Soaking in a natural hot spring is a relaxing way to appreciate the beauty and culture of Japan. For beginners, it may seem intimidating to hop into a bath with a group of strangers. However, as soon as you hit the water, all worries will disappear. To further ease any anxiety, be sure to study the rules and customs for bathing in Japan.
Seasoned onsen-lovers may be searching for something more than just a typical hot spring dip. Here are some special onsen experiences you can have in Japan.
Special Onsen Experience: Beppu
Oita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu is home to one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resort areas, Beppu. In fact, the bubbling region produces the most hot spring water than anywhere else in the country. Also, its unique geography from mountains and the sea provides various kinds of natural onsen water depending on the location.
Though the mention of Japanese bathing usually brings an image of clear, pristine water to mind, one special hot spring called Beppu Onsen Hoyoland offers a unique mud bath. Here you can treat your skin to a healthy coat of mud that exfoliates, leaving your skin feeling even cleaner. The outdoor bath is mixed bathing for men and women as the milky water allows for some privacy.
Beppu is also known for its aptly named “Hell Tour” that showcases the area’s hottest and most colorful natural hot springs. One example is the “Lake of Blood,” which received its name based on the red color from iron oxide and magnesium oxide concentration in the water. Other scary yet beautiful pools on the tour include the “Sea of Hell,” “Shaven Monk Head Hell,” “White Pond Hell,” “Tornado Hell,” and “Monster Mountain Hell.”
Beppu is definitely one of the best places for a unique, fun onsen experience in Japan. If you need to know how to get to Beppu, the best way is to fly into Fukuoka Airport or Oita Airport. From there, many express busses go directly to special hot spring destination.
Special Onsen Experience: Kusatsu Onsen
Kusatsu has earned the No.1 spot on Japan’s top 100 hot spring ranking for 17 years in a row, making this resort an obvious addition to this list of fun and interesting onsen experiences. What attracts people to Kusatsu Onsen’s acidic waters is its apparent healing properties that are said to relieve many ailments.
Actually, the natural hot springs are too hot to just jump right into. To cool the water down and mix up the nourishing minerals, local performers use a special method called “yumomi.” The performance involves some folk singing, dancing, and stirring of bathwater with large, wooden paddles. Visitors can even try it for themselves, adding an extra layer of excitement and culture to this fun and special onsen experience.
The high concentration of hydrogen sulfide in the water creates collects and forms a special bath salt called “yunohana.” The phenomenon is proudly displayed at the center of the onsen town and brilliantly lit at nighttime. You can enjoy the magical atmosphere while casually walking around the town in a typical yukata.
Kusatsu Onsen is in Gunma Prefecture, just about 3 hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen. From Karuizawa, you will need to take a bus to Kusatsu Onsen.
Special Onsen Experience: Sand Bath Kagoshima
Another special onsen experience awaits at Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. The coastal area also hosts some active volcanoes, which is ideal for creating natural sand baths. You can even see steam rising from the beach as mineral-rich water bubbling from underground volcanic activity heats the sand. The weight of the heated sand compresses your body and promotes healing and blood flow as you listen to the calming ocean waves.
The best place for this special onsen experience is Ibusuki Sunamushi Onsen. After relaxing in a sand bath, you can get clean and relax even more at one of the many other outdoor natural hot springs in Kagoshima. The best way to get to Kagoshima is by plane. The Kagoshima Airport is located in Kirishima, a great place to start your Kyushu adventure.
Special Onsen Experience: Kawayu Onsen
“Kawayu” literally means river bath. It gets its name from the geothermal activity that bubbles below the river. The special onsen experience here is actually building your own hot spring! That’s right! When you stay at one of the accommodations along the Oto River, you will even be given a shovel so you can get to work digging up the riverbank. This releases the hot spring water flowing below. If it’s too hot, you can just hop back into the crystal-clear river to cool down or dig some more to allow in some river water.
In the winter, a giant outdoor bath called “Sennin-buro River Bath” is available. The name “Sennin” implies the bath is so big that 1,000 people could fit inside. Relax in the warm water in the evening under the brilliant stars, surrounded by the sounds of nature.
Kawayu Onsen is located in Kumano inside Wakayama Prefecture, south of Nara in the Kansai Region. To get to Kawayu Onsen, you can take a bus from Kii-Tanabe and Shirahama.
