There are two types of bath houses in Japan: onsen and sento. While there are obvious similarities between the two – they're both communal hot-water baths and visitors must adhere to certain rules of etiquette – there is one significant difference: onsen are filled with natural volcanic spring water, known for its rich and healing mineral content, while sento simply use heated tap water (although some do add minerals and infusions to the water). Most Tokyo bath houses offer a variety of facilities other than just the bath, for example they may have a sauna (we recommend trying out a ganban-yoku, or bedrock sauna, where you lie down on a large, heated stone), or a rotenburo (outdoor spring), whirlpool baths, electric baths or massage services.
Rooted in Japanese tradition, bath houses are still very much a part of daily living here, although sadly we're seeing more and more closing down since modern homes are now equipped with baths. Still, no-one's going to dispute the absolute heaven of stepping into a steaming healing bath, especially in the middle of winter. Which is why we've rounded up 10 of our favourites for you – nine of which are onsen, the other a sento – and divided them into price categories. Best thing is, unlike Western spas, a small entrance fee lets you stay in the bliss long past the skin-wrinkling stage. And if you're looking for a less urban experience, try our hot spring getaways guide.
In many ways, LaQua feels more like a 'super sento' than an onsen. This hot-spring complex within Tokyo Dome City uses sodium chloride-enriched hot-spring water, which gushes out from 1,700m underground. The water is said to help in healing colds, muscle stiffness and neuralgia. Enjoy indoor and open-air baths or a low-temperature sauna, which filters its steam through stones such as tourmaline, loess, elvan and germanium. Thanks to far infrared rays and negative ions, blood circulation, metabolism and waste removal is accelerated. If you're a sucker for pampering, you can visit the beauty salon or get a Thai or Hawaiian massage with body scrubbing. Admission Adults ¥2,634, children ¥1,944
This hot-spring theme park, just near the Yurikamome's Telecom Center Station, was designed to match the feel of the Edo period. It offers a variety of attractions including rotenburo, indoor baths, saunas and more. Free use of towels and yukata are included in the entrance fee. Admission Adults ¥2,480 (daytime), ¥1,980 (night time), ¥1,580 (early morning), children ¥1,000, children below four, free
Don't let the fact that it's located next to the dreary Toshimaen amusement park put you off: this is the nicest of Tokyo's mega-onsen bathing complexes, boasting a 1,200 square-metre garden designed by famous Japanese landscape architect Kenzo Kosugi. The natural hot spring water, gushing from 1,445m below ground and rich in sodium chloride, is said to help heal neuralgia and muscle and joint pain. They've even 'softened' the water to prevent irritation of the skin. Besides hot-spring baths and sauna, Niwa no Yu also has a Bade zone (swimsuit required), a traditional German warm bath treatment that incorporates oriental massage. Bade zone hot water is set to match body temperature, and the bouyancy of the water aids in stretching and massaging the body. Since no kids are allowed, you are guaranteed some real peace and quiet. Admission Adults ¥2,310, night spa (after 6pm) ¥1,295
You'll find Nagomi no Yu not far from Ogikubo Station. This wonderland of baths includes rotenburo, a lava bath (additional ¥300), a Jacuzzi and even a bedrock bath. It also has a healing zone that can be used for an unlimited time period. Rental of yukata and towels are included in the admission fee. Admission Adults ¥2,000, children ¥1,050, infants ¥530, late-night surcharge (after 1am) ¥1,250
Famous for its pretty Somei-Yoshino cherry trees, this onsen offers a fantastic hot spring, originating from 1,800m underground and rich in quality sodium chloride and other minerals. There is also a bedrock bath zone, where the bedrock is warmed up to 40°C. Far infrared rays and negative ions play their part in making this the ultimate relaxation zone. The onsen is particularly beautiful in spring time, when you can stroll around the garden and watch the cherry blossoms blooming. Admission Adults ¥1,296, children ¥756
The black colour of the hydrogen-carbonate hot-spring water, which is rich in seaweeds and minerals, is the main feature here. But they also offer a jet bath, cold-water baths, a sauna, and an outdoor hot-water pot for dipping your feet. They also have a range of beauty treatments, from pedicures to Ayurveda massages. It's a bit of a walk to the spa from the station, but from Chitose-Karasuyama, Chitose-Funabashi and Seijo-Gakuenmae stations, there's a free shuttle bus service. Admission Adults from ¥1,290 to ¥1,710, children from ¥640 to ¥780
Natural surroundings create a wonderful atmosphere where you can unwind and enjoy the scenery at the same time. If you don't like your water too hot, the bonus here is that you can select a temperature that suits you best. Admission Adults from ¥900 to ¥1,200, children from ¥700 to ¥1,000, children under three, free
Natural surroundings create a wonderful atmosphere where you can unwind and enjoy the scenery at the same time. If you don't like your water too hot, the bonus here is that you can select a temperature that suits you best. Admission Adults from ¥900 to ¥1,200, children from ¥500 to ¥600
A so-called 'super sento', Yukemuri no Sato is located in Chofu and features a whopping 12 different types of baths including a whirpool bath, rotenburo and Japan's first electric bath, filled with carbonated spring water. Try out the popular Surga bedrock bath (at an additional cost) or take a nap on the heated floor while reading manga. If hunger strikes, choose from a variety of seasonal menus on offer in the complex. And if you're drowning sorrows, you're welcome to down a highball while soaking in one of the baths. Admission Adults from ¥750 to ¥850, children from ¥400 to ¥450
Enjoy views of garden and sky while soaking in the Toki no Irodori baths. Indoor baths with highly concentrated carbonated water, rotenburo and rock baths are just a few of the types on offer. Complementing these standards are the stone oven bath, the super jet, electric bath, dry sauna, and grass steam bath. In addition, you can use the bedrock bath at an extra charge of ¥600. Face towels (¥100), bath towels (¥200) or a set of both (¥250) can be rented, and if you're peckish, there's an inhouse snack area. Great for night owls since the bath house stays open until 1am. Admission Adults from ¥800 to ¥950, children from ¥450 to ¥650
In addition to housing natural hot spring baths, open-air baths, saunas and more, this Edo era onsen theme park also does a line in festivals, fortune telling, places to drink and dine, shopping, and even overnight accommodation.