Unforgettable Travel Company

Top 10 Hot Spring Destinations in Japan

Any time in rural Japan should include onsen (hot springs). The islands of Japan were formed by volcanic movement; seams of geothermal activity continue to bubble away underground, rising to the surface as naturally warmed, mineral-rich hot spring water – onsen

These natural hot baths are usually found in incredibly scenic corners of rural Japan. Hot spring bathing is a quintessential experience when traveling. And really what is better after a day spent traveling between villages, walking in the forests, or pottering through craft centers than slipping into a roten-buro – a luxuriously warm outdoor bath – and gazing out upon the scenery? 

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite onsen destinations in Japan – read our guide below. 

Relaxing in a ryokan Hakone Japan

Shizuoka

Hakone National Park

Hakone National Park, part of the wider Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, is a famous resort area known for its stunning views of Mount Fuji, outstanding ryokan accommodation, and many attractive onsen villages. 

A popular weekend or day trip from Tokyo, visitors can take the Hakone Ropeway, climbing 3,425 feet to soak up a spectacular view of volcanic activity. Sightseeing cruises on Lake Ashi are also a favorite way to enjoy the gorgeous vistas, and there are plenty of art galleries and museums to explore too.

Fuji Kawaguchiko Japan from above

Yamanashi

Fuji Kawaguchiko

Hakone not close enough to Mount Fuji for you? Kawaguchi Lake sits at the northern base of Fuji-san: as close as you can get to the elusive peak without strapping on a pair of hiking boots! 

A select few sit around the picturesque water, with truly dramatic, uninterrupted views of Fuji’s perfect slope enjoyed from their open-air onsen pools. With Tokyo just a short distance away, and some truly luxurious accommodation options to choose from, Kawaguchiko is quite the addition to your tour.

Arashiyama bamboo forest Japan

Kyoto

Arashiyama

A densely forested area on the western edge of Kyoto, Arashiyama is known for its striking bamboo glades set on the banks of the fast-running Katsura river. A boating trip upriver from Kyoto, with a photography walk in the forest, is a popular half-day trip from Japan’s cultural capital. 

The forest also has several natural onsen pools, with attached luxury ryokan which make an attractive alternative to accommodation in the city – particularly for those who enjoy the surrounds of nature, and the opportunity to for a restorative dip after a long day’s sightseeing.

Kusatsu Onsen Japan

Gunma

Kusatsu Onsen

Gunma prefecture in central Kanto is considered Japan’s best onsen area. Less than an hour by train from Tokyo, this region of forests, mountains, and picturesque villages is off the typical tourist trail and as such caters more towards domestic travelers. Those willing to give the area a try will be richly rewarded with arguably the highest quality bath houses in all of Japan. 

Gunma is made up of several idyllic villages, the most revered of which is Kusatsu Onsen. Staying in one luxury ryokan and ‘onsen-hopping’ through the village is the thing to do here, with Kusatsu’s water said to “cure every illness but lovesickness”. 

Snow monkeys in Yudanaka Onsen Japan

Nagano

Yudanaka Onsen

Located an hour up into the mountains from Nagano – the principal city of the Japanese Alps – Yudanaka is an authentic onsen village with characterful accommodation. It may lack luxury accommodation, and the onsen themselves are not comparable in scenery or quality with others in this list, but Yudanaka makes the cut for its proximity to the famous snow monkeys at neighboring Shibu Onsen. 

Visit in winter when the monkeys (and the villages) are at the most photogenic, enjoying a dip in the waters after your journey up from Nagano or Tokyo.

Kinosaki Onsen Japan

Hyogo

Kinosaki Onsen

Kinosaki is a wonderfully preserved postcard-perfect onsen village that makes an enticing sidestep from the classic Japan golden route. Located on the north coast of Hyogo prefecture, the village is a direct 2.5 hour train from Kyoto or 3 hours from Osaka. 

As an alternative to more popular rural hot spring areas such as Hakone or Miyajima, Kinosaki offers photogenic canal-side scenes in the village and access to mountains and beaches in the near vicinity. Accommodation is excellent and the village’s compact size offers a selection of onsen, eateries, and shops all within walking distance.

Dogo Onsen Honkan Matsuyama Japan

Matsuyama

Dogo Onsen

The total opposite to rural onsen – Dogo Onsen sits in the heart of Shikoku’s Matsuyama city. The onsen here predates the larger city, with 1000-year old Dogo claimed to be one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. 

The springs here have strong links to Japanese culture, mentioned in the writings of ancients Manyoshu and Prince Shotoku, and with iconic Dogo Onsen Honkan bathhouse mentioned in the writings of Meiji-era Natsume Soseki, and providing the inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s Academy Award-winning Spirited Away.

Kurokawa Onsen Kyushu Japan

Kumamoto

Kurokawa Onsen

Further north from Kurokawa, coastal Beppu is among Japan’s most popular hot spring towns. In contrast to tranquil Kurokawa, it is busy and a little brash, very popular with Japanese families, but the springs here are of excellent quality. 

As well as classic hot springs Beppu also offers mud baths, sand baths, steam baths, and the spectacular ‘Hells of Beppu’ – steaming geothermal pools which – given their extreme temperature – are definitely for viewing, rather than bathing!

Beppu Japan

Oita

Beppu

Further north from Kurokawa, coastal Beppu is among Japan’s most popular hot spring towns. In contrast to tranquil Kurokawa, it is busy and a little brash, very popular with Japanese families, but the springs here are of excellent quality. 

As well as classic hot springs Beppu also offers mud baths, sand baths, steam baths, and the spectacular ‘Hells of Beppu’ – steaming geothermal pools which – given their extreme temperature – are definitely for viewing, rather than bathing!

Noboribetsu Hokkaido Japan

Hokkaido

Noboribetsu Onsen

At the opposite end of the Japanese archipelago, Noboribetsu is Hokkaido’s most well-known onsen town. With a setting at the base of Mount Hiyori, an endless supply of filtered water volcanic water powers its many bathhouses and ryokan – onsen on an industrial scale! 

The surrounds of Noboribetsu are remarkable, with plumes of steam and natural ‘Hells’ dotted all across the volcanic, lunar-like landscape. Situated three hours’ drive south of Sapporo, the town combines well with similarly striking Lake Toya and the Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

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