Visiting one of Japan’s many onsen destinations is a quintessential Japanese experience. Part of the charm of these hot spring towns is the peaceful and nostalgic atmosphere, which makes them the perfect respite from life in the big cities. To find out which of these destinations are the most popular, Japanese travel site Jalan conducted a survey of its readers to rank Japan’s top five traditional hot spring towns with atmospheric nostalgic vibes.
From the charming streets of Gunma to historical bathhouses in Nagano, these five onsen destinations are definitely worth a visit while travelling around Japan.
1. Shima Onsen, Gunma
Taking top spot is Shima Onsen in Gunma prefecture. This onsen hotspot was first discovered around 1,100 years ago and has been extremely well-preserved over the last few generations. Walking through the town feels as though you've stepped back in time as there are no traffic lights, neon signs or even convenience stores on the streets. It’s also home to Sekizenkan Ryokan, which claims to be the oldest hot spring hotel in Japan.
2. Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata
Ginzan Onsen is one of the fancier destinations that made the ranking and is famous for its picturesque streets. It's especially beautiful when snow falls over the town, making winter one of the most popular times to visit. If you only have the chance to check out one bathhouse, Shirogane-yu designed by starchitect Kengo Kuma is a must-visit.
3. Shibu Onsen, Nagano
This onsen town opened approximately 1,300 years ago and is known for its onsen waters that supposedly bring great health benefits and good luck. Another bonus of visiting Shibu Onsen is that guests staying the night can use the town's nine soto-yu, or outer public baths, free of charge.
4. Ikaho Onsen, Gunma
Another popular hot spring destination in Gunma prefecture is Ikaho Onsen. This town is famously mentioned in the Manyoshu, the oldest book of Japanese waka poetry. Ikaho Onsen features two types of onsen water and is also known for its charming stone stairway, along which you'll find souvenir shops, inns and public baths.
5. Kurokawa Onsen, Kumamoto
Stunning Kurokawa Onsen is surrounded by lush nature. The area is dotted with traditional ryokan guest houses and outdoor hot springs that line the river flowing through the town. The best way to experience it all? Purchase the special onsen pass (¥1,300) that gives you access to your three favourite onsen out of 27 in the area. There’s also a beautiful illumination that takes place in this hot spring town.
More from Time Out Tokyo
Want to be the first to know what’s cool in Tokyo? Sign up to our newsletter for the latest updates from Tokyo and Japan.