For a taste of excitement and adventure while you soak your bones, here are five hot spring resorts in Japan with a thrilling twist…
PLAYGROUND INSPIRED: Yarimikan
Where it is: Okuhida, Gifu Prefecture
Why you should visit: Opened over 80 years ago, this ryokan was the first to conceive of the idea of opening a hot spring overlooking Mount Yarimidake. Popular with mountain climbers for its easy access to Mount Nishi-Hodaka by cable car, it’s a secluded spot away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The inn boasts a selection of private outdoor baths available to rent for private use, including the one-of-a-kind playground-inspired Mori no Yu, which features a swing, a slide, and a waterfall! Nearby Hotaru no Yu is in a small house with a water mill, and Keiryu no Yu features a Jacuzzi-style tub overlooking the river.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR LOVE (OR KARAOKE): Shyosenkaku
Where it is: Nagano, Nagano Prefecture
Why you should visit: If you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, maybe the omiai (matchmaking) open-air bath is the right one. The bath features a small shrine attached to the fence between the men’s and women’s baths, where men can pray for a chance at love. Should the gods feel benevolent, a woman on the other side will open a small window between baths for a chat, and who knows, maybe more. There have reportedly been cases where couples have met through the omiai bath and eventually married, so it’s not just a marketing ploy. For couples or those who love music above else, try the karaoke bath, which can be rented for a private in-bath song session.
A TEMPERAMENTAL GEYSER: Kanketusen Yunohana
Where it is: Iide, Yamagata Prefecture
Why you should visit: Many dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone Park or Iceland up close, but at Kanketusen Yunohana, you can bathe with one. The water bursting forth out of the earth is a lukewarm 35 degrees Celsius, making it a unique opportunity to comfortably sit next to a geyser without scorching your skin off. The geyser is temperamental though, so timing is key — sometimes it will erupt for an hour, sometimes it won’t for another hour. Nonetheless, it’s a thrilling experience. Note: The geyser open-air bath is a mixed bathing area. Women are allowed to cover themselves with towels or onsen-specific bathing wear. Separated baths are available inside. Closed Nov-Apr.
BURIED ALIVE: Sand Bath Hall Saraku
Where it is: Ibuseki, Kagoshima Prefecture
Why you should visit: Who said onsen had to include water? Purported to be the only natural sand bath in the world, the sand on this beach is naturally infused with underground hot spring water. Enjoy a warm, relaxing afternoon at the beach while being buried alive by professional staff for a one-of-a-kind beachside experience. Guests wear yukata and a towel around their heads to avoid getting sand in all, but there is also a public bath available for a more traditional soak afterwards. The recommended time in the sand is about 10 minutes, but those with sensitive skin may need even less.
ONSEN ON THE ROCKS: Matsugashita Miyabi Yu and Jinata Onsen
Where it is: Shikinejima Island, Tokyo Prefecture
Why you should visit: If you’re not fond of bathing au naturel, Shikinejima has two amazing onsen on the rocks waiting for you. Open 24 hours a day and completely free, these hot springs are connected to the ocean and accessible for those who prefer dips donning swimsuits. Matsugashita Miyabi Yu is easily accessible and has several baths — both manmade and natural rock pools on the shore. Jinata Onsen requires a steep climb down some stairs to reach — it’s located at the bottom of a cliff — but it’s worth the hike as you’ll feel like you’re at the edge of the world.