5 Japanese Hot Spring Recommendations For The Coming Winter – All About Onsen in Japan

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Winter in Japan is looking chilly, have you decided which Japanese hot springs to visit?

Stay Warm in Japan’s Chilly Winters



In Japan, hot springs (or onsen, 温泉) are a huge part of the local culture. Thanks to the seismically active Pacific "Ring of Fire," Japan is home to plenty of active volcanos, and even more natural hot springs, which provide piping hot bath water for onsen-lovers around the country. Each of these natural baths is a little bit unique, with some boasting supposed healing properties and others appearing vibrantly colored, and of course, some are more popular than others. So read on to find out about five areas around Japan, famous for hot springs!

1. Hyogo Prefecture – Arima Onsen & Kobe Beef



The hot springs in Arima (有馬) have long been at the top of Japan's national onsen popularity rankings, and for good reason, it's one of the three major "onsen areas" of Japan.

One of the most notable aspects of Arima Onsen are the Kinsen (金泉) hot springs, literally "Golden Springs." This local variety of onsen is known for the reddish color of the water, a natural result of high iron content in the hot springs. The unusually high percentage of sodium salts in the water also plays a role in giving the springs sterilizing properties, and in addition, Kinsen hot springs are said to help ease discomfort for those with arthritis, atopic dermatitis, and a handful of other conditions.



If Arima has golden springs, it's really no surprise that the other variety of hot spring in the area is… yes, silver! Called Ginsen (銀泉) hot springs, these are the area's "Silver Springs." The Ginsen onsen contain more carbon dioxide, which they say helps increase blood flow.



While Arima Onsen is common knowledge in Japan, outside the country people might be more likely to recognize one of the area's major food exports: Kobe beef. Unbelievably succulent and undeniably high-grade, don't miss out on this local delicacy while you're in Kobe! (Although there are also plenty of places around Tokyo to try some of Japan's best beef.)

2. Gifu – Gero Onsen & The Ideyu Morning Markets



Gero Onsen (下呂温泉) is another one of Japan's most famous hot springs, located in the central-Japanese prefecture of Gifu. The water in these hot springs tends to be more alkaline, which leaves your skin feeling silky smooth after a dip in the bath. The area has a number of free public outdoor baths, too, for anyone to enjoy.



Since Gero Onsen is about an hour and a half from the big city of Nagoya, many people stop in at Nagoya Castle or other Nagoya attractions before hopping on the train to the hot springs of Gero.



Gero Onsen is also home to popular morning markets called the Ideyu Asaichi (いでゆ朝市), which originally formed as a market for locals to exchange home-grown produce, but has developed into a destination for travelers in the area.



If you've watched a lot of anime, you might know that drinking milk right after a bath is actually a common practice for many people in Japan. So it's not unusual for hot springs and bathhouses to sell milk, often in small glass bottles. On top of your standard cow's milk, you might find milk in a variety of flavors, like coffee or fruit flavors.

3. Gunma Prefecture – Kusatsu Onsen & The Yubatake



The last of Japan's three major onsen areas is Kusatsu (草津), in Gunma Prefecture. Thanks to centuries of hot spring history, Kusatsu has its own onsen sightseeing and onsen traditions. One hotspot is the famous yubatake (湯畑), literally a "hot water field," a local landmark where steaming hot onsen water gushes out and cools off, reaching more bearable temperatures.



With so much hot water, they also have a facility for yumomi (湯もみ), literally hot water stirring. This is another tradition meant to cool down the water at Kusatsu Onsen, which can come out of the ground at temperatures reaching 90°C (194°F), much too hot to bathe in. Hot spring water is collected in the tub and then beaten and aerated with wooden boards, an event especially popular with sightseers.



Tattoos are generally a big no-no at Japanese hot springs and public baths, and there are still facilities that will reject customers with any ink at all. Fortunately, Kusatsu Onsen has a number of baths that welcome customers with tattoos, like this one here at Takamatsu Hotel.

