If you’ve been planning your trip to Japan and you’re thinking about adding a visit to an onsen to the ‘to do’ list, today’s your lucky day! This article will tell you everything you need to know before going into an onsen – from the etiquette to the most popular (and foreigner-friendly) hot spring resorts in all of Japan. One of the most important things to know about these public bathhouses is that you’re supposed to go into them stark naked, so make sure you go for a gender separated one if you’re a bit self-conscious. What, didn’t you know? There are also mixed gender onsen out there, and, in all honesty, most people in Japan are pretty chill with that. However, one thing you’ll have to be wary of is that most Japanese onsen ban people with tattoos – so make sure you inquire at the front desk if you have any. Better safe than sorry. And if you’re all ready to find the perfect onsen to relax at, let’s get started!
A hot spring resort located in Kanagawa prefecture, Hakone is a very popular day trip destination if you’re planning to stay in Tokyo. It can be reached within 90 minutes from Shinjuku station, and is one of the most fun and foreigner-friendly onsen in all of Japan. They even have a special bathhouse for those who are a bit shy and prefer to bathe in their swimsuits – as well as themed baths, such as a hot sake one or a green tea one. Hakone is also famous for its spectacular scenic views and a local specialty – black eggs, which are basically chicken eggs that turn black when boiled in the hot onsen water. They’re supposed to prolong your life by seven years – but you’ll need a bit of courage to dig into them.
Dogo Onsen is often overlooked by tourists because it’s pretty far away from the big cities. You’d have to board a flight all the way down to Matsuyama-shi in Ehime prefecture to bathe at Dogo Onsen, but it’s definitely worth the time. It is one of the oldest onsen in all of Japan (the oldest written records to mention it date back to the 10th century,) and it is said to have inspired the famous bathhouse from the Ghibli movie Spirited Away. Next to the resort is a small shopping arcade with traditional confectioneries and other edible souvenirs to bring home – the botchan dango are an all-time favorite.
This one is perfect for those planning a vacation in the Kansai region of Japan. Arima Onsen is within a short train rides from Kobe and Osaka, and, much like Dogo, is known to be one of the oldest hot spring resorts in Japan. It is famous for its unique baths, including a rich in iron ‘gold spring’, and a ‘silver spring’, with carbonated water. The onsen is also located near a beautiful park, in which you can take a short walk after soaking in hot water and before crashing down on your soft futon.
4. Beppu Onsen
Beppu Onsen is another one of those resorts that usually get crossed off the ‘to visit’ list because they’re pretty far off the beaten path. Located all the way down in Kyushu, Beppu is an onsen lover’s paradise. There are eight ‘onsen areas’, each with its own ryokans (traditional inns) and bathhouses you can enjoy. Beppu is also known for particularly hot steamy onsen, which are called jigoku (hell) in Japanese, as well as hot sand baths, which are probably the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen. They will literally bury you in hot volcanic sand for 10 to 15 minutes, and that is said to help promote a healthy blood flow.
Located in Gunma prefecture, Kusatsu Onsen is another popular destination for tourists visiting Tokyo. A popular attraction in the area are yumomi performances, which is a traditional way of cooling down the onsen water using wooden paddles. Tourists can view yumomi and try their hand at it for as little as ¥500. Kusatsu is also a great budget destination – you can find decent ryokan accommodation in the area for under $100 per night.
Last but not least, Yufuin Onsen is great for those who like their hot springs with a view – because Yufuin is particularly famous for the open air baths that open up the the region’s splendid scenery. Located in Kyushu, near the city of Fukuoka, Yufuin Onsen can be easily reached using the local rapid trains or shuttle buses. Besides the bathhouses, the resort is known to have a lot of fashionable little cafes and small stores that are extremely popular with the ladies.
The onsen culture in Japan is something really unique – and, as a tourist, we’d say it’s a must you try it at least once. Yes, you might feel weird exposing yourself to strangers at first, but the sensation after soaking in the hot soothing spring water is definitely worth it.
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