1. Kusatsu Onsen
    Photo: EM7/ShutterstockKusatsu Onsen in Gunma
  2. Beppu Onsen
    Photo: Sean Pavone/DreamstimeBeppu onsen town in Oita prefecture
  3. Ginzan Onsen
    Photo: Weniliou/ShutterstockGinzan Onsen

10 best onsen destinations in Japan

Warm up as well as rejuvenate your body and mind at these scenic hot spring resorts, easily accessible from Tokyo

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen
Amanda Taylor

Hot springs, or onsen, are a big deal in Japan. Not to be confused with sento, which are usually public baths using heated tap water, onsen are comprised of volcanic spring water that's full of natural minerals, giving health benefits like clearer skin, detoxification and better blood circulation, among others.

As winter descends, these onsen resorts become desirable destinations for day trips and weekend breaks, so we've rounded up six of the best. If you're a first-timer, be sure to check out our onsen etiquette guide.

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Weekend trips

Kurokawa Onsen
Photo: Takafumi Himeno/Dreamstime

Kurokawa Onsen

Popular for being one of the most picturesque hot spring destinations in Japan, this town in Kyushu features nearly 30 onsen baths for visitors to hop between. Kurokawa Onsen has a special system for using the baths, where you can purchase a charming wooden tegata pass (¥1,300) for access to three different baths of your choosing. 

As for the town itself, Kurokawa Onsen has a history stretching back at least 300 years, with stories of feudal lords stopping by for respite on their journeys between cities. Today, the town still exudes the spellbinding spirit of its bygone days with shops and ryokans lined across the river, which is lit up each night with warm glowing lanterns. 

How to get there: There aren’t any direct trains to get to Kurokawa Onsen, so you’ll have to catch a bus from Fukuoka Airport. The journey is roughly two-and-a-half hours long and costs ¥3,150 for a one-way ticket. 

Kinosaki Onsen, Toyooka
Photo: Zmkstudio/Dreamstime

Kinosaki Onsen, Toyooka

Tapping into traditional onsen culture can sometimes be intimidating for non-Japanese speakers, where signboards aren’t always translated into other languages and no-tattoo policies mean the hot springs aren’t open to everyone. Kinosaki Onsen is a happy exception, where locals and overseas visitors alike can mill about in colourful rented yukata without feeling out of place. All seven of the natural hot springs here are tattoo-friendly and English maps come with a page for marking off all your stops with stamps. 

That’s not to say the area is touristy by any means – the town simply wants to make authentic experiences accessible for everyone. Aside from hot springs, there’s an abundance of activities to partake in the area ranging from guided zazen meditations to green tea picking, all with English-speaking guides available. 

How to get there: Two-and-a-half hours via limited express train from Kyoto or three hours by train from Osaka. 

Beppu Onsen, Oita
Photo: John Slander/Getty

Beppu Onsen, Oita

Known as the hot spring capital of Japan, Beppu is made up of a cluster of eight onsen areas. It's a bit of a trek to get there, but it's worth a visit for its variety of baths including mud, steam and even sand baths.

Speaking of which, be sure to try the Beppu Beach Sand Bath on Shoningahama beach, where you’ll be submerged in volcanically heated sand while overlooking soft-crashing waves. Top tip: go on the 'Hell Tour', which takes you to eight of the hottest onsen in Beppu, nicknamed 'jigoku' (burning hell). Look out for the hot-water lovin' crocs at Oniyama Jigoku.

How to get there:
By air: 1 hour 40 minutes from Haneda Airport to Oita Airport, then a 45-minute bus ride to the bus stop Beppu Kitahama.
By train: Five hours by shinkansen from Tokyo Station. Take the Nozomi Shinkansen to Kokura Station, then transfer to the Sonic limited express to Beppu Station. Travel by Hikari and Sakura trains will require an extra hour and another transfer at Shin-Osaka Station.

Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata
Photo: YFGEO/Pixta

Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata

In the hot spring area of Ginzan Onsen, wooden buildings line the Ginzan river. At night, the soothing rush of the water, lit up by flickering gas lamps, creates the atmosphere of a Japanese fairy tale.

Winter, when crisp white snow frosts the whole town, is prime season at Ginzan Onsen. It’s the perfect place to experience outdoor winter bathing. Brisk air on your upper body and face makes for a enjoyable contrast to the warmth of the water.

It’s an extremely popular winter bathing spot, so book early, as much as three months in advance. The highlight of the area is definitely the scenery. For sightseeing, you’ll have to look elsewhere in Yamagata like Zao Onsen area, which is decorated with snow sculptures in winter.

How to get there: It’s roughly 3.5 hours from Tokyo Station to Oishida Station by Yamagata Shinkansen, and then 40 minutes by bus to Ginzan Onsen bus stop.

Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma
Photo: Mihai-Bogdan Lazar/Shutterstock

Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma

The water at Kusatsu Onsen is so hot that there’s a special stirring procedure to cool it, rather than adding cold water, which would dilute the potency of the minerals (said to be able to cure any sickness except lovesickness). This stirring method is called yumomi and it's showcased as a performance at certain times.

