As global tourism kicks back into gear, it might finally be time to start planning that long-postponed visit to Japan. Whether you’re eager to explore historical Kyoto or mainly want to carve up the powder of Hokkaido’s mountains, no Japan trip is complete without a visit to some hot springs, temples and shrines.
Since late 2018, the folks at Rakuten Mobile have been traveling the country, building Japan’s newest mobile network. Below are a few of their favorite spiritual and soakworthy spots.
Often called the ‘samurai shrine’, Atsuta shrine was originally built nearly 2,000 years ago to house the legendary Japanese sword kusanagi no tsurugi. In addition to 1,000-year-old trees and beautifying spring water, the shrine’s expansive grounds (covering some 190,000 m2) have a number of ‘power spots.’ One notable example is the Nobunaga Bei wall, built by 16th-century warlord Oda Nobunaga after he defeated an invading army ten times the size of his own in 1560.
Travel further west and you might find yourself looking up at Mt. Zozu in the town of Kotohira. You will need to climb some 785 stone steps to get to Konpira Shrine (or 1,368 steps to get to the inner shrine!), but thankfully there are plenty of places to rest your weary legs on the way back down: The site also happens to be a hot spring, and the bustling path up the mountain offers plenty of spots to soak.
The ancient capital of Kyoto is a popular destination for those looking to experience the spiritual heart of Japan, and Yasaka Shrine does not disappoint. The shrine’s role in modern society seems more relevant than ever: Each July it plays host to the spectacular Gion Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s ‘three great festivals,’ dedicated to driving away plague and other diseases.
Poet Matsuo Basho’s iconic travel diary Oku no Hosomichi, published over 300 years ago, describes a wandering journey to the north of Japan. On his way, the poet rested his weary feet in the hot spring town of Iizaka Onsen. Today considered one of the ‘three great onsens of Oshu,’ the town boasts nine communal baths and four footbaths, including Sabakoyu – one of the oldest communal bathhouses in Japan.
If you happen to be traveling westwards during winter, you could well stumble upon a rather peculiar spectacle: On a freezing night each February, 10,000 men strip down to sumo loincloths to jostle for several hours in pursuit of the shingi, a small wooden stick that will bring one lucky worshipper good fortune and good health for the coming year. The Saidaiji Eyo, or ‘naked festival,’ has continued for some 500 years, each winter drawing enthusiastic participants from across Japan and the world.
If you prefer a more relaxed adventure, Asamushi in far northern Japan might be just the ticket. Discovered around 1,000 years ago, this seaside onsen hotspot looks out over Yunoshima, or ‘hot water island,’ which, as the name suggests, enjoys warm waters from the thermal springs pouring into the bay. In the summer months, Asamushi Onsen is also a popular destination for swimming, windsurfing, yachting, fishing and forest bathing.