10 Best Onsen Hot Springs In The Tohoku Region

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Misty Fujii is a Canadian who moved to Osaka, Japan, in 2019 and married her Japanese sweetheart. In 2022, they had a baby and moved to Fukui for the clean country air. She is a DJ who teaches English part-time and writes to share Japan with the world. She gets excited about collecting vintage vinyl records, food from all countries, travelling, and renovating her traditional Japanese house.

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Welcome to Tohoku, the star of Japan’s north, where breathtaking landscapes meet the therapeutic embrace of natural hot springs. This is where you can discover the soul-soothing magic of onsen culture; where volcanic warmth meets Japanese tradition, providing the ultimate relaxation in your itinerary. Dive into the onsen experience, fully embracing the Japanese way of bathing – no swimsuits, just you and the healing waters! 

Tohoku boasts a wealth of onsen wonders, from secluded outdoor baths against snowy winter panoramas to vibrant autumnal backdrops. Ready for a dip? Soak into our top picks for the best onsen hot springs in the Tohoku Region! 

1. Ginzan Onsen (Yamagata)

Step into the enchanting world of Ginzan Onsen, where history and hot springs converge in Yamagata Prefecture. Once a thriving silver mine hub, the town welcomes travelers to a timeless retreat along the picturesque Ginzan River. Gas street lamps glow warmly as night falls, turning the wooden inns into scenes reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away.” 

You can soak your cares away in the Warashiyu footbaths, where hot spring water bubbles directly from the source. Embrace the charm of the Taisho period by donning classic costumes available for rent, enhancing your stroll through the small cafe and shop-lined town. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of snowy landscapes, indulge in a hot spring bath, and savor local delights like Obanazawa Wagyu beef and soul-warming soba noodles. Ginzan Onsen beckons, inviting you to unwind!

2. Zao Onsen (Yamagata)

Hidden amidst the mountainous embrace of Yamagata lies the winter wonderland of Zao Onsen, a haven for snow enthusiasts and hot spring devotees alike. Perched 880 meters on the volcanic slopes of Mt Zao, this resort town not only boasts the title of one of Japan’s largest ski resorts but also draws adventure-seekers from across the country. What sets this retreat apart is not just the thrill of the slopes but the allure of its famed, strong, acidic onsen. Positioned as a healing elixir, the mineral-rich waters promise rejuvenation and beauty, soothing muscles and joints and potentially alleviating conditions from hypertension to diabetes. Picture yourself immersed in the steaming hot springs, surrounded by crisp winter air, the perfect remedy after a day conquering the slopes. 

3. Nyuto Onsen (Akita)

Etsuko Nakamura, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED via Flickr

Unveiling itself in the eastern hills of Akita Prefecture, Nyuto Onsenkyo beckons with its array of hidden thermal wonders. Eight distinct ryokan resorts, each boasting its secret source of warmth, invite you to soak in the ultimate comfort. Dive into the diversity of spring qualities and unique inns, making it an authentic experience to savor each bath’s distinct charm. Despite its cheeky moniker, meaning “nipple hot spring,” inspired by the suggestive silhouette of Mount Nyuto, the springs’ allure goes beyond the name, embracing visitors with their milky waters. 

4. Akiu Onsen (Miyagi)

Enter the bubbling embrace of Akiu Onsen, a hot spring oasis that has whispered tales of relaxation for over 1500 years, earning its rightful place among “Japan’s three royal hot springs.” Sendai is known as “the city of woods,” and Akiu Onsen is tucked deep into the city’s backyard. The waters are an enchanting blend of sodium, alkaline, and sulfur springs, promising a soak and a journey through the diverse onsen landscape. Surrounding Akiu Onsen, nature unfolds in all its glory; you’ll see Akiu Otaki Waterfall, Rairaikyo Gorge, and the scenic Banji Iwa, offering picturesque views for every traveler. Pack your bags, embark on a two-hour bullet train journey from Tokyo, and let Akiu Onsen send you to thermal bliss. 

5. Hanamaki Onsen (Iwate)

なはん弁, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED via Wikimedia Commons

Embrace the therapeutic embrace of nature at Hanamaki Onsen, a hot spring sanctuary in the tranquil mountains of Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture. This enchanting onsen village boasts not just one but 12 hot springs along the Dai and Toyosawa Rivers, each offering a unique soak, from the nostalgic ambiance of Dai Onsen to the historic charm and scenic views of Osawa Onsen. Dive into open-air baths overlooking mountain streams or discover hidden inns along the river gorge; it’s a hot spring adventure to explore! And if you’re in the mood for a cultural detour, Hanamaki, the hometown of renowned poet Kenji Miyazawa, invites you to stroll through the Kamabuchi Waterfall trail, immortalized in his works, and lose yourself in the mesmerizing rose garden boasting over 450 varieties. 

