Japan has the best natural mineral hot springs pools, known as onsen, both free and paid. There are resorts, hotels, and spas, as well as undeveloped primitive thermal springs perfect for soaking in Japanese nature.
List of Osen (Thermal Springs) in JPN
The hot springs in Japan are called onsen. So you’ll have towns called Arima Onsen, or Kusatsu Onsen, signifying that the town is a hot springs mecca. We’ll review the various spa towns around Japan that you can visit, on almost any day all year round.
Map of Onsen (Thermal Springs) Towns in JPN
Guide to Japanese Thermal Springs (Onsen)
Without a doubt, Japan is a top choice for travelers who wish to have a variety of hot spring choices to meet their needs or whims. Japanese hot springs, called onsen, have an endless variety based on location, mineral composition, tradition, scenery, and rules associated with them.
There is an onsen to please everyone, regardless of their desires, in Japan. For ease, we’ve grouped these into the destinations, such as the best onsen towns in Japan.
With over 3,000 hot springs, Japan boasts some of the best in the world. The mountainous and volcanic geography of Japan caused it to have a cluster of onsen in the Kyushu, Tohoku, and Chubu regions, which have four active volcanic plates to help heat their springs.
To be considered a true onsen, a law was created in 1948 that specified the hot spring water must contain any of the 19 minerals detailed by the law. Also, the waters must be above 25°C and have other specified elements.
Long before modern medicine, natural remedies were one of the main ways to heal a body. Japanese onsen also provides a medicinal method for relieving many ailments.
For those who have nerve, muscle, or arthritis pain, these hot springs are well known for providing comfort. These healing waters are also said to calm your spirit (lower your blood pressure), beautify your skin, and help you look younger! Sounds like a win for everyone!
One must believe there is some truth to their healing powers when the Japanese onsen is over 3,000 years old. The longevity and cultural importance of the hot springs only add to their appeal. Dating far back in Japanese mythology, a white heron found healing in these waters.
Buddhism also finds deep importance in these onsens, as the founder of the Shingon sect (9th century) is believed to have discovered many of Japan’s hot springs.
Hot springs found in a traditional Japanese-style inn are called ryokan. These places of rest are traced back to Buddhist monks in the Nara era (over 1,300 years ago). However, you can find more modern-styled hotels if that is more your speed.
How To Use
- Step 1 – Take off your shoes when entering the onsen, and go to the changing room.
- Step 2 – Leave all clothes and belongings in the changing room lockers. You will be naked.
- Step 3 – Wash yourself thoroughly before entering the onsen.
- Step 4 – Dry yourself off with a small towel (usually provided) before going back to your dressing room. Make sure you clean up your area as well.
- Step 5 – Relax! Drink some water and let your body recover for at least 30 minutes before you leave.
Dos and Don’ts
As in every culture, there is a certain etiquette you should follow in order to show respect for their traditions and practices. This is especially true in an onsen.
- Tattoos: If you have a tattoo, make sure you find out which onsen are skin-art friendly. Many Japanese areas still consider tattoos to be taboo, but certainly not all!
- Food: Be mindful not to eat too much before or after soaking in these hot springs. No one feels good with a full belly while sweating at hot temperatures.
- Naked: Show what your mama gave you. Most onsens that require no clothing are also separated by gender, so no worries there. If you still feel bashful, ask if there are private baths.
- Wash: No one wants to take a bath in someone else’s filth. Make sure you are considerate and wash (in the designated areas) before you soak. Never wash IN an onsen, do so before you enter it. This should go without saying, but women should avoid onsen during their monthly cycle as a matter of communal hygiene.
- Slow Down: Don’t run and don’t swim. The floors may be slippery (and nothing ruins a vacation like a slip-induced concussion). Likewise, these hot springs aren’t swimming pools for playtime. They are meant to heal your body and calm your soul. Just relax.
- No Glass: Just like at a swimming pool, glass and bare feet don’t mix well. This is especially true of glass and naked bodies. Don’t bring glass into the bathing areas.
- No Towels: Don’t wear towels into the baths (on your body or hair). There are some modern springs that may allow towels, but you should be prepared to know many don’t.
- Hair: Pull long hair up with a tie so that it doesn’t touch the water. In fact, it is frowned upon to put your head under the water at all.
- Time: Soaking in the hot springs is healing, but only when done so for a short period. Bathing too long at these temperatures can cause you to become dehydrated or feel sick.
- Quiet: Like in all great spas and retreats, silence truly is golden. Don’t be the person who ruins someone else’s escape from the world; however, a few whispers to a nearby friend is perfectly acceptable.
Most importantly, enjoy your experience in a Japanese onsen. Happy soaking!
Learn more about visiting Japan on our sister site, La Vida Nomad.