Taking an onsen is one of the most exciting experiences that you can have in Japan. It has been an essential part of Japanese culture for over centuries, visiting the onsen allows the Japanese to refresh and get rid of exhaustion from busy days. Japan boasts a large number of onsen resorts that can be found everywhere, and some of them are conveniently located near Tokyo. Taking a weekend trip to the relaxing onsen town helps you get unwind while exploring tourist attractions and taking in the impressive sceneries around as well. Here is a list of the best onsen towns near Tokyo!
- What is an onsen?
- 1. Hakone Yumoto Onsen (Kanagawa) 90 minutes
- 2. Kusatsu Onsen (Gunma) 3-4 hours
- 3. Ikaho Onsen (Gunma)
What is an onsen?
In Japanese the word onsen is written as 温泉, two kanji that are translated as ‘hot’ and ‘water’, fundamentally the definition of an onsen. The water of onsen must be at least 25°C at the source and the water must meet one of the 19 criteria related to the mineral content of the water. Taking an onsen is a very important and loved part of Japanese culture and this tradition has been in place for many centuries. Throughout Japan there are countless onsen resorts, each with their own health benefits and characteristics. Some are located in the mountains, in cities, near beaches or really anywhere else. There are many different rules, of which the most important one is never to use soap or shampoo inside the shared bath. Before entering an onsen, always wash and rinse yourself! Read more about how to take an onsen in the article below.
1. Hakone Yumoto Onsen (Kanagawa) 90 minutes
Hakone is widely known as one of the most popular onsen towns in Japan. In fact for many people, the natural hot springs are the first thing that come to mind when thinking of Hakone. There are 17 hot spring sources in the area of Hakone, also known as Hakone Ju-nana-yu (Hakone 17), including the most famous Yumoto, Kowakudani and Sengoku. Each onsen area offers different water quality and subsequent health and/or beauty benefits. Some require bathing suits and others allow tattoos.
Located in the west part of Kanagawa prefecture, Hakone attracts numerous tourists all year round with a range of tourist attractions and scenic spots around. Because Hakone is easily accessible from Tokyo, it takes only 1.5 hours to get to the area from Tokyo by train, it is a popular day trip destination as well!
Popular attractions in Hakone Yumoto Onsen
- Lake Ashi: a large crater lake offering a peaceful cruise with the stunning views of Mt. Fuji.
- Hakone Shrine: a sacred shrine dating back around 1,300 years that stands in the peaceful forests by the lake.
- The Hakone Open-air Museum: Beautiful museum with a variety of unique exhibits displayed inside and outside of the museum in harmony with nature around.
How to get to Hakone Yumoto Onsen
Take the Odakyu Romancecar from JR Shinjuku Station and get off at Hakone Yumoto Station (1.5 hrs, ¥2,330).
2. Kusatsu Onsen (Gunma) 3-4 hours
Kusatsu is a traditional onsen town that is located in Gunma prefecture. The town is famed for its high quality water and especially for its health benefits which are said to cure any kind of illness, except for lovesickness. The hot water field known as yubatake is the symbol of Kusatsu Onsen. A total of 32,000 liters of hot water gushes out of the hot spring per minute, and yubatake in the center of the town is the place where the piping hot water is cooled down. There are over 100 Japanese ryokan offering relaxing onsen experiences around the city. It also produces the largest amount of hot spring water as a solo onsen resort in Japan. Once you step into the city, you will soon realize the unique smell of sulfate that embraces the entire city!
Popular attractions in Kusatsu Onsen
- Kusatsu Yubatake: The symbolic spot known as the “hot water field” that is situated in the center of the city. It looks like a giant pool storing a large amount of hot spring water and is especially beautiful when illuminated at night!
- Nishinokawara Park: This is a nice quiet park with a number of hot spring sources, free foot baths, and seasonal plants around.
- Yumomi (Netsunoyu): Enjoy traditional performances to cool down the hot spring water!
How to get to Kusatsu Onsen
Take the limited express Tokkyu Kusatsu from JR Ueno Station. Get off at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station. It takes 20 min to get to Kusatsu Onsen by bus (3-3.5 hrs, ¥5,450).
