Few things are more delightful than a soak in a hot spring (onsen). Whether during the lingering September heat, the chill of autumn or bluster of a snowy winter, a dip in mineral rich water is as good for the heart and mind as it is for the body. Aside from the waters, onsen resorts offer plenty of R&R such as hiking and sightseeing, not to mention fabulous cuisine featuring local delicacies. Most resorts have gender mixed and gender segregated baths, and day trippers as well as staying guests are welcome during scheduled times, though usually with an admission fee. Let's take a look at a few outstanding places, some a bit more mysterious and secluded, others more well-known as destination spots.
Nyuto Onsen-kyo Village (Akita)
Nestled among the beech trees in the picturesque mountains in northeastern Japan is the hot spring village of Nyuto. The village contains seven hot spring resorts, each with their own distinct personality and each with their own hot spring sources and their own ryokan, or “inn”. Some are rustic and traditional, others are modern and hotel-like, suiting all manner of budgets and tastes. For those who'd like to sample the different types of hot springs, "onsen-hopping" passes are available at each facility. As this area is not nearly as heavily visited as other onsen resorts, it offers a restful and serene experience.
Here's a quick glance at four of the seven onsen that comprise Nyuto Onsen-kyo Village.
Dating back to the 1600s, this is the oldest resort in the village. It has four baths, one of which has drinkable water, and all have different types of water. The main building has a traditional thatched roof and speaks of a long, rich history. Its name stems from hearsay that a local hunter once saw an injured crane (tsuru) tending to its wounds in the hot spring.
This onsen has a modern, sophisticated atmosphere and is very popular among female visitors. The two hot spring sources, Kin-no-yu (gold hot spring) and Gin-no-yu (silver hot spring) both have open-air and indoor baths.
Kuroyu is the onsen snuggled deepest into the village. With its Edo era flavor, it is the second oldest onsen next to Tsurunoyu. There are three outdoor and five indoor pools, and some of the water is cool enough for children to enjoy.
This is the most modern facility of all the Nyuto Onsen resorts. Its hotel-style building offers reasonable prices compared to many of the other inns. Covered outdoor baths protect bathers from inclement weather.
Please check with each onsen to see open dates, as many in Nyuto are closed during the snowiest part of the year.
For more information on the Nyuto Onsen Village, please visit here.
Ibusuki Onsen Hot Spring (Kagoshima)
Ibusuki Onsen refers to the many hot springs located in the famous resort area in the eastern part of Ibusuki in Kagoshima, on the southern tip of Kyushu. Aside from regular hot springs, sunamushi, or sandbaths, are very popular. “Suna” means sand and “mushi”, from the verb “musu”, meaning to steam; visitors partaking in sunamushi are buried up to their necks in the hot sand along the beach, wearing only a yukata. Sunamushi is said to provide health benefits similar to bathing in hot springs (the sands are heated by the natural subterranean geysers that provide heat to the hot springs), plus you can enjoy the sounds and smells of the sea while you lie buried under the sand. You might feel a bit like a wet noodle after all that sweating, but after a shower and some cool down time, you'll feel nicely invigorated!
For lodging, the beautifully situated Ibusuki Hakusuikan hotel has had its praises sung both inside and outside of Japan. Built along the ocean, this modern hotel-style ryokan with a variety of hot spring baths and sandbaths has an expansive garden of one thousand pines.
For more information on Ibusuki Hakusuikan, visit here.
Atami Onsen Hot Spring (Shizuoka)
Only a one-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo Station gets you to one of Japan's most well-known hot spring villages, which dates back about 1250 years. Atami is a beautiful seaside resort with a warm, pleasant climate that has been favored by such personages as the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and prime ministers, as well as folks looking for a romantic getaway, or just some time away from the stress of daily life.
While Atami is a great day trip, there is plenty to enjoy by stretching out your visit. Plan on staying at the historic Furuya Ryokan, established in 1806. To add a touch more luxury to your stay, ask for one of the guest rooms that has a private outdoor bath. All the rooms are very spacious and come equipped with generous amenities and the service is top-notch. For a nice little side trip, visit Jikkoku Toge, a mountain pass located about twenty minutes driving time from the Furuya Ryokan where you can see an unparalleled view of Mount Fuji.
For those wishing to indulge themselves a bit more, head to Atami Fufu for a modern and luxurious spa experience. A bit off the beaten path, this hotel offers high-end, personalized care from the moment you arrive.
For more information, please visit -
Kusatsu Onsen Hot Spring (Gunma)
Three million tourists a year visit this small town among the mountains in the center of Japan's main island. The Kusatsu onsen has been chosen by Japan's top travel agents such as H.I.S. and NTA as Japan's #1 hot spring. Attractive hiking courses and ski resorts make Kusatsu a dynamic and exciting destination spot any time of year.
For more information, please visit here.
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