The Best Onsen Towns in Japan

The 9 Best Onsen Towns in Japan

In Japan, hot springs (known locally as onsens) hold a significant cultural importance. These natural hot springs are not just a place to take a simple dip. They’re an invitation to immerse yourself in a world of tranquility, healing, and cultural richness.

Before you delve into the best Japanese hot springs, you first need to know what sets them apart from other similar spots. It’s easy to mix an onsen up with a sento – a public bath that uses heated tap water. 

But an onsen offers a much more therapeutic and cultural experience. These healing retreats are an integral part of Japanese culture, where you can soak in soothing mineral-rich waters while immersing yourself in centuries-old rituals and customs.

Each onsen is a gateway to a realm of natural beauty and serenity. Whether you’re seeking solace among rugged mountains, looking for your zen beside a still lake, or searching for peace in a historic village, the best onsen towns in Japan will make you feel like a whole new you!

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The Top 9 Best Japanese Hot Springs (Onsens)

1. Kinosaki

Best Japanse Hot Springs: Kinosaki - Oyado Seri
Photos: Oyado Seri

Declared the “Best Hot Spring Town” by “Lonely Planet,” Kinosaki is where you’ll find some of the finest hot springs in Japan. This devastatingly beautiful town is made up of traditional ryokan hotels, a rippling river lined by willow trees, and seven stunning outdoor hot spring bath houses.

Stay overnight in the town, and you’ll receive a free pass to explore the dreamy hot springs, each of which has a unique style and history. If you’re just visiting, you can purchase a day pass for unlimited access.

What makes Kinosaki one of the best onsen towns in Japan is its welcoming attitude. This healing haven is one of the few in the country that invites people with any design, color, and shape of tattoos to bathe in its therapeutic waters. With a fantastic reputation that dates back over 1,300 years, you’ll definitely be in good hands here. 

If you’re looking for a ryokan-style hotel, Oyado Seri is an excellent option, offering hot spring baths, massages, and home-cooked Japanese meals. 


2. Kusatsu 

Best Japanese Hot Springs: Kusatsu - Konoha
Photos: Konoha

Ask any local where the best Japanese onsen is and the name Kusatsu is sure to come up. This tiny town is hidden away in the mountains and is home to just 7,000 people, creating a serene, tranquil environment that will make you feel relaxed as soon as you arrive.

The water in this hot spring is simply incredible. Kusatsu boasts some of the most acidic water in Japan, a highly-revered quality, which means it kills almost all bacteria and microorganisms on the skin.

A great option whenever you’re planning on visiting, Kusatsu is open all year round. Visit in winter, and you’ll be able to hit the nearby ski slopes after bathing or make plans for spring, and you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous cherry blossoms while you soak! 

Konoha is a great place to stay if you’re looking for on-site indoor and outdoor hot springs facilities.


3. Dōgo Onsen Honkan

Best Japanese Hot Springs: Dōgo Onsen Honkan - SETOUCHI RETREAT by Onko Chishin
Photos: SETOUCHI RETREAT by Onko Chishin

When it comes to history, Dōgo Onsen Honkan is arguably the best hot spring in Japan. The oldest in the country, this ancient onsen dates back more than 3,000 years and provided ample inspiration for the Studio Ghibli film “Spirited Away.”

The only downside to this onsen is its small size – it’s only suitable for a maximum of 20 men and 40 women. If you don’t manage to secure your place, try the nearby Dōgo Onsen Annex Asuka-no-Yu or Dōgo Onsen Tsubaki-no-Yu. These hot springs are both nearby and are much larger. 

When you’ve soaked your cares away, take the time to explore the hot spring town. Sora-no-Sanpomichi is the name of the local sky promenade and footbath where you can bathe your tired feet and enjoy 360° panoramic views of the town. 

If you’re looking for a truly special place to stay, SETOUCHI RETREAT by Onko Chishin is an adults-only hotel featuring seven luxurious suites. From the 30-meter outdoor infinity pool to the on-site spa services, expect nothing but the best at this architectural gem.


4. Hakone

Best Japanese Onsens: Hakone - Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu
Photos: Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu

If you’re not sure about sharing a hot spring with others, Hakone is one of the best onsen towns in Japan for you. This charming town is home to Hakone Yuryo, which boasts 19 rooms where private groups of up to four people can soak in the healing waters together. Some of the best hotels and ryokans in the area offer in-suite private onsens so you don’t even have to leave your room to bathe!

Hakone stands out from the crowd thanks to its fantastic variety. As well as the intimate onsens for small groups, the town also offers family-friendly theme park-inspired onsens. 

Hakone Kowakien Yunessun is one of our favorites. Here, you’ll find hot spring water slides and cave pools, as well as relaxing wine and coffee baths. If this sounds up your alley, Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu hotel is located right next to the theme park, and all rooms here feature luxurious open-air baths! 


5. Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen

Best Japanese Hot Springs: Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen - Konanso
Photos: Konanso

When it comes to exemplary views, Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen is the best Japanese onsen. Part of Hotel Konanso, this magical bath house is located at the base of Mount Fuji and rewards visitors with unbeatable views of the majestic mountain. If you’re flexible, visit during spring, when cherry blossoms fill the air, or fall, when the trees are covered in golden leaves.

Thanks to its indoor and outdoor baths, Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen is an excellent option, whatever the weather. This comprehensive hot spring resort also offers a foot bath and private onsens if you don’t want to mix with others, plus the opportunity to enhance your relaxing experience with an air bubble bath, sauna, cold water bath, and waterfall shower.


6. Beppu

Best Japanese Hot Springs: Beppu - Amane Resort GAHAMA
Photos: Amane Resort GAHAMA

If you like to mix it up, Beppu is where you’ll find some of the best Japanese hot springs. This enchanting town is home to eight individual resorts, each of which comes with its own public baths and ryokan accommodation. As well as the traditional hot spring baths, many onsens in the area also offer mud and steam baths for the ultimate spa day. 

The Beppu Beach sand bath on Shoningahama Beach is an absolute must. Here, you’ll be gently submerged in volcanically heated sand while gazing at the waves rolling onto the sandy shore. 

The tour of the “hells” (hot springs) is definitely worth it, too. Your guide will whisk you away to each of the town’s onsens, many of which boast unique features and colors. Keep an eye out for the hot-water-loving crocodiles that live in the Oniyama Jigoku onsen!

If you’re looking for luxury, the Amane Resort GAHAMA offers incredible rooms, all with natural hot spring bathrooms and access to the on-site hot springs. It’s also within walking distance of Shoningahama Park. 


7. Yufuin

Best Japanese Hot Springs: Yufuin Baien Garden Resort
Photos: Yufuin Baien Garden Resort

When you’re aching to get away from it all, the Yufuin Baien Garden Resort is where you’ll find the best onsen in Japan. Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the cities in the mountains of Kyushu, this serene resort features a number of stunning onsens, most of which enjoy spectacular views of Mount Yufu’s twin peaks. 

You’re free to move between the resort’s outdoor bath, semi-outdoor rock bath, and hinoki-cypress bath, all of which are filled with hot mineral-rich waters from a nearby spring. If you like your privacy or you’re traveling with little ones, there’s also a spacious outdoor bath that your travel group can use exclusively. 

Despite its small size, Yufuin is a wonderful place to explore. Here, you’ll find charming cafes, art museums, and boutique stores to keep you busy when you’re not soaking. 


8. Ginzan 

Best Japanese Onsens: Ginzan - Ginzanso
Photos: Ginzanso

Ginzan looks like something that’s been pulled straight out of a fairytale. By night, the soothing rush of the Ginzan River fills the air while the charming wooden homes that line it are illuminated with the warm glow of flickering gas lamps. By day, the streets are blissfully quiet, while visitors are making the most of the best Japanese onsen located in the town.

Ginzanso is a classic Japanese ryokan with two indoor and two outdoor baths that flow into each other. The view from the outdoor baths is almost too beautiful to be true. 

The best time to visit is during winter, when you can lounge in the wonderfully warm water while the crisp air brushes against your face and the snow-dusted surroundings provide you with an enchanting backdrop. 

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9. Kurokawa

Best Japanese Hot Springs: Kurokawa - Yama no Yado Shinmeikan
Photos: Yama no Yado Shinmeikan

If you’re looking for the very best hot spring in Japan, Kurokawa is always a great place to go. One of the most beautiful onsen destinations in the country, this charismatic town is made up of age-old ryokans, long-established bath houses, and cute shops lining the main street.

Here, you’ll find 30 different baths to choose from, but you don’t have to pick just one. Kurokawa has a fantastic system in place that allows you to buy a wooden tegata pass in exchange for access to three onsens of your choosing. Alternatively, you can pay to access each of the onsens individually. 

Yama no Yado Shinmeikan is one of the most sensational onsens in the area. This onsen boasts a sodium-chloride sulfate hot spring hidden away inside a cave. The waters here are said to help heal wounds, moisturize your skin, and improve many ailments. 

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That completes our list of the 9 best Japanese onsens! Did we miss any cool onsens in Japan? Comment below so we can add them to the list! 


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Author

  • Nicola Quinn

    Nicola is a freelance writer with an insatiable hunger for travel. She swapped her home in the UK for the sunny Canary Islands when she was just 11 and she has been based there ever since.

    From crawling on her hands and knees inside pyramids in Egypt to swimming with baby sharks in Bali and searching (fruitlessly!) for the Northern Lights in Iceland, Nicola takes every chance she gets to explore new places.

    The incredible experiences she has around the world fuels her writing and inspires her to plan even more adventures for the future.

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