Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (2022)

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (1)Takimikan at Ginzan Onsen

Lia is an Aussie based in Tokyo with a passion forexploring the lesser known, and learning people’s life stories. She loves to seek outryokan traditional accommodation with private onsen hot spring baths, discoverhidden sushi omakase gems or curl up in her Totoro bed with a good book. If not travelling in Japan or abroad, her days are spent in her studio, Tokyo Kaleidoscope, reconstructing vintage Japanese silk kimonos into bespoke pieces for herself and others.

A lover of onsen staycations within Japan, she has spent numerous winters enjoying hot springsaround the country. We asked her to shareher favourite onsen ryokan experiences in the northern Tohoku region.

5 TOHOKU WINTER ONSENS TO RELAX IN

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (2)Aoni Onsen in Aomori Prefecture

Living in Japan, one isfortunate to experience its iconic elements like seeing Mt. Fuji through the window as the bullet train speeds towards your next adventure, eating delicious sushi in a tiny restaurant tucked away in one of the side streets, sippinglocal sake in a hidden bar, walking amidst the cherry blossoms blooming in the sun or snowboarding down a mountain covered in the softest, powdery snow.

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However one of my favourite aspects of living in Japan, is soaking in a deliciously hot outdoor onsen surrounded by nature, away from the crazy hustle and bustle of Tokyo life, and the Tohoku region has some of the best remote onsen towns to relax in.

TSURU NO YU - Nyuto Onsen, Akita Prefecture

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (3)Tsuru no Yu, mixed-gender onsen

Akita Prefecture lies on the north western side of Honshu. The name Akita means “autumn rice paddy” and the area is famous for its rice farming, sake breweries and of course thepopular Akita dog. The region is also renowned for the beautiful women of the region “Akita bijin,’ (秋田美人, 'beauties of Akita’).
In present day, the term “Akita bijin” has been used to promote many aspects of the Akita culture, whether it'scosmetics, food, travel,and of course the region's healing and beautifying hot spring waters.

Nestled at the foot of Mt. Nyuto amidst a beech forest, lies the oldest onsen ryokan Tsuru no Yu in Nyuto Onsen town. Over 300 years old, Tsuru no Yu is a throwback to an era gone by when samuraiand lords would visit this magical onsen for its healing properties. The spring's name comes from when a local hunter saw the majestic white crane healing its wounds in the spring, and thus it was called “Tsuru no Yu (crane’s hot spring)”.

The mixed-gender onsen, with its milky turquoise bluewaters, is perhaps its most iconic and popular feature.Soaking in its waters as snow flurriesgently drift down upon you is truly a magical time. As the waters are milky blue, you cannot see other people'sbody parts (and the female’s entrance is sheltered). However, if you’re still not comfortable with mixed nudity, ladies have the option of their own outdoor onsen with the same waters. Similar in size, it’s framed with hinoki wood instead of rocks.

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (4)The ladies only public onsen bath at Tsuru no Yu

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AONI ONSEN - Kuroishi, Aomori Prefecture

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (5)Open-air onsen bath at Aoni Onsen

Resting at the top of Japan’s main island Honshu is Aomori Prefecture, one of my favourite prefectures in Japan to explore (almost contemplated buying an akiya empty house to renovate). Lush greenery, waterfalls and a large glimmering lake awaityou in Oirase Gorge in Towada-area,Hirosaki City has one of the prettiest cherry blossom spots to see in spring, andAomori City hosts the stunning NebutaFestivalin the summer.Travel deep into the mountains of Kuroishi to relax inmy favourite rustic mountain onsen.

Lit only by traditional oil lamps, Aoni Onsen takes you backfrom themodern lifethat we’ve become accustomed too, for generally there is no electricity in the buildings (I think maybe now there’s some for the kitchen fridge), the property is so deep in the mountains that no reception comes through for your phones, so youcan properly disconnect and just appreciate existence.

As common with these remote onsen ryokans, there is a main mixed open-air bath onsen (which is generally the prettiest bath) of a large rockrotenburo outdoor bath and round barrel overlooking the Aoni river valley, and various gender-separated options. For the popular mixed open-air bath, there is a ladies only time of 11-12pm and 5-6pm.

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (6)Oil lamps lighting the baths at Aoni Onsen

TSUCHIYU BETTEI SATONOYU - Tsuchiyu Onsen, Fukushima Prefecture

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (7)Hinoki wood bath at Tsuchiyu Bettei Satonoyu

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The third largest prefecture in all of Japan (after Hokkaido and Iwate), and the closest from Tokyo, Fukushima came to international attention after the 2011 Earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster. Nowadays the area is slowly reclaiming and revitalising itself. There’s much to experience in Fukushima, from one of the prettiest, preserved samurai towns of Aizu Wakamatsu (and a stunning castle), through a plethora of sake breweries to sip and savour, its abundance of fruit production and fruit picking activities (Fukushima is dubbed the “Kingdom of Fruits” in Japan), to stunning natural scenery and numerous onsen towns to soak in.

Tsuchiyu Onsen town is located at the heart of Mt. Azuma and its history stretches for over 1000 years. Here you can spend days strolling through this charming, quaint traditional onsen town, where various shops sell the town’s famous Kokeshi dolls oreven joina Kokeshi Doll workshop. Several onsen ryokans are available to enjoy, but for those wishing for a little bit of luxury in their relaxation, book a stay at the gorgeous, boutique Tsuchiyu Bettei Satonoyu located in the Bandai Asahi National Park. With only 9 rooms available (including 1 independent cottage), the attention to detail and service arewonderful. Rooms are designed in a simplistic, modern yet traditional Japanese styleby some of the finest craftsmen in Japan, all with indoor baths that have a hot spring source (two rooms have private outdoor onsen baths available). There are three onsen baths available to enjoy within the premises, all of which are private.Simply book forthe time you wish to go with the staff. My favourite is Shinpeki, their outdoor rotenburo and hinoki wood bath located in the forest itself.

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (8)Outdoor rotenburo bath at Tsuchiyu Bettei Satonoyu

YUUKAEN - Hanamaki Onsen, Iwate Prefecture

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (9)The indoor onsen porcelain tile mural in Yuukaen

Said to be the last untouched frontier of Japan by the locals, Iwate Prefecture is abundant in natural beauty, with 5% of its total land area designated as national parks. Iwate has four distinct areas, the urban capital of Morioka,Miyako City known for its picturesque coastline,the famed “City of Folklore” also known as Tono, andHanamaki-famed for its many historical and cultural sites, a plethora of steaming onsen and various sake breweries.

Many of these sake breweries only sell within the prefecture themselves, and are acclaimed throughout the country. So if you ever visit make sure to pick up a few bottles, especially those produced by Naotaka Kawamura of Kawamura Shuzo, the self-proclaimed “sake outlaw”. His bottles are only found in a few select restaurants and shops approved by the man himself.

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After sipping your way through the sake and wine breweries in Hanamaki, relax in a ryokan in Hanamaki Onsen Minami Gorge. One of the prettiest and most stunning onsen ryokans I’ve stayed in is Yuukaen. Designed by palace carpenters, the majority of the buildinghas been made usingthe traditional ancient craftsmanship of tsugite (other names: kigumi and kanawatsugi) where no nails or bolts are used. It is the beautiful wood joinery often found in temples, shrines, andpalaces where every detailis a perfect puzzle piece fitting together perfectly. The ceilings are constructed in the goubuchi style which is formed via a regular division pattern by assembling the rims vertically, horizontally, and squarely. There are several open-air and indoor onsen to enjoy, and in fact Yuukaen has some of the largest ones to relax in within Iwate Prefecture.

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (10)The natural landscape of Iwate Prefecture

TAKIMIKAN - Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata

Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (11)Main street of Ginzan Onsen

Until the Meiji Restoration knownas part of the Dewa province, Yamagata Prefecture is surrounded by mountains on its borders, the most famous being “Dewa Sanzan (The Three Mountains of Dewa)”:the sacred trio of Mount Haguro, Mount Hassan and Mount Yudono. It's a popular pilgrimage site and a place where you may see the Japanese mountain monks “Yamabushi” paying reverence to nature. Out of the three mountains, Mount Haguro is the only one accessible year round and is the location of the “Gojunoto”, the famous five story pagoda, a national treasure.

The prefecture is also renowned for being home to Ginzan Onsen, with one of Japan'sprettiest winter onsen town sceneries. Built on the site of a former silver mine, this tiny onsen town (which can easily be walked around in about 15 minutes or less if you’re not taking photos) is extremely popular for its old world atmosphere, especially in winter when the snow covers its traditional ryokan buildings creating a nostalgic winterscape.

Various small onsen ryokans line the small streets bordering the Ginzan River, with many booked out a year in advance during certain seasons. Its most popular and largest ryokan is Ginzanso at one end of the town, however, nestled at the top of the hills on the other side of Ginzanis Takimikan “The Soba & Waterfall Inn”. Overlooking Shirogane waterfalls, it's a charming boutique ryokan built in the Taisho Roman style with only 14 rooms. Beautiful snowy mountain views greet you every winter morning from your window, and its panoramic open-air rotenburo is magnificent to soak in and appreciate the stunning natural landscape.

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Best Onsen Hot Springs in North Japan | Blog | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization) (12)Tsuru no Yu onsen in Akita Prefecture

Whether you want to find that picture-perfect onsen town or relax and enjoy a digital detox, you can find it all and more in the northern Tohoku region with itsstunning natural views and rejuvenating onsen hot springs. Long soaks after thrilling days filleed withwinter adventures await!

Follow Lia as she explores more areas of Japan intimately, over on her IG @ryokanwanderings or have a read of her blog: Ryokan Wanderings for even more stories and adventures.

FAQs

What is the most popular onsen in Japan? ›

Kusatsu is considered the foremost onsen in Japan. It is supplied with large volumes of hot water, “said to cure every illness but lovesickness”. There, you can visit multiple hot springs free of admission fees. A number of resorts and inns are available, as well as shops and cafes.

Do you wear clothes in an onsen? ›

No Clothes Allowed

No clothes or bathing suits are allowed in the onsen bathing areas. People try hard to preserve the cleanliness of onsen. They are somewhat sacred places. Clothes and bathing suits can bring dirt and soap into the hot spring waters from outside and are, therefore, considered unhygienic.

Where in Japan has the best hot springs? ›

Located in Oita Prefecture, Beppu is Japan's iconic, renowned Onsen region. In Beppu City there is hundreds of hot springs with different atmospheres, but they are distributed mainly in eight hot spring spots so Beppu City is also referred as Beppu Hatto (meaning 8 springs in Japanese).

What should you not do in an onsen? ›

What not to do in an onsen
  • wear ANY clothes or swimsuits in the bathing area; the small towel can be used to cover yourself when out of the water. ...
  • submerge your face or head, it is considered unclean.
  • yell or speak loudly, onsen are for relaxing.
  • run, the stone floors are usually slippery when wet.
12 Oct 2022

How long should you sit in an onsen? ›

The amount of time you should stay in the bath depends on the bath temperature, but generally the first dip should be 5 to 10 minutes. For a lukewarm bath, this may be 30 minutes. Spend about 10 minutes in a high temperature bath. Any longer and this could wear you out or cause an accident.

How long should you stay in an onsen? ›

The recommended duration of soaking is not more than 15 to 20 minutes. It's important to note that immersing yourself in hot water for too long will excessively raise your blood pressure or heart rate, causing dizziness and discomfort.

Do you have to wash your hair in onsen? ›

Don't worry about washing your hair in Onsen. They have washing shower booth. You wash your hair and body in there, after that you wrap your hair up in a towel, and take a hot-spring bathtub. You could take a dryer after you finish take a bath.

Do you wash after onsen? ›

Don't take a shower after you have finished bathing

Medicinal components in the water will get washed off in the shower, and their effects will be reduced. If your skin is sensitive and easily irritated, please do rinse yourself off with fresh water.

Do you wear a bra under a kimono? ›

A kimono bra is ideal, but if not, a sports bra or non-wire bra is recommended. If you don't have it, keep in mind the following and choose from what you have.

What do you wear in an onsen? ›

2: You Must be Completely Naked. There is no way around this one. In Japan, clothing, towels, and any other garment that may be worn are considered sullied or “dirty” and should never, ever be brought into an onsen. Nudity is thus expressly required, but really, it's no big deal.

What time is best for onsen? ›

Onsen experience is available all year round, but the best season for this activity is winter, when you can warm yourself up and give your tired body a chance to relax and free your mind.

Why do Japanese wear towels in hot springs? ›

Manners Whilst in the Onsen

You cannot put your towel inside the hot spring water. The towel is used for washing the body, so if you put it in the water, you could dirty the water. You can either place it on your head, or leave it in the washroom instead.

Do people wear towels in onsen? ›

Take off ALL your clothes

In Japan, it's considered “dirty” to wear anything but your birthday suit in an onsen. Nudity is required, but fear not; you won't see *anything* in the water, and towels/robes are often provided to cover your bits.

