10 Iconic Traditional Onsen in Japan You Need To Visit

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Bryce was born in California, but raised from the age of 3 near Seattle, Washington. He’s been living in Tokyo for about 7 years, and graduated from Temple University, Japan with degrees in economics and international business. He loves traveling of course, but also cooking, snowboarding, some video games as well. His biggest interest is songwriting/music production, more specifically electronic music… (think Skrillex, Marshmello, Daft Punk, etc.) He also has terrible humor as you’ll notice, but he hopes you’ll enjoy it!

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Hot tubs are pretty cool, a lot of people get excited when they hear about it, and sure, they feel pretty nice and relaxing. But in the realm of relaxing in hot water, Onsen are by far the clear winner here- and it’s not even a close comparison. They are naturally occurring and boast unique health benefits, something that hot tubs simply cannot even come close with. In fact, it might even be a crime to even compare them! Okay, exaggerations aside, Onsen are an incredible part of Japanese culture and there are some that define a region. In this guide, we’ll delve into Japan‘s most iconic traditional Onsen, each offering a unique blend of rejuvenating mineral water, mesmerizing landscapes, and cultural immersion. From historic bath houses to secluded mountain retreats, these destinations promise an unforgettable experience that goes beyond the ordinary. So, pack your sense of adventure and get ready to soak in the best of Japan.

1. Dogo Onsen

Dogo Onsen

Nestled in the charming city of Matsuyama, Dogo Onsen boasts the title of the oldest hot spring in Japan, dating back over a thousand years. The elegant Dogo Onsen Honkan, a three-story wooden bathhouse, is a symbol of timeless Japanese architecture. Dive (not actually) into the legendary Tama no Yu, a communal bath believed to have healing powers. After your soak, explore the quaint streets surrounding the Onsen, where traditional ryokans and street vendors beckon. And yes, some of you may already know about Dogo Onsen as it is the inspiration for the iconic bathhouse in Spirited Away!

2. Hoshi Onsen

C.K. TseCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tucked away in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture, Hoshi Onsen offers a secluded escape from the hustle and bustle. Boasting 140 years since establishment, this wooden building will transport you away into the past. Though, the Onsen’s history stretches back even further than that; it is said that the onsen was discovered when the famous buddhist monk Kukai was doing his preaching tour. While most Onsen are divided between genders, the main bath here is not.

3. Kinosaki Onsen

Picture this: seven public baths connected by willow-lined canals, creating a scene straight out of a traditional Japanese painting. Welcome to Kinosaki Onsen, a picturesque town in Hyogo Prefecture. Don a Yukata and wooden Geta sandals as you stroll between baths, taking in the serene atmosphere. The “Onsen hopping” tradition here is not just about bathing but also about experiencing the charm of each bathhouse and the local hospitality. Be sure to check out the rest of Hyogo as well, it boasts a lot of great activities, just like the rest of Kansai!

4. Matsudaya Hotel

Matsudaya hotel has a long history of over 300 years, undeniably impressive for an inn. If you want to (literally) be steeped in history, then this is a very good option for you. The inn has weathered many years but boasts impressive hospitality and facilities. Located just a bit north of Kyushu and just a bit west of Hiroshima in the Yamaguchi prefecture, this historic monument is the perfect place to absorb Japan’s Traditions. If you’re lucky enough to get a room overlooking the traditional garden, you’ll be left with nothing but impactful memories.

5. Yunushi Ichijo

Naohiro KobayashiCC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

Another establishment with a very long history is Miyagi prefecture’s Yunushi Ichijo. The story starts with a Lumberjack hitting a stone with his sickle about 600 years ago. Water started gushing out and since then the location became known as the Kamasaki Onsen, known for healing wounds. Yunushi Ichicho is a Luxury Ryokan mounted on this historic hot spring, ready for relaxation and opulent enjoyment. Some rooms are complete with private onsen for the best experience. 

6. Kurokawa Onsen

Hidden in the lush valleys of Kyushu, Kurokawa Onsen offers a tranquil escape where simplicity meets natural beauty. What sets this Onsen village apart is its unique Onsen-hopping experience. Enjoy multiple stays in different Ryokans, each with its distinct charm and baths. As you wander between the thatched-roof inns, surrounded by verdant landscapes, you’ll find the perfect balance between relaxation and exploration. Head down a bit further south and enjoy the epic Takachiho gorge, or head west and see the equally epic Mt. Aso.

7. Ginzan Onsen 

Transport yourself to the nostalgic ambiance of Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata, a charming hot spring town frozen in time. Lined with historic Ryokans illuminated by soft lantern light, the scene resembles a traditional Japanese postcard. Wander alongside the picturesque river, dipping into public baths along the way. Each of the buildings reflects the same exterior design, except for one, which was built by a renowned architect. This town will truly transport you away, and any of the Onsen will have you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

8. Kusatsu Onsen

Perched high in the mountains, Kusatsu Onsen is renowned for its acidic sulfuric waters and vibrant atmosphere. In fact, it is revered as one of Japan’s top 3 Onsen due to its incredibly high quality of water. Explore the Yubatake, a wooden structure that channels steaming hot water from the source, or head to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tamioka Silk Mill for bit more of a historic vibe. The town is full of lively onsen culture, so be sure to bask in it while you can!

9. Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan

BoltorCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Indulge in a stay at Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, recognized by the Guinness World Records as the “worlds most historic inn”, with 1300 years of history. Located in the scenic mountains of the Yamanashi Prefecture, this Ryokan seamlessly blends modern comfort with ancient charm. Private open-air baths offer panoramic views, while the traditional Kaiseki cuisine tantalizes your taste buds. Experience the juxtaposition of timeless elegance and contemporary luxury.

10. Arima Onsen

Conclude your Onsen adventure in the historic town of Arima, known for its “gold” and “silver” springs that are generated from volcanic activity. Fun fact, the water is actually radioactive. While this may sound quite scary, its not a threat at all, in fact the radon is quite helpful to you r health. Immerse yourself in the healing waters, believed to promote circulation and other astounding benefits. Arima Onsen offers a delightful blend of traditional Ryokans and modern comforts.

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