3. Ikaho Onsen (Gunma)
Gunma Prefecture is also home to another famous hot spring destination called Ikaho. It is located on the foot of Mt. Haruna and is known for the 365 symbolic stone steps running through the main district of the village. On each side of the steps, you can find a variety of attractions such as traditional Japanese inns, gift shops, restaurants, and other entertainment spots. Explore the peaceful town along the stone steps until you finally reach Ikaho Shrine standing at the top. The colors of water of Ikaho also make it unique: golden and silver water that delivers different types of health benefits!
Popular attractions in Ikaho Onsen
- Ikaho Shrine: An iconic and historical shrine offering a panoramic view of Mt. Haruna & other surrounding peaks!
- Kajika Bridge: The perfect spot to enjoy stunning autumn leaves from the bridge beautifully painted in red.
How to get to Ikaho Onsen
Take the limited express Tokkyu Kusatsu from JR Ueno Station and get off at Shibukawa Kusatsuguchi Station. From there it takes 30 min to get to Ikaho Onsen by bus (2–2.5 hrs, ¥4,200)
4. Nasu Onsen (Tochigi)
Nasu is a famous hot spring resort in Tochigi Prefecture that draws almost 5 million visitors every year. The first hot spring facility is said to be founded around 630, and Nasu Onsen has since then developed as a popular onsen destination with the beautiful natural surroundings. It consists of 7 separate areas with different hot spring sources, scattered across the mountainside. Visitors can try each of them while receiving a range of benefits and effects!
Popular attractions in Nasu Onsen:
- Mt. Nasu: A scenic mountain offering panoramic views.
- Killing Stone: A large rock that vents poisonous gasses.
- Minamigaoka Ranch: Admission-free ranch with a range of outdoor activities and interaction with animals.
How to get to Nasu Onsen
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Nasushiobara Station (70 min, ¥5,390). From there switch to local buses from there, depending on which hot spring facilities you want to visit it will take about 40-60 min (¥300).
5. Kinugawa Onsen (Tochigi)
Kinugawa is another onsen resort in Tochigi Prefecture, near the popular Nikko area. It was discovered in the Edo period about 260 years ago and at the time only notable monks and feudal clans visiting Nikko were granted permission to enjoy the hot spring. It was later opened to the public, and developed as one of the most famous onsen resorts in the Kanto region. In the 1970’s tourism was booming here and many large ryokan facilities were built. After the recession in the 1990’s some went out of business and the abandoned buildings give an interesting vibe to the area. The water is relatively mild and safe even for those who have sensitive skins, and effective to treat a range of health problems such as ordinary exhaustions and neuralgia.
Popular tourist attractions Kinugawa Onsen
- Nikko Toshogu Shrine: The famous UNESCO World Heritage Site which enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogunate of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
- Kinugawa river: An iconic river where you can join memorable river rafting!
- Tobu World Square: Unique theme park with a number of 1/25 scale reproductions of famous buildings and architectures from all over the world.
How to get to Kinugawa Onsen
Take the Tobu Nikko Kinugawa train from JR Asakusa Station to Kinugawa-Onsen Station (2 hrs, ¥2,890)
6. Gora Onsen (Kanagawa)
Gora Onsen refers to the hot spring area that covers the area around the Gora Station on Hakone Tozan Railway. It is sometimes considered as a part of Hakone Onsen, and welcomes visitors with luxurious inns and different types of hot spring sources. In the early 19th century, the area experienced a rapid development as a holiday villa area for celebrities along with the opening of Gora park. It currently boasts 46 hot spring sources which allows visitors to enjoy different colors of onsen classified into 5 types.
Popular attractions near Gora Onsen
- Hakone Ropeway: Symbolic transport system in Hakone area taking you to the popular tourist attractions such as Owakudani Hell Valley (大涌谷).
- Hakone Gora Park: French-style garden with a range of seasonal flowers, cozy cafes, and unique experiences.
How to get to Gora Onsen
Take the Odakyu Romancecar from JR Shinjuku Station to Hakone Yumoto Station. Transfer to Hakone Tozan Railway and get off at Gora Station (2 hrs, ¥2,720)
7. Ito (Shizuoka)
Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture is a preferred holiday destination because of its easy access from Tokyo (less than 2 hrs) and rich nature. Ito is a coastal city located in the north eastern part of Izu Peninsula along with other famous onsen resorts such as Atami. Ito boasts the third largest output of onsen water per minute with more than 750 sources that can be found around the city. The large volume of onsen water allows visitors to enjoy the 100% natural hot springs directly from the sources without any additives at a number of inns and hotels around.