What is a smelly onsen? ›

The smell of salt

Some onsen waters give off the smell of the sea or, more accurately, the smell of sea water evaporating. Not surprisingly, this smell is found frequently in onsen by the seaside where there is a higher concentration of chloride in the onsen water. It brings to mind the sights and sounds of the sea.

Can you wear a swimsuit in Japanese onsen? ›

They are not allowed. The onsen tradition is to be completely naked when you get in. However, there are a lot more onsen that are becoming coed and also allow bathing suits. Just double check with your onsen before trying to wear a bathing suit.

Can you talk in an onsen? ›

It is perfectly acceptable to talk in the onsen. In fact many people go there with friends or family members to chat in a relaxed setting. Rowdiness, however, is not acceptable. So just be mindful of everyone's right to enjoy the facilities.

Why do I feel dizzy after onsen? ›

Many people report feeling dizzy or nauseous after their first few times after going to an onsen, and this is usually because of dehydration or overheating from staying in too long.

Should you eat before or after onsen? ›

Before going to an onsen place, have a light meal. As taking onsen consumes a large amount of energy, you may become ill if you take onsen when hungry. You should also have enough hydration.

Should I shave for onsen? ›

A: The answer differs for men and women. In general, it is acceptable for men to shave in the shower area of the onsen, and razors are even provided. For women, it is not generally acceptable to shave in the onsen as this is seen as an activity that should be done privately.

Do you have to shave before onsen? ›

Most Japanese women I've seen at onsen or sentos don't shave, most of the times I was the only one who had shaved. But I don't think anyone cares, it's just personal preference.

What does onsen do to your body? ›

The onsen is the ultimate bathing experience. The hot spring water can relieve tense muscles and the natural or serene surroundings of most Japanese hot springs can help clear your mind. Your body quickly cools after leaving the hot spring which encourages your body to relax and put you into a deeper sleep.

Can I wear makeup to onsen? ›

If you are wearing makeup, your face will need makeup remover! There are some special cases, however, in which guests must refrain from using soaps etc. before entering the onsen.

Why do people put towels on their heads in onsen? ›

Ishii: "If you really want to soak in the Japanese atmosphere, wrap it around your head! Since the towel is still moist with cool water, it will help to prevent blood from rushing to your head as you lower yourself into the onsen.

Can you drink alcohol in onsen? ›

A combination of alcohol and onsen may cause blood circulation to become too efficient and place strain on your heart. There is also a possibility of cerebral anemia due to changes in blood pressure upon exiting the water. Please avoid onsen while drinking or after becoming intoxicated.

What should I know before going to an onsen? ›

Onsen etiquette

Take a shower to cleanse yourself before bathing. Most onsens provide soap and shampoo for you to use. If not, you have to buy some. It's best not to eat before bathing in the onsen, but you need to drink a lot of water before and after your onsen bath.

Can couples go to onsen together? ›

Couple onsens are special spaces where the two of you would never be disturbed by other people. Private onsens in guest rooms, in particular, let you spend time with your sweetheart enjoying the hot spring all day long, without the need to go out the door. The experience is largely different from normal dates.

Why do Japanese drink milk after hot springs? ›

Milk had already been established in Japan as a rich source of nutrients. And now that it was available at sento, it became the perfect way to rehydrate and replenish the body after bathing.

How do you shower in an onsen? ›

How to bathe in an onsen
  1. (1)Rinsing off. Careful attention is required when pouring water over your body in order to acclimate it to high temperatures. ...
  2. (2)When soaking in hot water, first submerge only half of your body. ...
  3. (3)Do not rinse off after bathing in onsen. ...
  4. (4)Keep your body hydrated. ...
  5. (5)Rest and relax.

Can you wear a swimsuit in a hot spring? ›

The minerals in the hot springs water is no more damaging to bathing suits than chlorinated pools, saltwater or hot tubs. However, there are a few keys to keeping it in pristine condition. After you're done enjoying the soothing and rejuvenating waters, be sure to thoroughly rinse your swimsuit in cool water.

Does onsen have mixed gender? ›

The Japanese have perfected the art of onsen, or hot spring baths, for centuries. Traditionally, men and women would bathe together in the same facility, but these days the baths are segregated by gender. Today, konyoku (mixed-gender onsen) are hard to find, with places like Tokyo having bans on such establishments.

Are onsen sanitary? ›

Whether it's a large (communal) or small (individual size) bath, one is always supposed to wash OUTSIDE the tub BEFORE one enters the tub, so technically, everyone is clean. You'll find a washing area with a stool, wash pan and individual showers.

How do you prepare for an onsen? ›

Before entering the onsen bath itself

Wash yourself off – while you will notice that some people rinse themselves before entering a bath (and shower afterward), it's customary (and polite) to thoroughly wash oneself before entering the bath.

Why do Japanese people wear towels in the bath? ›

Things You Should Take To The Sento

The small towels are for washing your body in the bathtub, and for drying off before you return to the dressing room. You can bring the small towel into the bathtub.

What should you not wear in Japan? ›

Also, keep in mind that tatty looking clothing can be frowned upon. Try to wear neat and well-maintained clothing, and keep yourself well-groomed. For example, holes in socks are a big no-no, because you spend lots of time without shoes on – visiting temples, shrines and traditional restaurants etc.

What is Japan's oldest onsen? ›

Arima Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture is said to be the oldest onsen (hot springs) town in Japan, with a history that dates back more than 1,000 years. While the area is small, extending out about a kilometer from the actual resort area, there are a number of hot spring inns and shops in Arima.

Why are onsen popular in Japan? ›

Japanese people have loved onsen since ancient times for the comfort they bring to mind and body. We introduce the beauty benefits and anti-ageing effects offered by hot springs while examining the relationship between the Japanese people and onsen.

Does Japan have mixed gender onsen? ›

They amount to more than 50 mixed-gender onsen and other places where men and women can bathe together in Japan. If you have questions about konyoku onsen, or mixed-gender hot spring, bathing etiquette, please read our Guide to Mixed Gender Onsen in Japan.

Why do onsens not allow tattoos? ›

A visit to the sento is a chance to relax in a spacious, hot bath—or perhaps a sauna—and socialize. This social aspect, however, led many onsen and sento to prohibit tattooed guests. The Japanese taboo toward tattoos stems from their association with members of Japanese organized crime.

Do Japanese people wear towels in hot springs? ›

2: You Must be Completely Naked. There is no way around this one. In Japan, clothing, towels, and any other garment that may be worn are considered sullied or “dirty” and should never, ever be brought into an onsen.

What onsen does to body? ›

The onsen is the ultimate bathing experience. The hot spring water can relieve tense muscles and the natural or serene surroundings of most Japanese hot springs can help clear your mind. Your body quickly cools after leaving the hot spring which encourages your body to relax and put you into a deeper sleep.

Can you wear a towel in an onsen? ›

Many Japanese bring both a small towel and larger one. The smaller one can be used in the bathing area to tie back hair and give yourself a pat down so as to not soak the changing area, and the bigger one you use to give yourself a more thorough dry. Please be sure not to let the towel enter the onsen water!

Are foreigners allowed in onsen? ›

Kinosaki Onsen is the ideal place for a first visit to an onsen town in Japan. It's easily accessible (2.5 hours on the train from Kyoto or Osaka), foreigner-friendly (with signs in English and tattoos allowed), and is oh so pretty.

Do you have to be naked in mixed onsen? ›

Re: Do males have to be naked in mixed onsens? Yes, everyone (male/female) is naked in mixed onsen while in the water. While walking around people likely hold their small towel in front of them.

Do couples bathe together in Japan? ›

In general, the Japanese enjoy taking baths together, and there are different opportunities to do so. It can happen while staying at a hotel together, for example, where the bathroom has a big bathtub.

Should I hide my tattoos when visiting Japan? ›

Rules are very important in Japan, and as there is a no tattoo rule in nearly all pools, onsens and gyms, a foreigner walking up to the desk with tattoos showing is bound to cause concern. Just cover up and keep those tattoos covered and that is acceptable. If you can't cover up, don't go to those environments.

Are tourists with tattoos allowed in Japan? ›

Actually, tattoos are fine in Japan. They're not illegal in any way. You may even see some people walking around with fashion tattoos, especially in Tokyo. Although some people in Japan have tattoos, they are usually hidden underneath clothing.

What is the difference between sento and onsen? ›

While there are obvious similarities between the two – they're both communal hot-water baths and visitors must adhere to certain rules of etiquette – there is one significant difference: onsen are filled with natural volcanic spring water, known for its rich and healing mineral content, while sento simply use heated ...

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