Special Onsen Experience: Jigokudani Yaen-Koen
Usually, there are many rules on how to behave while bathing inside a Japanese onsen. However, there is one place where nothing but monkey-business is allowed. That is Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano Prefecture, where Japan’s famous snow monkeys go to relax in the mountain’s soothing natural hot springs. Though the area was named “Jigokudani” (hell valley) for its steep cliffs and jagged landscape, it is a paradise for these onsen monkeys.
Seeing the adorable creatures so relaxed bobbing along in their cozy baths is worth seeing, even if it takes a bit of a walk. You should remember not to let your guard down, though. They are still wild animals, after all, no matter how at ease they appear inside the onsen.
This delightful park is more for animal lovers than hot spring lovers. However, there are plenty of onsen meant for humans in the area, if the charming monkeys inspire you to do some relaxing too.
You can easily get to Nagano from Tokyo by Shinkansen. From Nagano Station, you should take Nagano Dentetsu Line Limited Express to Yudanaka Station where a bus waits.
Special Onsen Experience: Izu Capybara Onsen
Like Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, the onsen at Izu Shaboten Zoo in Shizuoka Prefecture is occupied by cute animals. Adorably, capybara, the world’s largest rodents, love to soak in the hot springs, especially when they are filled with citrus, like mikan and yuzu. It is definitely worth a stop for nature lovers, and the hot spring capybaras make great subjects for photos!
To visit the bathing capybara, take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Atami Station. From there, go to Ito Station on the JR Ito Line. Then take a 35-minute bus ride to the park.
Special Onsen Experience: Hakone Kowakien Yunessun
Located in Kanagawa Prefecture, Hakone Kowakien Yunessun offers more than two dozen attraction,s including special onsen experiences like wine, green tea, coffee, and sake filled baths. In fact, the coffee bath is the first of its kind in Japan. Any coffee-lover will enjoy the refreshing aroma as it reduces fatigue and rejuvenates the skin. Additionally, there are themed areas, saunas, lie-down baths, exciting water slides, and fish-filled footbaths to delight guests of all ages. It’s a great place to take the whole family for a special onsen experience in Japan.
For the best ways to get to Hakone, check out our article here.
Special Onsen Experience: Hottakarashi Onsen
For a truly unforgettable and relaxing special onsen experience, head to the mountains of Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture. Here you’ll find Hottakarashi Onsen, an outdoor path with a spectacular view of the region’s vast, mountainous landscape. Most notably, Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji is visible from the bath on a clear day.
What makes this onsen experience truly special is that the bath is open in the early hours so that you can watch the sunrise over the mountains. What an incredible way to start the day!
Being such a remote hot spring, it can be a challenge to get there. No public transportation can take you to the facility, so you need to drive or take a taxi. The taxi fare comes out to about 2,500JPY one way.
Special Onsen Experience: Oedo Onsen Monogatari and Solaniwa Onsen
The best way to describe Tokyo’s Oedo Onsen Monogatari and Osaka’s Solaniwa Onsen is as a hot spring theme park. Inside, great care is given to create a festival-like atmosphere where guests can eat, drink, play games, and walk around in comfortable Japanese yukatas. The setting makes for a special onsen experience and great opportunities for taking fun photos with your friends.
Oedo Onsen Monogatari, in Odaiba, has a beautifully landscaped outdoor bath with a variety of indoor baths under a fabulous mural of Mt. Fuji. Exclusively for ladies, there is a footbath garden and wooden tub baths. More ways to relax while enjoying the atmosphere include saunas, skin scrubs, massages, and bedrock baths. Unfortunately, tattoos are not allowed at Oedo Onsen Monogatari. However, if they are small enough, they may be covered with a bandage.
Osaka’s Solaniwa Onsen boasts various baths that overlook a fabulous Japanese rooftop garden. Nine different baths use natural hot spring water from 1,000 meters below the surface. There are also private baths available for families by reservation, which come with their own scenic gardens. Like Oedo Onsen Monogatari, there are resting areas, restaurants, games, and various relaxation services. Solaniwa is located inside the Osaka Bay Tower.
The theme park experience is what makes these two special onsen so enjoyable. Especially for families, groups of friends, and visitors to Japan, Oedo Onsen Monogatari and Solaniwa Onsen are excellent hot spring destinations.