Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. a shimmering, neon wonder where change and innovation are almost like breathing. Yet, beneath the high-tech facade lies a land where the customs and traditions of the past still play an important role in modern life.
Among its most enduring traditions – and one that every traveler loves to embrace when visiting – is the public bath. Specifically, basking in the steaming, mineral-rich waters of an onsen. It has been an experience enjoyed by the Japanese since at least the 6th century.
While trips to Japan won’t be an option for at least a little longer, it doesn’t hurt to keep the dream alive by planning your next onsen escape.
And there are so many choices: the assets of the country The volcanic network is responsible for more than 3,000 onsen resorts scattered among the lush valleys and misty mountains of Japan’s main islands.
They come in all shapes and sizes, with the definition of an onsen expanded over the years to include bathhouses and resorts near hot springs, and can be enjoyed pretty much year-round.
To adapt the true definition, however – a law enshrined in Japan’s hot springs law – a natural onsen must have water above 27 degrees Celsius and contain at least one of 19 different minerals to treat or at the very least soothe all kinds of ailments.
Sulfur-rich onsens are said to help relieve skin disorders and arthritis, while sulphate springs are good for healing cuts and bruises (and bruises are almost inevitable after any winter ski trip on the slopes). richly powdery Japan).
Although it’s tempting to stay longer, it’s recommended that you spend no more than 10-15 minutes in the water, as the high temperature can raise your blood pressure and cause dizziness.
While every onsen can be beautiful in its own way, some are simply breathtaking: from a still mountain pool perched beside a gushing waterfall to an open-air public bath hidden on the roof of a skyscraper. sky of Tokyo.
Plot ? Here are some of the best onsen in Japan to inspire your wanderlust.
Swiss Aman resorts are synonymous with elegance and understated luxury – a perfect complement to the Japanese “wabi-sabi” design aesthetic of finding beauty in simplicity.
Set amongst the forested hills of Ise-Shima in central Honshu, overlooking the labyrinthine islands and sapphire waters of Ago Bay, their exclusive property Amanemu is no exception.
Inspired by old ryokan hotels, each of the resort’s beautiful villas and suites is a haven, with woven textile shutters, abundant natural light, and design that flows from the inside out. You can relax in a private onsen bath in your room or relax on a daybed between swims in the main hot spring pool.
Located about 2.5 hours by train from Kyoto, Kinosaki Onsen is a charming village with not one, not two, but seven natural hot springs.
Beautifully preserved architecture, tourists wearing traditional yukata, and a serene willow-lined canal that reflects the lights of guesthouses at night…visiting Kinosaki is like stepping back in time to old Japan.
Unlike most onsen in Japan, the Kinosaki Bathhouse welcomes all visitors with tattoos of any size, shape or color (tattoos have long been associated with less desirable elements of society such as the organized crime).
Ryokan guesthouses in the area often include entrance tokens to the various onsen, all located within walking distance of each other.
When you’re pruned after enjoying the hot springs, there are also pristine beaches nearby, such as Takeno, as well as the Edo period castle town of Izushi and scenic hiking trails to explore.
A short drive southeast of Osaka will take you to historic Wakayama Prefecture, renowned for its mossy temples, centuries-old onsens and Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail.
Kawayu, one of the most popular onsen villages in the area, is home to an impressive geothermal party tower. Wherever you dig along the rocky bank of the village, hot water will slowly rise to the surface, creating a warm and inviting thermal pool just for you.
During the winter, much of the river is blocked from the main flow, with hot water rising to heat the outdoor pool. Known as Sennin-buro, which means “bath for a thousand people”, it attracts thousands of people every year. But, often early in the morning, you can have it all to yourself.
4. Dogo Onsen Honkan
It would be remiss to talk about onsen in Japan without mentioning Dogo Onsen Honkan, which dates back to the Meiji period and is considered one of the oldest public bathhouses in the country.
Located in the city of Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku, the current structure was built in 1894, but the site itself has a long bathing history, dating back to at least 712 AD.
The three-storey wooden building is an atmospheric maze of narrow passageways, stairs and rooms. There are two types of baths available – the gender-separated communal Kami no Yu (or bath of the gods), and the smaller and more private Tama no Yu (spirit bath).
5. Hoshinoya Tokyo
On the roof of an 18-story skyscraper in Tokyo’s financial district, this is probably the last place you’d expect to find an onsen, but here it is. And that’s a thing of beauty.
Hidden from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, the top floor of the five-star Hoshinoya Tokyo hotel features two gender-separated bathrooms, each filled with hot, mineral-rich water pumped from 1,500 meters underground.
The high salt content of the water is said to not only help the body relax, but also improve its ability to retain heat.
With indoor and outdoor swimming areas connected by a cave-like tunnel, relaxing in the calming waters, watching the clouds pass overhead, is an experience well worth the journey.
6. Oirase Keiryu Hotel
At the northern tip of Honshu Island lies Aomori Prefecture, a destination renowned for its clear streams, mossy rocks, lush beech forests and spectacularly high annual snowfall.
All of these natural wonders come together at the Oirase Keiryu Hotel, a luxury property that feels like an extension of the forest, with large windows overlooking the Oirase mountain stream.
Its Yaekokonoe-no-Yu bath, set under a lush canopy and alongside a cascading waterfall, is one of Japan’s most stunning – and you can easily assume it sprung up as part of the natural landscape.
In winter, a frozen waterfall in the nearby Oirase Gorge is replicated around the edges of one of the hotel’s thermal pools, creating a magical, almost Narnia-like atmosphere.
More than just a form of bathing, hot springs are a social and cultural experience – and a must for any traveler to Japan. With thousands to choose from and plenty of hidden gems that other tourists have no idea about, a spa vacation could be just what the doctor ordered.