Oita Prefecture – Yufuin, Beppu, Hells & Sekisaba



The onsen of Oita might not have made Japan's top three, but they're still known throughout the country. If you're thinking about visiting the island of Kyushu, don't miss the chance to stop in and soak up the views in Oita's famous hot spring towns of Beppu (別府) and Yufuin (湯布院).



Image Source: Saigakukan Official Website
Yufuin is charmingly quaint, and outside of a sightseeing destination or two, is mostly packed with Japanese ryokan―traditional inns. Not only does each ryokan have its own unique hot spring baths, but ryokans specialize in elaborate multi-course traditional meals, and in Yufuin that means plenty of fresh vegetables and local seafood.



Beppu, not so far from Yufuin, has its own popular onsen baths dotted throughout the city. But it also offers a different way to enjoy hot springs! Travelers passing through Beppu inevitably make their way to the Beppu Jigoku Meguri (別府地獄めぐり), literally a "Tour of Beppu's Hells." The "hells" are hot springs that you don't bathe in, you look at. From vibrant blue and red waters, to beautifully bubbling pools of geothermally-heated mud, and even crocodiles swimming in the steaming water, each of the many hells has its own draw.



If you're still thinking about the local seafood served in Oita's restaurants and ryokan, one of the area's local delicacies is sekisaba and sekiaji (関サバ, 関アジ) two kinds of mackerel found only in the waters off of Oita's coast. Get there during mackerel season, and you'll be delighted by the fish's texture and sweet flavor.

5. Yamagata – Ginzan Onsen & Ghibli Must-Sees



Last but not least, Ginzan Onsen is especially beloved for its uniquely old-fashioned atmosphere. Many of the buildings still look like they did back in the Taisho era (1912-1926), the same era used as a setting for the popular anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. The detailed decoration of the bathhouse facades and the elegant bridges stretching over the water give Ginzan Onsen a nostalgic retro feeling, and many people even believe that the area became the basis for the bathhouse town in the internationally famous Ghibli film Spirited Away!



To get the most out of autumn and winter in Yamagata, don't forget to stop by Tendo for gorgeous views like this one (and more on the history of shogi, Japanese chess)!

Five different areas with hundreds of hot spring baths―so many onsen, so little time! Got a favorite Japanese onsen that didn't make it onto our top five? Or a question about visiting hot springs in Japan? Let us know on twitter, instagram, and facebook, and follow us for more info and updates from Japan.

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    • HOKKAIDO

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      Hokkaido (北海道) is the northernmost of the four main islands that make up Japan. The area is famous for Sapporo Beer, plus brewing and distilling in general, along with fantastic snow festivals and breathtaking national parks. Foodies should look for Hokkaido's famous potatoes, cantaloupe, dairy products, soup curry, and miso ramen!

    • Niki, in south-west Hokkaido, is about 30 minutes from Otaru. The small town is rich with natural resources, fresh water, and clean air, making it a thriving center for fruit farms. Cherries, tomatoes, and grapes are all cultivated in the area, and thanks to a growing local wine industry, it's quickly becoming a food and wine hotspot. Together with the neighboring town of Yoichi, it's a noted area for wine tourism.

    • Niseko is about two hours from New Chitose Airport, in the western part of Hokkaido. It's one of Japan's most noted winter resort areas, and a frequent destination for international visitors. That's all because of the super high-quality powder snow, which wins the hearts of beginners and experts alike, bringing them back for repeat visits. That's not all, though, it's also a great place to enjoy Hokkaido's culinary scene and some beautiful onsen (hot springs).

    • Otaru is in western Hokkaido, about 30 minutes from Sapporo Station. The city thrived around its busy harbor in the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to active trade and fishing, and the buildings remaining from that period are still popular attractions, centered around Otaru Canal. With its history as a center of fishing, it's no surprise that the area's fresh sushi is a must-try. Otaru has over 100 sushi shops, quite a few of which are lined up on Sushiya Dori (Sushi Street).

