Japan appeals to historians, geeks, adventurers, and city-lovers in search of a unique vacation that encompasses an extraordinary mix of futurism and old-world charm. Whether it's one's first time or fiftieth time to the land of the rising sun, everyone always goes for the same thing; Tokyo and its mega-malls; Osaka and its epic city escapades; and Kyoto with its traditional vibes.
However, Japan-bound travelers should not miss out on one of the most sensational and cultural experiences that the nation has to offer: a Japanese onsen retreat. Imagine lounging in volcanic waters that have been naturally heated for hundreds, if not thousands of years, while soaking up glorious mountain views and natural scenery, followed by a delicious meal at a pretty ryokan retreat. If that sounds like heaven, then consider these top onsen destinations across Japan when planning a future stay in this captivating country of contrasts.
Looking at Hokkaido, Japan's northern major island out of the four that exist, there are over 250 onsens in this beautiful part of the country, which is often overlooked in favor of tourist traps like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Noboribetsu in particular is one of the most famous onsen resorts in the region, whose heated waters come from the renowned Jigokudani, which translates to "Hell Valley." Full of sumptuous hot springs, traditional culture, and natural scenery, this simply stunning part of Japan is beautifully situated in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park and offers respite from more popular touristic hotspots.
Another lovely onsen town located in southwest Hokkaido's Shikotsu-Toya National Park, this pretty town is situated along Lake Toya - known as "Toyako" in Japanese. Guests of this picturesque resort can soak up unparalleled views of the crystal clear Lake Toya and the volcanic Mount Usu in the distance whilst bathing in the serene onsen baths, which sounds utterly divine. It's not just about lazing in warm water in front of a postcard-perfect backdrop though - the area is also a fantastic place to partake in outdoor adventures, including fishing and hiking.
Regularly cited as one of the prettiest onsen villages in Japan, this tranquil onsen village in northern Japan's Yamagata prefecture is called Ginzan, which means "Silver Mountain" in the Japanese language. The apt name comes from the village's beautiful mountain location, which provides breathtaking vistas and a unique otherworldly feel throughout one's stay. Interestingly, the area is a delightful blend of natural scenery and old-world architecture and buildings along the river, many of which date back to the 19th century.
Takaragawa onsen has previously been selected as the best riverside onsen by Lonely Planet, and anyone who steps foot on the premises will see exactly why it's so worthy of such prestige. Situated in the "Kingdom of Onsen" in Gunma prefecture, Takaragawa boasts a serene mountainous riverside location amidst untouched nature and is a perfect retreat away from major cities. It is famous for its enormous outdoor baths along the river and is easily one of Honshuu Island's, or even Japan's, most scenic onsen resorts - especially in winter when the place is covered in snow.
Kusatsu is undoubtedly one of the most famed onsen towns in Japan and has even won several "best onsen town in Japan" awards over the years. The town's “Yubatake," which means "hot water field," is the main spectacle, and is the onsen's main source of hot spring water. All around the Yubatake are traditional hotels and shops, which gives the place a magical feel and makes the entire area seem like a dreamy scene right out of a historic Japanese book or a Studio Ghibli movie.
5 Kawaguchi Lake
Kawaguchi Lake is one of the best onsen destinations around Mt.Fuji, with plenty of quintessential Japanese hotels and traditional ryokans nestled right by the lake. What truly makes this place so special, however, is the spectacular view of Mt. Fuji to be taken in whilst bathing in the warm onsen baths - it really doesn't get any more "Japanese vacation" than that.
The charming Shibu onsen town in Nagano prefecture may be small, but it makes up for it with its lovely local shops, traditional bathhouse, and stone-paved streets that all exude an old-worldly atmosphere and nostalgic feel. What's more, Shibu is also close to Jigokudani Monkey Park - made famous for the cheeky monkeys who enjoy bathing in the park's heated onsen waters.
This gorgeous town in northwest Kanagawa prefecture is a popular retreat for Tokyo-dwellers since it's one of the most accessible onsen towns from Japan's capital. Beautiful architecture, traditional culture, and inviting hot springs aside, Hakone has more than just rest and relaxation on the cards: the town also offers an all-round holiday with its fascinating museums, superb shops and restaurants, pretty lakes, mighty mountains, and of course, an unbeatable view of the one and only Mt. Fuji.
Nestled in Matsuyama city in Ehime prefecture, Dogo is renowned for being the oldest and most historic onsen in Japan, which according to historians and evidence, was discovered as far back as ancient times over 3,000 years ago. Built in 1894, Dogo onsen's stunning and traditional public bathhouse may indeed look familiar to guests - it's said to have been the inspiration and model for the onsen bathhouse in the Studio Ghibli movie Spirited Away.
Finally, heading south to Oita prefecture on Japan's southern island of Kyushu, visitors will find an astonishing number of onsens. Known as "onsen prefecture" by the Japanese, Oita has the highest amount of hot spring sources in the country and produces the largest volume of hot spring water in all of Japan. Beppu in particular is a very famous onsen hotspot and is home to around 2,000 hot spring sources that have paved the way for many unique onsen experiences and treatments to be available here. Guests to Beppu's onsens can enjoy trying a variety of different baths, including steam, sand, mud, and more, and can also experience plenty of hot spring-themed attractions and activities, such as the Beppu "hell tour" and "onsen steam cooking."