There are more than 27,000 known hot springs across Japan, from which gush an estimated 2.5 million liters of scalding hot water every minute. With such an abundance of volcanic H₂O, it’s little wonder that a dip in the local onsen is considered an essential part of any trip in Japan — for domestic and international travelers alike.
Rakuten Travel is one of Japan’s leading online travel agencies, connecting travelers with hotels, airlines, bus tours and more. The platform pooled its reservation data for 2022 to find out which of the country’s nearly 3,000 hot spring towns attracted the most visitors.
Atami Onsen: Pacific views from the tub
Topping Rakuten Travel’s 2022 rankings for the ninth year running was Atami Onsen in Shizuoka Prefecture. The town lies on the east coast of the Izu Peninsula and is famous for its marriage of beach and hot spring resort. It’s also just 40 minutes on the bullet train from Tokyo — a contributing factor to its enduring popularity.
In 2022, the town held its traditional fireworks festival over the ocean for the first time since its usual, pre-pandemic scale. Locals are proactively diversifying tourism offerings to include floating obstacle courses off the beach, tuk-tuks and 8-person bicycles, and the summer period saw a 90% jump in stays over the previous year.
Beppu Onsen: Japan’s hot spring heartland
Tucked away in Oita Prefecture on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu is Beppu Onsen. The town is home to more than 10% of all of Japan’s hot springs — over 2,000 hot spring vents produce more geothermal water than any other region in the world, save for Yellowstone in the United States.
The vast selection of baths in Beppu can be overwhelming, but the town has proven to be a popular destination for family and group trips, with reservation data revealing an influx of younger travelers under the age of 30. Locals have leaned into this youth appeal, revamping the town’s theme park and stoking buzz on social media, helping it snag the number two spot on Rakuten Travel’s rankings.
Nasu Onsen: Stony springs to soak your soul
Nasu Onsen lies in Tochigi Prefecture, just an hour north of Tokyo on the bullet train. The mountainous region is home to a number of ski resorts, making it a popular getaway both in summer and winter. (Nothing beats a long soak in the onsen after a day on the slopes!)
In March 2022, Nasu Onsen caused a stir when the town’s mythical Sessho-seki (killing stone) — believed to be the transformed corpse of an evil nine-tailed fox and said to kill anyone foolish enough to touch it — split in two, prompting the local government to call in priests to pacify the beast’s spirit.
In addition to soaking in volcanic rock pools (and observing sacred stones from a safe distance), Nasu Onsen offers a variety of experiences including confectionary making, eco-friendly restaurants and cheese workshops. Rakuten’s reservation data revealed a 40% jump in visitors from family groups compared to previous years, landing it the third spot in the rankings.
Rounding off Rakuten Travel’s top five were Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma Prefecture — known for its yubatake hot water fields — and the outdoor seaside rock pools of Shirahama Onsen in Wakayama Prefecture.