Japan's best onsen towns

Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma

Consistently ranking as one of Japan’s top-visited hot spring regions, Kusatsu Onsen has the largest volume of flowing spring water in all of Japan. Only 200 kilometers away from Tokyo, Kusatsu’s charm is found in its accessibility and its uniquely acidic and antibacterial waters. While there, watch a yumomi (water stirring) performance that has been passed down from the Edo period (1603-1867) and stroll through the small onsen town in a yukata from your ryokan while taking in the distinctly sulfuric scent (it’ll grow on you, we promise). Make sure to try Gunma Prefecture’s famous okkirikomi flat noodle soup and miso-covered yaki manju as well.

Ginza Onsen - Japan's Best Onsen Towns

Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata

Said to have inspired Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away’s sprightly hot spring town, Ginzan Onsen is a must-visit destination, especially during the winter. Snow piles on the rows of Taisho-era (1912-1926) ryokan and glows in the warm light of the streetlamps, making for an ethereal sight. The back of the town boasts an impressive 22-meter waterfall and access to the silver mines that were the lifeblood of the region some 500 years ago. Take a stroll by the Ginzan River while snacking on some local cuisine, such as juwari soba (soba noodles made entirely from buckwheat) or bite-sized tofu.

Japan's Best Onsen Towns

Yufuin Onsen, Oita

Only 10 kilometers from the prominent Beppu Onsen, Yufuin Onsen is slightly less known but just as lovely. It’s an easy town to walk around in with many hot spring facilities near shops, cafés and museums. For train lovers, Yufuin Station has some well-known trains pass through it, and even has an ashiyu (footbath) on its platform. Visit the natural landmarks of Mount Yufu and Lake Kinrin while you’re there, and get your hands on some onsen bagels

Best Onsen Towns

Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido

If you find yourself in Hokkaido, check out Noboribetsu Onsen for top-tier waters and fascinating festivals. In between a healing soak, you can hike around the mountainous region and visit Jigokudani (Hell Valley) to see steam billowing out from the barren crater valley. Noboribetsu has various events year-round, such as the Noboribetsu Onsenyu Matsuri (Noboribetsu Onsen Water Festival) during the winter and Jigoku no Tani no Oni Hanabi (fireworks of the demons from the valley of hell) in the summer and autumn.

Best Onsen Towns

Hakone Onsen, Kanagawa

If you’re based in Tokyo and your schedule doesn’t lend itself to a multi-day trip, Hakone is a popular onsen destination for a quick one-day or single-night stay. Referred to as an “onsen theme park,” it has 17 different sources of hot springs and plenty of onsen facilities from which to choose. If you want to enjoy a dip with the entire family, visit the popular Yunessun resort, where guests can soak in baths of wine, coffee or even ramen broth.

Kinosaki Onsen - Japan's Best Onsen Towns

Kinosaki Onsen, Hyogo

For those with tattoos, Kinosaki Onsen is definitely the one for you. The onsen town of Kinosaki has seven tattoo-friendly public baths, which are all walking distance and accessible with a day pass. Stroll along the willow tree-lined river and take in the arched stone bridges and classic architecture, all in a yukata that you can borrow from your lodging. 

Japan's Best Onsen Towns

Ureshino Onsen, Saga

The springs at Ureshino are one of Japan’s big three bihada no yu (water of beautiful skin), and one dip in the silky water will tell you why. High in sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride, your skin will feel as soft as a baby’s bum as you emerge like Venus from the warm water. Check out Siebold’s Bath, the onsen institution in a Taisho-era Gothic structure for a truly local experience and visit the brewery that created the award-winning Toranoko sake. Ureshino is also renowned for its tea and yudofu (hot tofu), so try those out while strolling down one of the town’s quaint shopping streets.

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