JAPAN’S ONSEN TOWNS
If you like getting into hot water, you’ve come to the right place. Japan is a highly volcanic nation and is blessed with an abundance of onsen resorts; over 3000, up and down the country. The three onsen towns we’ve listed here are known as Japan’s most famous. Happy soaking!
Kusatsu Onsen, in Gunma Prefecture, is the most popular onsen in Japan, attracting over 3 million visitors a year. Kusatsu has the highest flowing volume of hot water in Japan and is home to 18 public baths, with each one said to have a different therapeutic effect. The healing properties can be attributed to the fact that the water here has the highest measure of acidity in Japan, giving it an advantage in killing almost all bacteria. Locals claims that the antibacterial powers of the waters are able to cure any illness in any bather, except for those that are lovesick! Perhaps the most popular attraction in Kusatsu is the Yubatake, or hot water field. This is the town’s main hot water source, with thousands of liters being pumped every minute, and distributed to the bathhouses and ryokans (Japanese inns) in the town. The other popular year-round attraction is the Netsunoyu bathhouse right next to the Yubatake, where visitors can see demonstrations of the ‘yumomi’ tradition, involving local women, stirring the hot water with wooden boards to help cool it down, all performed as a traditional dance.
Kusatsu Onsen©Kusatsu Onsen Tourism Association/©JNTO
Gero Onsen is located in the center of Gifu prefecture and draws over a million visitors each year. It has a long history, having been known as an onsen town since the 10th century. The waters that flow from the springs here are renowned for their healing and revitalizing properties, particularly in assisting with treatment of rheumatism, neurosis, and for dealing with fatigue. Additionally, the waters here have been given the nickname, “bijin no yu,” (waters for the beautiful) because they make the skin soft and smooth. There are many Japanese inns around the Gero region, and many of them open their baths to the public during the day. Wooden passes can be purchased that allow you to try out 3 of the baths, from a selection of over 20 participating onsen, for 1,200 yen. You can pick up one of these Yumeguri Tegata at many of the shops in the area, and best of all you get to hang onto it. They make a great souvenir of your bathing experience. If you don’t feel like taking the plunge, keep your eyes open instead for the numerous foot baths that are located here and there about the city. They are free to use and the perfect way to rejuvenate your feet after spending the day walking around the town.
The final onsen town on the list is Arima, located in the port city of Kobe. This onsen is even older than the one at Gero, said to have been founded by Buddhist monks who built a sanitarium here in the 8th century. It’s location makes it a popular day trip or weekend destination for the residents of Kobe and Osaka, much like the residents of Tokyo favor their nearby onsen town of Hakone. The town has two main types of hot spring water. Kinsen’, (golden spring waters) has high levels of iron deposits, reputedly good for those with skin ailments or sore muscles, while having the adding benefit of adding suppleness to the bather’s skin. ‘Ginsen’ (silver spring waters) contains radium and carbonate which provides relief to those bathers with muscle and joint pain. Arima has two main public bath houses but there are of course an abundance of ryokan who make their hot springs available at various times during the day to the public costing between 500 and 2,500 yen for a long hot soak!
©KUSATSU ONSEN TOURISM ASSOCIATION/©JNTO
Japan's Onsen Towns
NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR