“Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to relax.” ~ Mark Black.
So, what is Japan famous for? One of many things is onsen! This guide to the best onsen in Japan was contributed by Josip from Japanko-Official. As he lives in Japan, I’m really excited to present his ideal travel guide for spending time at some of Japan’s best hot spring towns. If you’re looking for some popular and lesser-known hot springs in Japan to relax by *quite literally* soaking up the local culture, look no further. Any of the following onsen towns will make a nice addition to an offbeat Japan itinerary!
TIP: If you aren’t familiar, onsen 温泉 translates to “hot water spring.” It’s the word used to not just describe towns with traditional inns that surround natural springs, but also for the bathing facilities at these inns, too.
This post contains affliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Famous for their natural hot springs and offering the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate, onsen towns are a must-see when visiting Japan.
There are many onsen towns throughout the island country. However, when planning a Japan trip, you might have difficulty choosing the perfect one. If you wonder why, the answer is simple: Each one is exceptional in its own way!
These towns’ hot springs and natural beauty attract tourists worldwide, and with good reason. To help you select the right one for you, read on for details about the best onsen towns in Japan.
Why visit onsen in Japan?
There are many reasons why people visit onsen. Some people stay for the relaxation and therapeutic benefits that the baths provide. Some people visit to socialize and enjoy the company of friends, while others come to enjoy the stunning natural scenery.
Whatever your reason for visiting onsens in Japan may be, there is no doubt that you will be able to enjoy a unique and unforgettable experience. The baths are often gender-segregated, although there are konyoku – mixed-gender onsen.
No matter what kind of onsen you visit, guests are typically required to remove all their clothing before entering the water. It may seem strange to foreigners, but it is widespread among Japanese people.
While the thought of relaxing in a hot spring surrounded by strangers may not appeal to everyone, onsens offer a unique and memorable experience that is well worth trying at least once. Onsens are a quintessential part of Japanese culture and offer a unique experience that cannot be found anywhere else!
Here are three reasons why you should visit an onsen on your next trip to Japan:
Onsens are the perfect place to relax and unwind after a long day of sightseeing or work. The hot water and soothing atmosphere will help you melt away your stress and tension.
Onsens offer a unique opportunity to experience Japanese culture. Most onsens are located in scenic areas, and many of them have traditional architecture.
3. Health benefits
Onsens are often associated with health and wellness, so they can be a great way to improve your overall well-being.
7 Best Onsen in Japan to relax & unwind
Now you know what an onsen is, why you should visit one, and its benefits, the next step is to find the best Japanese onsen for you. I’ll show you some of the most popular ones, highlighting their key features and what makes them popular.
So, if you’re looking for an amazing cultural experience, here are seven of the best Japanese onsen towns, each with their own unique charm.
1. Kinosaki Onsen, Hyogo Prefecture
Kinosaki is a small town in Hyogo prefecture and is known as one of the best onsen towns in Japan. People from all over Japan come to Kinosaki to soak in the thermal waters.
Also well-known for its ryokan (Japanese inns), Kinosaki features dozens in the town, and most of them are very traditional.
Each ryokan offers kaiseki (traditional multi-course) dinners, so if you are looking for an all-around traditional onsen experience, you should consider visiting Kinosaki Onsen.
TIP: Kinosaki Onsen is an underrated town to experience cherry blossoms against a traditional Kyoto-esque backdrop.
Where to stay: Find accommodation in Kinosaki Onsen here.
2. Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido
Noboribetsu Onsen is a hot spring town located in the Shiribeshi Province of Hokkaido. The village is well known for its many onsens, ranging in temperature from about 25°C to 42°C.
Visitors can enjoy various baths, including outdoor baths, sulphur baths, and milk baths. The town is also home to several tourist attractions, and it is a popular family onsen in Japan.
Some of the famous attractions are the Noboribetsu Date Historic Village, a museum that celebrates the history of the Date family, one of the most influential families in Hokkaido. Besides that, there are famous shopping and dining areas Enmado and Hakuraku.
Where to stay: Find accommodation in Noboribetsu Onsen here.
3. Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma Prefecture
One of the most famous onsen towns in the country, Kusatsu Onsen is a hot spring town in Gunma Prefecture.
Known for its many hot springs, its water quality is said to be beneficial for the skin. Kusatsu is also a popular tourist destination, with over 2 million visitors annually.
