After a day hiking the mountains, carving up the slopes, or just relaxing and enjoying Nozawa Onsen’s laid back natural beauty, onsen hopping through the town is the best way to unwind and make the most of everything this stunning corner of Japan has to offer. The mountainous village has been regarded as one of Japan’s most impressive onsen hubs, and it currently boasts 13 public onsen baths as well as countless other private onsen facilities.
Today the public baths are still cared for by the townspeople. It’s incredibly important to be respectful, and conscientious when using the baths, because even though many guests may only be here for a short time, for the locals these baths are an integral element in their daily health and wellness routines. Here’s a crash course in the best onsen baths in the area, and how to make the most of the Nozawa’s public onsen experience.
Given the recent rise in popularity among foreign guests, many of the onsen baths now feature an English and Japanese signage on how to best use the onsen. Before hopping in the bath, take a little look at this guide, so you know just what you’re in for. Some of the rules are pretty common sense, like don’t eat or drink in the bath, but other tips on where to dry off and how to use the lockers will be handy.
If you do plan on doing quite a bit of onsen hopping, which is highly recommended, then consider joining the Nozawa Onsen stamp collecting route. Created by the Nozawa Onsen Tourism Association office, you can pick up a stamp collection booklet from the Tourism Office and souvenir shops for 454 yen. Outside each of the baths along the route, you’ll find a rubber stamp, once you’ve visited a bath, stamp your book. Once you have collected 10, you can return the booklet to the office to receive your prize; a free commemorative onsen towel.
Although your onsen hopping options are almost endless, there are a few baths we recommend visiting when you’re in town. Asagama-no-yu, is one of the baths favored by the locals, so you know it’s good. With water that’s not quite as hot as some of the others, it’s the perfect introduction to the onsen experience; there’s also a communal laundry behind this bathhouse building, perfect for those who want to get some chores done.
A little more modern than Asagama-no-yu, Kawahara-yu still boasts traditional hot spring charm, the water is said to be perfect for those suffering from skin ailments, but it can get very hot, so do be careful. Right by Kawahara-yu you’ll find O-yu, which positioned right in the center of Nozawa Onsen is one of the towns most iconic bathhouses. With its rustic Edo-era charm, O-yu is the biggest bathhouse in Nozawa, making it an accessible and must visit stop off. Another large bathhouse choice is Nakao-no-yu, which is constructed in a temple-style design. Perfect for families or traveling friends, it can accommodate larger groups, so even when the town gets busy it’s a relatively failsafe option.
For something on the more intimate side, head to Shinden-no-yu, a bath that can fit a maximum of around five to six guests. Although the more mild water of this bath looks clear when it runs into the tub, in reality, it has a much milker texture and is great for smooth skin.
Finally, Taki-no-yu is the highest bath in the onsen area, with locals claiming that it’s the ideal spot for those recovering from illnesses. So if you’re feeling a little under the weather and want a speedy recovery, try it out.