    • SAPPORO

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      Sapporo, in the south-western part of Hokkaido, is the prefecture's political and economic capital. The local New Chitose Airport see arrivals from major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, alongside international flights. Every February, the Sapporo Snow Festival is held in Odori Park―one of the biggest events in Hokkaido. It's also a hotspot for great food, known as a culinary treasure chest, and Sapporo is a destination for ramen, grilled mutton, soup curry, and of course Hokkaido's beloved seafood.

    • Consisting of six prefectures, the Tohoku Region (東北地方) is up in the northeastern part of Japan's main island. It's the source of plenty of the nation's agriculture (which means great food), and packed with beautiful scenery. Explore the region's stunning mountains, lakes, and hot springs!

    • Akita Prefecture is on the Sea of Japan, in the northern reaches of Japan's northern Tohoku region. Akita has more officially registered important intangible culture assets than anywhere else in Japan, and to this day visitors can experience traditional culture throughout the prefecture, from the Oga Peninsula's Namahage (registered with UNESCO as a part of Japan's intangible cultural heritage), to the Tohoku top 3 Kanto Festival. Mysterious little spots like the Oyu Stone Circle Site and Ryu no Atama (Dragon's Head) are also worth a visit!

    • FUKUSHIMA

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      Fukushima Prefecture sits at the southern tip of Japan's northern Tohoku region, and is divided into three parts with their own different charms: the Coastal Area (Hama-dori), the Central Area (Naka-dori), and the Aizu Area. There's Aizu-Wakamatsu with its Edo-era history and medieval castles, Oze National Park, Kitakata ramen, and Bandai Ski Resort (with its famous powder snow). Fukushima is a beautiful place to enjoy the vivid colors and sightseeing of Japan's beloved four seasons.

    • YAMAGATA

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      Yamagata Prefecture is up against the Sea of Japan, in the southern part of the Tohoku region, and it's especially popular in winter, when travelers soak in the onsen (hot springs) and ski down snowy slopes. International skiiers are especially fond of Zao Onsen Ski Resort and Gassan Ski Resort, and in recent years visitors have been drawn to the area to see the mystical sight of local frost-covered trees. Some destinations are popular regardless of the season, like Risshakuji Temple, AKA Yamadera, Ginzan Onsen's nostalgic old-fashioned streets, and Zao's Okama Lake, all great for taking pictures. Yamagata is also the place to try Yonezawa beef, one of the top 3 varieties of wagyu beef.

    • Japan's most densely populated area, the Kanto Region (関東地方) includes 7 prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa, which means it also contains the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In modern-day Japan, Kanto is the cultural, political, and economic heartland of the country, and each prefecture offers something a little different from its neighbors.

    • Gunma Prefecture is easily accessible from Tokyo, and in addition to the area's popular natural attractions like Oze Marshland and Fukiware Falls, Gunma also has a number of popular hot springs (Kusatsu, Ikaho, Minakami, Shima)―it's even called an Onsen Kingdom. The prefecture is popular with history buffs and train lovers, thanks to spots like world heritage site Tomioka Silk Mill, the historic Megane-bashi Bridge, and the Watarase Keikoku Sightseeing Railway.

    • TOCHIGI

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      Tochigi Prefecture's capital is Utsunomiya, known for famous gyoza, and just an hour from Tokyo. The prefecture is full of nature-related sightseeing opportunities year-round, from the blooming of spring flowers to color fall foliage. Tochigi also has plenty of extremely well-known sightseeing destinations, like World Heritage Site Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Lake Chuzenji, and Ashikaga Flower Park―famous for expansive wisteria trellises. In recent years the mountain resort town of Nasu has also become a popular excursion, thanks in part to the local imperial villa. Tochigi is a beautiful place to enjoy the world around you.

