When people think of natural hot springs they think of Iceland: more fool them. They neglect to remember that Japan is a hotbed of onsen, and has more than 3000 in total, spread up and down the country. Their paradisal locations include tropical rainforests and clifftop crags, each bubbling with mineral-infused water and rejuvenating steams. Follow our guide to Japan’s best hot springs that will help you relax, unwind, and enjoy.
Uramigataki Onsen, Hachijojima, Izushoto
The best thing about this semi-tropical rainforest onsen is the once-in-a-lifetime experience of bathing in the jungle. The second best thing is that it’s free. Slip into one of the warm rock pools bordered with luscious greenery and consider how much people pay for a replica spa experience in Bali. And try not to feel too smug about it.
Once you’ve caught onsen fever, there’s no going back. Quench your insatiable thirst for more hot springs in the resort of Kinosaki, where you can onsen-hop to your heart’s content. Each of the seven famous springs dotted around the town promises unique benefits from their waters – happiness in marriage, prosperity in business, and good luck in childbirth, to name but a few.
Takegawara Onsen, Beppu, Kyushu
For a more traditional Japanese experience, head straight for the famous Takegawara Onsen in Beppu. Housed within an old picturesque wooden structure, this straightforward spa offers two treatments options: spring bath (go right) or sand bath (go left). Almost everyone goes left – if only for the novelty of being buried alive in hot sand, which is strangely cathartic.
Takaragawa Onsen, Gunma, Central Honshu
Not to be confused with the above onsen of similar name (although you wouldn’t do badly to end up at either), the Takaragawa Onsen is reputedly the best in Japan. Pilgrims travel from far and wide to this idyllic riverside setting to rest their weary limbs in the various outdoor and indoor baths imbued with healing waters.
Shirahama, Wakayama, Kansai
Those with a penchant for bathing will love the onsen experience at Shirahama, where the open-air hot spring bath lies just meters from the shore. Hot? Cold? Alternate between a relaxing soak in the warm waters of Sakino-yu (admission 300 yen), and the refreshing pinch of the great Pacific Ocean.
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Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to… whose guides cover all the best hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, sights, shops and spas.