Where to stay: Find accommodation in Kusatsu Onsen here.
4. Shibu Onsen, Nagano Prefecture
Located in Nagano Prefecture, Shibu Onsen is one of the oldest onsen towns in Japan and is home to many historical buildings and temples.
While not well known to foreigners, it’s one of Japan’s most popular domestic tourist destinations. The town is famous for its many hot springs and traditional wooden buildings.
Its popularity is thanks to the soothing waters of the onsen combined with the traditional atmosphere of the town. If you look for romantic onsen in Japan, you will love Shibu Onsen. The town is famous for over 20 ryokan.
Shibu Onsen is also one of the best winter onsen in Japan. When the snow covers the town in a white blanket and the temperatures drop below freezing, the whole place looks magical. However, the town is also beautiful in the summer, when the greenery and flowers bloom.
Where to stay: Find accommodation in Shibu Onsen here.
5. Beppu Onsen, Oita Prefecture
Beppu is a city located on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. Beppu is also popular with domestic tourists, receiving over 8 million visitors a year – most of whom come to enjoy the onsen.
The city has many public baths and foot baths. There are many different onsens in Beppu, and each has its unique characteristics. Beppu Kannawa Onsen and Beppu Jigoku Meguri are some of the more popular onsens in the city.
Where to stay: Find accommodation in Beppu Onsen here.
6. Gero Onsen, Gifu Prefecture
Gero Onsen is a hot spring resort town nestled in Gifu Prefecture. It’s a great destination that offers a perfect mix of hot springs, outdoor activities, and traditional Japanese old towns.
If you are a tourist exploring Japan, Gero Onsen can be an ideal place for your body and mind to recover with warm hot springs.
Editor’s note: Read my Gero Onsen itinerary for how to spend 2 days here!
7. Ibusuki Onsen, Kagoshima Prefecture
On the island of Kyushu, Ibusuki is a Japanese hot spring town located in Kagoshima Prefecture. Ibusuki is well known for its onsen (hot springs), sand bath, and black sand beaches.
The onsen at Ibusuki are unique because they are located close to the sand dunes. The hot sand from the dunes is said to have therapeutic effects, and it is good for your skin. Ibusuki’s sand baths are a type of spa treatment in which you bury yourself in hot sand.
Ibusuki is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a relaxing and rejuvenating vacation. The town has several onsen resorts and spa facilities, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy during your stay.
Where to stay: Find accommodation in Ibusuki Onsen here.
Every visitor to Japan must experience a trip to an onsen, and there is no better place for that than a proper onsen town. You should find the best onsen in Japan for you and set aside a day or two to relax from the rush of sightseeing.
All in all, a visit to an onsen town is a great way to get in touch with this side of Japanese culture and an experience you will never forget.
|For more inspiration, check out all Josip’s onsen articles, follow his hugely popular Instagram account that shares incredible photography and video content on Japan, and also over on Pinterest!|
More ideas for onsen towns in Japan
- Dogo Onsen – One of Japan’s oldest hot spring towns in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture.
- Kurokawa Onsen – A picturesque onsen town in Kumamoto Prefecture.
- Ginzan Onsen – Nicknamed the “Silver Mountain Hot Spring” for its stunning winter views in Yamagata Prefecture.
- Yufuin Onsen – Popular with female tourists and families, located in Oita Prefecture.
- Hakone Onsen – Famed outdoor onsen with views of Mt Fuji, easily accessible from Tokyo.
Quick links to useful resources when planning a Japan trip
Ready to “be invisible” at an onsen in Japan?
There are certain do’s and don’ts when visiting Japanese onsen. As mentioned earlier, this includes washing before bathing and only entering the springs in your birthday suit – yes, really! Be sure to read more Japanese etiquette in my detailed guide to help you “blend in” in Japan.
Will you be Japan trip in the future? I have many more itineraries and travel guides on my Japan travel blog. For tips on cultural activities in Japan to hidden gems, off the beaten path locations and more, go take a look for plenty of inspiration or join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok for more ways to “be invisible” on your travels!
Until next time,
Do you love Japanese sweets, snacks and candies?
Read my Tokyo Treat Review and get popular Japanese snacks delivered here, or read my Sakuraco review and get traditional Japanese sweets delivered here!
This guide to onsen towns in Japan contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!