Japan's Hot Springs

Tokyo's Azabu Juban hot spring
is well known for the black water. It's hard to believe but there are a number of natural hot spring baths, or onsen in Tokyo. There are tens and thousands bath houses in Tokyo but most of them are not the natural hot springs except few. In Japan, all bath houses must identify their source of water (heated city water or natural hot spring) by law so it's easy to distinguish the real thing. Azabu retains an almost bucolic charm that can't be found any other cosmopolitan in the world.
The hot spring's setting is most urbanized by locating on the 3rd floor (surrounded by tall building forest) and unsophisticated interiors (tatami floors) but given the fact that the hot spring was famous for many hundreds of years and still surviving after Tokyo became the largest cities in the world. Azabu-Juban hot spring's black water bubbles up to the third floor from 500 meters underground. Its settings and surrounds are not appealing when you compare to the most of beautiful Japanese Ryokan style hot springs but since it's in the smack middle of the busy city, it's significant. The bathing complex includes a sento (public bath) on the first floor, another spring-fed bath on the third floor, a small sauna, a food shop, and a tatami (rice-mat)recreation room where karaoke performances are sometimes held. Men's and women's bathing facilities are separate.

Azabu is just down the hill from Roppongi and the area is home to several foreign embassies and its surrounding upscale residences. In older days, the area was home to largest mansions of feudal lords perched on the hills of Azabu. Now the area is home to many embassies and consulates from all over the world. In 1858, the first foreign consulate in Japan was opened by the United States followed by the famous Commodore Perry's visit to Tokyo. Since then the area has come to host diplomatic missions from around the world. Tel: 03-3404-2610 (Tuesday is closed and the fee is around $12)

Manza Onsen
is located 1,800 meters above sea level on the slopes of Mt. Kusatsu Shirane. t's an alpine hot spring village in Joshinetsu highland national park. You can reach here through Kusatsu onsen or from the main highway from Tokyo. This place is best to visit in the winter time. Manza onsen is know for the high ozone content of the mountain area (there are so many vacation homes around there) and rich minerals (milky water means hydrogen sulfide) that supposedly good for the body. Manza has one of the best ski slopes in central Japan and the Manza prince hotel's great mixed bath outdoor rotenburo is well known for its beauty as well as the people who visits there. Manza Prince Hotel Manza Onsen, Manza, 377-15 Phone: +81 (0) 2799 73111.  Most of hotel's hot spring use fee is included in the fee unless you use it separately like day use and its fees are normally 800 yen to 1200 yen. Manza Onsen hotel's (http://www.manza.co.jp) Gokuraku Yu hot spring (above left) has the finest view. It is located on a covered balcony with a beautiful view of the Shirane mountain range.

Sake is best for the night before snowboarding and milky hot spring after the snowboarding. I often take plastic bottle of good sake then leave it in the hot onsen water to warm for several minutes before start drink.
Manza Onsen's milky spring water is most famous around central Japan.



Kagai onsen, ichi ryokan.

Nagano prefecture Nagano city Matsushiro Cho Tojo 55. Tel:026-278-2016. 300 yen.

The ichi ryokan has the wide garden and the middle of the garden is where the Matsushiro hot spring is locating. The hotel was opened over 800 years ago and operating continuously ever since. This onsens's setting is very uncharacteristic and it seems the time has been frozen since 1920s but it has high quality of mineral contents such as carbon dioxide so it's been well known for curing skin problems especially burn victims during and after the WWII. The ryokan has no business atmosphere and retained the feeling of old bath house and there's no signs of sightseer is felt.

Changing room at the ichi ryokan onsen - simple as a plastic for you where you dump all your belongings without locker or lock. