Thermal therapy in Japan’s hot springs: The top spots

A trip to Japan isn’t complete without a relaxing soak in the soothing thermal waters of a mountain hot spring.

Japan’s onsen hot springs have been a staple of life in Japan for eons, and they are as popular as ever today. Often surrounded by breathtaking scenery and beautiful nature, onsen are the perfect destination for weary travelers, from wherever they may hail. Rakuten’s online travel portal Rakuten Travel compiled a list of Japan’s most popular onsen destinations based on data from 2019. Here are a few of the most notable spots to check out on your next Japan getaway.

Experience the high life in Kinugawa Onsen, Tochigi Prefecture

This gem of an onsen town has been a favorite of Tokyo travelers for centuries. This exquisite locale is now completely open to the traveling visitor but Kinugawa (which some say means “silken river”) was once exclusively for those wealthy and powerful enough to gain access.

The “Kinugawa Line Down” cruise allows travelers to enjoy the river from the comfort of traditional wooden longboats.

The natural thermal waters are said to be therapeutic and good for nerve pain. Outdoor hot springs line the scenic Kinugawa River, and adventurers can hop out of the tub and take a boat tour that boasts magnificent views of the valley.

Seven ways to enjoy Nasu Onsen, Tochigi Prefecture

Located near an active volcano, Nasu Onsen has a history spanning over 1,300 years. The region is famous for its milky, sulfurous thermal waters, and visitors can enjoy seven different styles of onsen.

Nasu Onsen is one of the oldest hot spring spots in Japan.

Once thoroughly relaxed (in seven different ways!) travelers can wander around the rustic setting to drink in the long history of the area. Nearby attractions include theme parks and skiing during the winter.

The incredibly instagenic Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma Prefecture

If you aren’t taking pictures at every turn, can you really call it a Japan trip? Kusatsu Onsen provides the perfect mix of pleasant onsen experiences and instagenic scenery to show off to the folks back home.

After the sun goes down, Kusatsu Onsen transforms into a magical spectacle of lights.

With a plethora of spots to snap selfies and scenery, it’s little wonder that visitors are encouraged to bring their cameras. The town also hosts a must-see performance called the Yumomi Show, which gives a rare glimpse into how the onsen workers cool the scathing water to bathing temperature using traditional paddles.

Kusatsu Onsen’s Yumomi Show attracts crowds from around the world.

Astonishing variety in Beppu Onsen, Oita Prefecture

This large onsen field is home to more hot springs than anywhere else in Japan.

One of Japan’s most famous onsen destinations, Beppu is located in the southern island of Kyushu. For many in Japan, the name Beppu is synonymous with onsen, and for good reason: The region is home to thousands of different hot springs.

Shidaka Lake, located near Beppu Onsen, offers nature lovers a wealth of outdoor activities.

Notable are the seven Hells of Beppu, famous for their unique hues, unbearable heat and thermal mud. Many visitors take it upon themselves to do the jigoku-meguri, or the “tour of hell.”

Chinoike Jigoku, or “Blood Pond Hell,” is every bit as intense as the name suggests.

A stone’s throw from Tokyo: Atami Onsen, Shizuoka Prefecture

Straddling the Pacific, Atami’s extravagant fireworks shows entertain guests year-round.

Atami (meaning “warm sea”) can be reached in as little as 47 minutes by train from Tokyo Station. In addition to the region’s centuries-old onsen history, this seaside location is also a very popular beach resort, making it a great destination for any time of the year.

In summer, visitors can enjoy both beach and onsen.

Visitors to Atami will find themselves surrounded by a waterfall of delights, including delicious sweets, mystical shrines, a magnificent hilltop castle, resort facilities and of course, great hot springs. If the bustling metropolis of Tokyo is wearing you down, adding a trip to Atami to your itinerary might be just the thing.

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