Popular attractions near Ito:
- Jogasaki Coast: Enjoy the stunning coastline scenery and enjoy a refreshing hike.
- Mt. Omuro: A 580 meters extinct volcano offering a panoramic view of Mt. Fuji!
How to get to Ito
Take the limited express JR Odoriko from Shinagawa Station. It takes you directly to Ito Station without transfer (1.5 hrs/ ¥4,200). You can also take the Shinkansen to JR Atami Station and transfer to JR Ito Line.
8. Shuzenji (Shizuoka)
A 1.5 hours train ride east from Ito city takes you to Shuzenji, another hot spring resort situated in the mountainous area of Izu Peninsula. Shuzenji is known as the oldest onsen resort on the Izu peninsula, it is said to date back in the early 9th century. The peaceful area has been also visited and loved by many famous novelists and writers such as Mori Ogai and Natsume Soseki.
Popular attractions near Shuzenji:
- Shuzenji Bamboo Path: Walk through the beautiful bamboo grove while immersing yourself in the sacred atmosphere.
- Shuzenji Temple: Pay a visit to the symbolic temple located in the heart of the city.
- Joren Waterfall: The perfect spot for a refreshing stroll along with the scenic waterfall.
How to get to Shuzenji
Take the limited express JR Odoriko from Shinagawa station that will take you to Shuzenji Station without transfer (2 hrs, ¥4,800). You can also take the Shinkansen to JR Mishima station and transfer to the Izu Hakone Railway.
9. Manza Onsen (Gunma)
Located at 1,800 meters above the sea level, Manza Onsen welcomes visitors with some of the most fascinating landscapes to be enjoyed from an onsen. Manza Onsen is a part of Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park that covers vast areas including Gunma, Nagano, and Niigata prefecture across borders. The milky-white water contains a large amount of sulfur, which has a positive effect on your blood flow and metabolism. It is also known as a perfect ski destination during the winter season!
Popular attractions near Manza Onsen
- Manza Onsen Prince Ski Resort: Enjoy an exciting ski experience and refreshing hot springs!
- Manza Onsen Nisshinkan: Treat yourself to the open-air hot spring and buffet-style dishes!
How to get to Manza Onsen
Take the bus, Shinkansen, or local train to Karuizawa Station or Kazawaguchi Station. Transfer to the Seibu Kanko Bus and get off at Manza Bus Terminal (3-4 hrs, ¥5,000- ¥9,000, depending on your mode of transportation).
10. Shima Onsen (Gunma)
Shima is a nostalgic onsen resort stretching about 4 km along the Shima river running through Gunma prefecture. It consists of 5 districts that each feature unique tourist attractions and traditional Japanese ryokans. Sekizenkan is one of the most famous and renowned ryokan offering amazing services. The main building is known as the oldest wooden onsen facility in Japan and is designated as a Important Cultural Property. It is also said that the bath house of Spirited away, the world-famous Ghibli movie, is modeled after the building and the iconic red bridge in front!
Popular attractions near Shima Onsen
- Okushimako: Take a refreshing stroll around the beautiful artificial lake while exploring the surrounding nature that changes for each season!
- Shima no Oketsu: Naturally created potholes that can be spotted in the crystal-clear flow of Shima river.
How to get to Shima Onsen
Taking the highway bus is the easiest and cheapest way to get to Shima Onsen from Tokyo (3.5 hrs, ¥3,150).
It can be a little bit challenging to take a public bath if you have no onsen experience before. You may feel embarrassed in the beginning, but gradually get used to it and start to feel comfortable as you soak your body in the relaxing hot water. It is also enjoyable to combine your onsen trip with exploring the surrounding area and try local food or visit famous tourist attractions. You might think winter is not suitable for onsen because of the cold weather, but it is actually the perfect season to enjoy it as the temperature of onsen is generally higher than usual bath. Let yourself unwind in the natural-heated hot springs while enjoying the stunning sceneries created by the white snow!
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