    • Tokyo (東京) is Japan's busy capital, and the most populous metropolitan area in the world. While the city as a whole is quite modern, crowded with skyscrapers and bustling crowds, Tokyo also holds onto its traditional side in places like the Imperial Palace and Asakusa neighborhood. It's one of the world's top cities when it comes to culture, the arts, fashion, games, high-tech industries, transportation, and more.

    • The Chubu Region (中部地方) is located right in the center of Japan's main island, and consists of 9 prefectures: Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. It's primarily famous for its mountains, as the region contains both Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps. The ski resorts in Niigata and Nagano also draw visitors from around the world, making it a popular winter destination.

    • Nagano Prefecture's popularity starts with a wealth of historic treasures, like Matsumoto Castle, Zenkoji Temple, and Togakushi Shrine, but the highlight might just be the prefecture's natural vistas surrounded by the "Japanese Alps." Nagano's fruit is famous, and there are plenty of places to pick it fresh, and the area is full of hot springs, including Jigokudani Monkey Park―where monkeys take baths as well! Thanks to the construction of the Hokuriku shinkansen line, Nagano is easily reachable from the Tokyo area, adding it to plenty of travel itineraries. And after the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ski resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are known around the world.

    • Aichi Prefecture sits in the center of the Japanese islands, and its capital city, Nagoya, is a center of politics, commerce, and culture. While Aichi is home to major industry, and is even the birthplace of Toyota cars, it's proximity to the sea and the mountains means it's also a place with beautiful natural scenery, like Saku Island, Koijigahama Beach, Mt. Horaiji. Often used a stage for major battles in Japanese history, Sengoku era commanders like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu left their own footprints on Aichi, and historic buildings like Nagoya Castle, Inuyama Castle, and those in Meiji Mura are still around to tell the tale.

    • NIIGATA

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      Niigata is a prefecture on Japan's main island of Honshu, situated right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, and abundant with the gifts of nature. It's known for popular ski resorts such as Echigo-Yuzawa, Japanese national parks, and natural hot spring baths, plus local products like fresh seafood, rice, and sake. Visitors often spend time in the prefectural capital, Niigata City, or venture across the water to Sado Island.

    • SHIZUOKA

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      Shizuoka Prefecture is sandwiched between eastern and western Japan, giving the prefecture easy access to both Tokyo and Osaka. Not only is it known for beautiful natural attractions, with everything from Mount Fuji to Suruga Bay, Lake Hamanako, and Sumata Pass―Shizuoka's Izu Peninsula is known as a go-to spot for hot springs lovers, with famous onsen like Atami, Ito, Shimoda, Shuzenji, and Dogashima. Shizuoka attracts all kinds of travelers thanks to historic connections with the Tokugawa clan, the Oigawa Railway, fresh eel cuisine, Hamamatsu gyoza, and famously high-quality green tea.

    • Kansai (関西) is a region that includes Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga Prefectures. Kansai contained Japan's ancient capital for hundreds of years, and it's making a comeback as one of the most popular parts of Japan. Kyoto's temples and shrines, Osaka Castle, and the deer of Nara are all considered must-sees. Plus, the people of Kansai are especially friendly, making it a fun place to hang out.

    • Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan between the years 794 and 1100, becoming a center for poilitics and culture, and to this day it's a great place for close encounters with Japanese history. The cobbled streets of Gion, the atmospheric road to Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkakuji's golden walls and countless historic attractions, even Arashiyama's Togetsukyo Bridge―Kyoto is a place of many attractions. With new charms to experience throughout the seasons, travelers can't stop themselves from returning again and again.

    • Nara Prefecture's important history reaches back to 710, a time now called the Nara era, when it was once capital of Japan. Called "Heijo-kyo" during its time as a capital, it's said that nara was once the end of the silk road, leading it to flourish as a uniquely international region and produce important cultural properties of all kinds. To make the most of each season, travelers head to Nara Park, where the Nara deer who wander freely, or climb Mount Yoshino, a famous cherry blossom spot.