The most popular public hot spring is Sai no Kawara Rotenburo, located in Sai no Kawara Park. It boasts pretty forest views and pure, steaming water, and the entrance fee is just ¥600. Tip: buy some Yu no Hana hot spring powder to experience the healing minerals of Japan’s hot springs at home.

If you’re looking for something else to do in the area, Mt Shirane offers pretty hiking trails in spring and summer, and in winter, skiers can take on the mountain slopes – Kusatsu Snow & Spa Resort is open from early December to mid-April.

How to get there: It’s about 2.5 hours from Ueno Station on the weekends-only Kusatsu limited-express train to Naganohara- Kusatsuguchi Station (otherwise take the shinkansen or Takasaki line to Takasaki Station, then change to the Agatsuma line), and then a 25-minute bus ride to Kusatsu Onsen bus terminal.

Nozawa Onsen, Nagano
Photo: Umarin Nakamura/Dreamstime

Nozawa Onsen, Nagano

Nozawa Onsen provides the best of both worlds during winter, where avid skiers and snowboarders can glide down powdery slopes before finishing the day at one of the town’s many communal hot springs. 

There are 13 communal hot springs in the town, also known as soto-yu, which are free for all visitors and don’t require passes to access. While smaller than the average onsen, each of these unique springs features stunning wooden architecture reminiscent of sets from Ghibli’s ‘Spirited Away’. 

How to get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa and ride approximately two hours to Iiyama Station. Get off at Iiyama Station and catch the bus bound for Nozawa Onsen. 

Day trips from Tokyo

Hakone Onsen, Kanagawa
Photo: Yunessun

Hakone Onsen, Kanagawa

Hakone stands out on this list of top onsen towns for its sheer variety. The mountain town has family-friendly onsen theme parks, luxurious ryokan with private hinoki baths and everything in between for the ultimate hot spring experience. 

The Yunessun spa resort is an obvious attraction, with features like coffee and wine baths, hot spring water slides and cave pools for exploring. Unlike traditional onsen, Yunessun features co-ed baths that require swimsuits, so you won’t have to be separated from friends and family on your visit.

If you’re looking for something a little more serene, check out Hakone Yuryo. The resort is surrounded by forest and – in addition to communal facilities – has 19 private onsen rooms which you can book if you want an open-air bath all to yourself. 

How to get there: It’s about 90 minutes on the Odakyu Romance Car from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station. If you’re going on an overnight trip, it’s worth getting the Hakone Freepass (adults ¥6,100, ¥1,500) which covers your round-trip fare and unlimited use of transportation such as trains, buses and even ropeways and boats in the area.

Atami, Shizuoka
Photo: Sean Pavone/Dreamstime

Atami, Shizuoka

Just a stone’s throw from Tokyo is the seaside city of Atami, which boasts more onsen than sandy beaches. As legend has it, one of history’s most notorious shoguns Tokugawa Ieyasu loved the onsen water of Atami so much that he had some of it brought to his castle in Edo (Tokyo) so he could soak in it at home. 

Because of the city’s proximity to the sea, Atami’s hot springs have a high salt content, which is thought to help soothe irritated skin. Atami isn’t far from Tokyo, so you could also make a spontaneous day trip of it. Just remember to pick up some onsen manju on your way back – the area is famous for the sweet bean snacks. 

How to get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen bound for Nagoya and ride four stops (45 minutes) to Atami Station. 

Yumoto Onsen, Nikko
Photo: Breezeyoshi/Pixta

Yumoto Onsen, Nikko

At this hot spring area that’s part of Nikko National Park and just next to Lake Yunoko, steam rises up from vents in the ground, admittedly making the air and the water smell like stinky sulphur. However, the water at Yumoto Onsen is packed with minerals that leave skin tingling.

The entire area is dotted with ryokan featuring onsen and just north of the town you’ll find Yunodaira Marsh, where hot water actually bubbles up from the ground. On your way to Yumoto Onsen, it’s worth stopping off at Ryuzu Waterfall and making the trek through the dreamlike Senjogahara hiking trail. 

How to get there: It’s about two hours from Tobu Asakusa Station by rapid train to Tobu Nikko Station. Leave early, because Yumoto Onsen is an 80-minute bus ride from Tobu Nikko Station (ask for details at the tourist office inside the station). Buy the Nikko Pass All Area from Tobu Asakusa Station to get discounted travel.

A place where you can wear bathing suits in a designated area (good for couples who want to hang out together), Niwa no Yu is a spa/onsen in Tokyo. While the waters aren’t as mineral rich as a true onsen, since they come from drilling underground, Niwa no Yu is an easy trip for Tokyoites and the facilities are impressive. The spa is housed in a Japanese garden making for relaxing outdoor views. Note that no children are allowed.

How to get there: From Shinjuku Station it takes about 20 minutes on the Toei Oedo line to Toshimaen Station.

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