6. Asamushi Onsen (Aomori)

Embark on a scenic journey to Asamushi Onsen by hopping onto the Aomori Railway, where the adventure begins with the welcoming embrace of a free footbath just outside Asamushi-Onsen Station. This charming town unfolds two distinct tales on either side of the station, with a traditional hot-spring haven to the east and an oceanfront beach paradise to the west. Wander through narrow alleys on the east, where time stands still amid old-fashioned inns and eateries exuding the essence of a classic Japanese hot-spring town. Soak in the hot spring’s transparent, tasteless, and odorless waters that are gentle on the skin and believed to work wonders on ailments from neuralgia to arthritis and back pain. The magical elixir may even grant you the gift of radiant and moisturized skin!

7. Sukayu Onsen (Aomori)

Ely Pochomkin, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED via Flickr

For over three centuries, Sukayu’s mountainous hot spring, housed in the oldest timber building in Hakkoda, has enchanted visitors. Named the People’s Recreation Hot Spring in 1954, this oasis is cocooned by the wilderness of Mt. Hakkoda, Suiren Numa Pond, and Jogakura Gorge, offering a winter wonderland for skiers and snowboarders and transforming into a trekker’s paradise in spring, summer, and fall. Sukayu has three baths, including the iconic “Senjin Buro,” a colossal co-ed bath, and they beckon with natural waters straight from the source. Crafted from beech wood, this bath of a thousand bathers exudes a nostalgic charm that captivates bath lovers of all ages. With its therapeutic acidic sulfate spring waters addressing rheumatoid pain, nerve issues, and more, Sukayu is a timeless retreat blending history, nature, and healing. 

8. Takanoyu Onsen (Akita)

RickardA, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Takanoyu Onsen in the Akinomiya Hot Spring Resort area of Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture, is a hidden gem along the Yakunai River. Legend tells of its discovery 1,200 years ago, guided by a falcon to the oldest hot springs in Akita. Recognized by the Akita Clan in the Edo period, Takanoyu has its own pure hot spring, gushing at 91°C. This is a rare find because only 10% of Japan’s hot spring facilities have their own source! Takanoyu offers a therapeutic retreat with indoor and outdoor baths, perfect for those seeking relief from neuralgia, rheumatism, and skin disorders. Dive into relaxation in a hideaway with a touch of legendary discovery.

9. Higashiyama Onsen (Fukushima)

Over 1,300 years ago, the renowned Higashiyama Onsen in Aizu-Wakamatsu City became a retreat founded by the Buddhist priest Gyōki, who, legend has it, discovered the spot following a bird with three legs, an encouraging sign! Once favored by Aizu samurai during the Edo period, it evolved into a top-tier onsen town in old Tohoku. Nestled along the Yukawa River, traditional ryokan in Higashiyama Onsen offers a perfect blend of modern and traditional atmospheres. Immerse yourself in the warm sodium-sulfate waters, surrounded by crisp air and picturesque scenery. A stay in Higashiyama Onsen seamlessly blends relaxation and cultural exploration, making it an ideal base for exploring Aizu-Wakamatsu.

10. Ashinomaki Onsen (Fukushima)

Σ64, CC BY 3.0 DEED via Wikimedia Commons

Hidden in a stunning valley, Ashinomaki Onsen boasts a natural hot spring that has been flowing abundantly for over 1,200 years. Once dubbed a “phantom hot spring village” due to its challenging accessibility, the deep valley now hosts a collection of hot spring ryokan inns, creating an air of secluded relaxation. Escape the daily chaos and unwind in an inn with a panoramic view, immersing yourself in the lush forest greenery and the valley’s breathtaking beauty while soaking in the rejuvenating hot waters. As if that’s not enough, the highlights of the area include the legendary cat station master at Ashinomaki Onsen Station, the iconic Ichii Trail Walkway adorned with Japanese Yew Trees, and the Ashi Poppo footbath offering hot water straight from the source, all set against a backdrop of splendid views. 

Who could resist this face? (Tennen-Gas, CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED via Wikimedia Commons)

Where would you go and take a soak first?

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