninburo bath, carved out of the riverbank. The senninburo (which means thousand people bath) is only there during the winter months, but in summer you can dig your own hot spring bath!
Takaragawa Onsen is located in rural Gunma Prefecture, right in the middle of nowhere, on the banks of a river surrounded by trees. This is a beautiful and peaceful onsen in a stunning location; in fact, you would have to work really hard to get a better onsen than this one!
Although most foreigners will never have heard of it, Kusatsu is one of Japan’s favorite onsen cities. Also located in Gunma (home to Takaragawa Onsen), the city is built around the Yubatake (hot water field), the largest hot spring in Japan, providing 5,000 liters per minute.
One of our favorite hot spring spots on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan is Lake Kussharo, the largest of the three caldera lakes that make up Akan National Park. Here you can soak in one of the area’s charming hot spring baths, or even dig your own from the steaming lake shore.
Our latest hot spring favorite is Hakone, a famous hot spring spa in the shadow of Mount Fuji, a stone’s throw from Tokyo. There is no end here to excellent ryokan inns with their own gorgeous hot springs, and if you eat a boiled black egg in the bubbling owakudani, it is said that you will extend your life for seven years.