    • Osaka is known for friendly (and funny) people, but its history is nothing to laugh at, playing a major part in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 16th century unification of Japan. Thanks to long years of economic activity, it's one of Japan's biggest cities, and Osaka's popular food culture earned it the nickname "The Kitchen of the Nation." To this day Osaka is the model of western Japan, and alongside historic structures like Osaka Castle, it also has major shopping malls like Umeda's Grand Front Osaka and Tennoji's Abeno Harukas. Osaka is a place to eat, eat, eat, with local specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi-katsu, and for extra fun, it's home to Universal Studios Japan.

    • CHUGOKU

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      The Chugoku Region (中国地方) consists of five prefectures: Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi. In Chugoku you’ll find the sand dunes of Tottori, and Hiroshima’s atomic bomb site, plus centers of ancient history like Grand Shrine of Izumo.

    • HIROSHIMA

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      Hiroshima Prefecture has everything, from world heritage sites to beautiful nature and delicious local cuisine, and it's either an hour and a half from Tokyo by plane, or four hours by train. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the Atomic Bomb Dome, two Hiroshima UNESCO sites, are famous around the world, but in Japan it's also famous for food. Seafood from the Seto Inland Sea, especially oysters, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and Setouchi lemons are all popular, and the natural scenery alone is worth seeing.

    • SHIKOKU

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      On the other side of the Seto Inland Sea opposite Japan’s main island, Shikoku (四国) is a region made up of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The area is famous for its udon (in Kagawa), and the beautiful Dogo Onsen hot springs (in Ehime).

    • Kagawa Prefecture is on the northern part of the island of Shikoku, facing Japan's main island and the Seto Inland Sea. It's known for being the smallest prefecture in Japan, by area, but at the same time Kagawa is called the "Udon Prefecture" thanks to its famous sanuki udon. Aside from Kotohiragu Shrine and Ritsurin Garden, the prefecture's small islands are popular, and Kagawa is full of unique destinations, like Angel Road. They say that if you lay eyes on Zenigata Sunae, a huge Kagawa sand painting, you'll never have money troubles ever again.

    • Located in the most southwestern part of Japan, Kyushu (九州) is an island of 7 prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. The island's unique culture has been influenced by Chinese and Dutch trade, along with missionaries coming in through Nagasaki's port. Modern-day travelers love the lush natural scenery and fresh food, plus the natural hot springs found all throughout the area (thanks to volcanic activity)!

    • FUKUOKA

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      Fukuoka Prefecture has the highest population on the southern island of Kyushu, with two major cities: Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Thanks to growing transportation networks, Fukuoka is more accessible than ever, and so are the many local attractions. On top of historical spots like Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, travelers shouldn't miss Fukuoka's food scene, with motsu nabe (offal hotpot), mentaiko (spicy cod roe), and famous Hakata ramen―best eaten from a food stall in the Nakasu area of Hakata. Plus, it's full of all sorts of destinations for travelers, like trendy shopping centers, and the beautiful nature of Itoshima and Yanagawa.

    • KAGOSHIMA

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      Kagoshima Prefecture played a major role in Japan's modernization as a backdrop for famous historical figures like samurais Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who pushed Japan out of the Edo era and into the Meiji. Because of that, Sengan-en Garden is just one of many historical destinations, and when it comes to attractions Kagoshima has plenty: the active volcano of Sakurajima, popular hot springs Ibusuki Onsen and Kirishima Onsen, World Heritage Site Yakushima Island, even what Japan calls the "island closest to heaven," Amami Oshima. Kagoshima might be found on the very southernmost tip of the southern island of Kyushu, but there's plenty to see.

    • OKINAWA

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      The island chain of Okinawa (沖縄) makes up the southernmost tip of Japan, which is why it's also the most tropical area in the country. Thanks to a history of independence and totally distinct political and cultural events, Okinawa has a unique culture, and remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom are still visible all over the islands. Food, language, traditional dress, it's all a little different! It's also said to be the birthplace of karate.

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