Onsen of Japan Featured

Combining pleasure and health at Japan’s renowned onsen baths.

by Hilary Keyes

Japan prides itself for having over 27,000 onsen (hot spring) baths across the nation, each with their own distinct style and water quality. Those heavenly natural springs, heated by volcanoes deep in the earth, have the power to ease stress, help bathers relax and detox, and heal the body. For this reason, onsen are a major tourism destination in Japan and a luxury every traveller should take advantage of while touring the country.

Onsen are typically offered to travellers at traditional Japanese inns, known as ryokan, which have either a public shared bath, a private family-type hot spring, or an en suite hot spring — or all together. Shared hot springs are commonly located in and outdoors in the open air — a bath known as rotenburo. Often surrounded by stunning natural or city landscapes, showing the best of Japan’s most splendid season sights, these baths offer an unforgettable way to relax for travellers in Japan.

Wells of health benefits

Hot springs are classified by their water type, each known for its unique health benefits. Chloride springs, the most common type in Japan, are said to improve blood circulation, while sulfuric acid springs are renowned for their ability to reduce pain, combat liver dysfunction, aid with digestive issues, boost blood oxygenation, calm anxiety and help lower blood pressure. Acidic springs are said to help with certain types of eczema and have a strong antibiotic effect. Sulfuric, aluminium and carbonated springs are also beneficial to those with various skin conditions, while iron springs help to promote better blood production. All types of springs also help relieve muscle tension, heal minor cuts and injuries and serve as a profound stress relief.

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Know before you go

Onsen, as public places very much valued by the Japanese people, are, naturally, subject to many rules. Those include no drinking prior to taking a bath, no entry by bathers who are feeling feverish or are menstruating, and no tattoos. The first three rules are for health and hygiene reasons — the heat of a hot spring combined with alcohol or sickness can cause dizziness or cardiac distress, while women who are menstruating may experience increased bleeding. Tattoos, on the other hand, have long been associated with organized crime in Japan, the main reason for banning them from public facilities.

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An onsen is not the same as a bath, and before entering bathers are expected to first go through the adjoining shower facilities. Showering first is important for keeping the onsen clean and to prepare the body for the high temperature of the water. Nakedness also comes with the onsen experience, and while it may be embarrassing at first, remember that everyone else is naked too and they’re almost never watching. After your shower, head into the onsen and enjoy a long soak.

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Where to experience onsen in Tokyo

While Japan’s most superb onsen are usually far from Tokyo, the capital has its own outstanding hot springs that certainly merit a visit.

Surrounded by nature, Utsukushi-no-yu is a place that will easily make you forget that you’re in central Tokyo. This natural hot spring facility has two baths, an indoor and outdoor, the latter of which offers splendid views of trees representing all four seasons.

Tokyo Somei Onsen Sakura is known for its natural springs and beautiful Japanese garden reminiscent of ancient Kyoto. Its nearly 50 degrees Celcius hot bath is recommended for relief of chronic muscle pain or stiffness and stress-related symptoms.

Sayano Yudokoro is a natural onsen, known among users as ‘the most relaxing hot spring in Tokyo.’ This hot spring also has a beautiful Zen garden, produced by the famed garden designer Motomi Oguchi.

When in Tokyo you’ll be surrounded by an incredible array of sights and experiences, and enjoying a luxurious soak in a hot spring is one way to fully take in the depth and charm of Japan’s unique culture.

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