Guides

5 Japanese Hot Springs You Should Visit This Summer

Whip off those clothes, brush up on your onsen etiquette and check out our favourite picks this summer.

Brought to you by Japan National Tourism Organization

Go on a journey of endless discovery in Japan.

We adore Japan, and the good news is it’s even better in summer: hotel prices relax, festival season heats up and the onsen are plentiful. These cleansing pools of mineral-rich water are just as good after a sticky summer day as they are in the cooler months. Japanese people have known this for centuries.

Once you escape the urban heat traps and head to the mountains or the coast, you’ll discover some of the most sublime rotenburo (outdoor onsen) around – many of which are hidden in snow during winter. So whip off those clothes, brush up on your onsen etiquette and check out our favourite picks this summer.

Yamamizuki Kurokawa Onsen, Kumamoto Prefecture

Image: Kurokawa Onsen / JNTO

Where better to seek out the bubbling brooks of Japan than in one of its most charming hot spring towns, Kurokawa Onsen? Nestled in a forested valley near Mount Aso, the storybook village is one you won’t want to miss.

If you really want to make the most of the experience, treat yourself to the full ryokan (Japanese inn) experience at Yamamizuki. Boasting gushing waterfalls and secluded leafy bliss, staying at this traditional inn will plunge you deep into Japanese culture. The main baths are gender separated, though private onsen are available for booking. Wander garden paths between dipping spots, while that sweet summer air rustles your bare skin.

If you’re feeling more modest, a private onsen can be hired by the hour. When dinner comes around, dine on fresh-caught trout, mushrooms, forest vegetables and locally sourced beef in a traditional, intimate setting. If you’re day tripping, take advantage of the free shuttle bus, which runs to and from Kurokawa Onsen.

Healthy Land Tamatebako Onsen Ibusuki, Kagoshima Prefecture

Image: Tamatebako Onsen / JNTO

With a name like Healthy Land, who wouldn’t want to make the journey to this seaside spa paradise? Lie on the beach, soak up powerful volcano views and enjoy the cool ocean breeze. Then try to relax while you’re covered in sand – sand baths are Healthy Land’s specialty. After attendants cover you with sand, you’re left to relax for ten minutes before a refreshing dip in the indoor bath.

The process is said to relieve all kinds of pain and medical conditions, such as rheumatism, period and lower back pain. But if getting buried in sand isn’t for you, there’s always the watery onsen to fall back on. At ¥510 (around AUD$6) you won’t be short on pocket either.

Takama-ga-hara Onsen, Northern Japan Alps, Toyama Prefecture

Image: Japan Alps / JNTO

The best things in life are free – and that also applies to onsen. When that swooping summer sun starts to burn, head north. Then hike up some mountains for a day or two, until you reach a secret hot spring in the middle of the Japanese Alps. Meaning ‘high plain of heaven’ in Japanese, this sanctuary of mineral-rich water is worth the trek – if you’re game enough.

Surrounded by spectacular mountainous peaks, this is reputedly the highest rotenburo (outdoor springs, remember?) in Japan. If you’re looking for golden-gilded accommodation, you won’t find it here. But there’s a mountain hut nearby if you refuse to leave.

Kuroyu Onsen, Nyuto Onsen, Akita Prefecture

Image: Nyuto Onsen / JNTO

Surrounded by beech forest in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, this onsen dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868). Kuroyu’s milky blue springs are closed during the winter months when they’re smothered in snow, so summer is the perfect time to check out the pools at this rustic mountain inn.

Meaning ‘black onsen’ in Japanese, Kuroyu is famous not just for its hot springs, but also for its pitch black hard-boiled eggs. Onsen tamago, or hot spring eggs, are one of many delicacies you’ll discover in Japan and, true to their name, they’re cooked to perfection in the country’s volcanic water ovens. Kuroyu’s egg shells turn black through a chemical reaction to the sulphur, while the egg within stays white.

Kuroyu isn’t only good for weird-coloured eggs – there are indoor and outdoor baths for both Kuroyu guests and day trippers to soak up, featuring mixed and segregated gender pools. Entry for visitors is an easy ¥500, and you can hire a towel for ¥300 if you forgot to bring one. In early summer, keep an eye out for pretty magenta-tipped ‘komakusa’ flowers – also known as the ‘queen of alpine plants’. Respect.

Setouchi Onsen Tamanoyu, Tamano, Okayama Prefecture

Image: Setouchi Onsen / Facebook

Surrounded by cooling ocean mists and the silky web of the island-dotted Seto Inland Sea, Setouchi Onsen Tamanoyu is a good spot to while away a summer’s day. Plush with modern amenities, it’s still packed with traditional charm and that all-important serenity.

A five-minute walk from Uno Port, entry is on the higher scale for hot spring visits – ¥1,500 on weekdays and ¥1,700 on weekends (around AUD$18-$20) – but the experience comes complete with rental towels, loungewear and toiletries.

With indoor and outdoor baths available plus restaurants, masseuses and a sauna on site, there’s really no reason to leave. Doors close at 11pm, so you have some time. Once your skin has truly withered away from all that mineral goodness, slip into a complimentary robe and sink into a reclining chair to watch the sun sink over the mountains.

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(Lead image: Supplied by JNTO)