The best way to relax like a local while you're in Japan is to visit an onsen (hot spring). Onsen began as public bathing places with few bells and whistles. As they developed into resorts with spas, restaurants, and hotels, hot springsquickly became popular vacation destinations. Japan has thousands of onsen scattered across the country. They come in all shapes and sizes, from open-air natural hot springs surrounded by stunning scenery to public baths in downtown Tokyo. We've compiled some of the most unique onsen that Tokyo and the surrounding areas have to offer.
1. The one with the theme park
Oedo Onsen is just as impressive from the outside as it is from the inside. — Photo by Nathan Hosken
Not only does this place have a huge selection of indoor and open-air hot spring baths, it also functions as an Edo era theme park. When you enter Oedo Onsen Monogatari
, you get to choose your very own yukata
(light kimono) for the duration of your stay. You could easily spend the whole day here, wandering through the beautiful foot bath garden, relaxing in the sauna and indulging in extra spa treatments. You can take a break from all the pampering by playing carnival games, talking to a fortune teller, discovering old-school Japanese sweets at the candy shop, taking it easy in one of the lounges and feasting at one of the many restaurants.
2. The one with the wine bath
Dreams come true at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Inn. — Photo by Flickr CC katsuhiro7110
Hakone Kowakien Yunessun has all the facilities you would expect from a hot spring resort, such as indoor therapeutic hot baths and open-air hot springs surrounded by stunning scenery. Make your way to the amusement spa zone and things start to get weird. Guests can have a soak in some of Japan’s most popular beverages like sake and green tea. They can also opt for a relaxing dip in a tub full of Hakone Kowakien’s very own home brewed coffee. The real star of the show here is the red wine bath tub. I repeat, red wine bath tub.
3. The one your body disappears in
The colour in black water onsen can range from light brown to pitch black. — Photo by Tokyo Sento Association
There are a few spots in Tokyo that offer black water hot springs, particularly along the coast in Ota ward. According to connoisseurs, the best one in the area is Nu Land
, which offers 8 different types of bath, including a black water onsen
. The dark colour is due to the concentration of humic acid, an organic matter that seeps into groundwater. The water is weak alkaline and a soak in there is said to make the skin silky smooth.
4. The one with Hello Kitty
Hello Kitty can be found in every corner of the Shima Grand Hotel bathing areas. — Photo CC Notey.com
Okay, so this one’s actually located in Gunma Prefecture and it takes about 2.5 hours to get there from central Tokyo. It’s definitely worth the trek for Hello Kitty fans and makes for a great overnight stay.
Shima Grand Hotel has partnered with Sanrio to add some flare to the typical onsen
experience. Their hot springs and adjoining cafe are now completely decked out in Hello Kitty decor. You can now bathe with your favourite kawaii
5. The one with the eggs
Top off your onsen experience with some boiled eggs. — Photo CC Flickr by Slice of Chic
Have you ever been relaxing in a hot bath and wondered if the water was hot enough to cook something in? Well, this place gives you the chance to test that theory. For an extra 50¥, you can buy an egg and boil it in the hot spring with you.
Shimizu Yu is conveniently located right by central Tokyo, in Shinagawa ward. Other than tons of eggs on site, it has all the usual facilities like saunas, natural indoor and outdoor hot springs, and a black water onsen
Things to keep in mind when visiting an onsen:
- Many hot springs don't allow guests with tattoos
- Most hot springs require guests to bathe completely naked
- Don't put your towel in the water
- Guests have to wash up before entering the bath
- Most hot springs are segregated by gender
- Guests with long hair should tie their hair up
Need a detailed guide on hot springs in Japan?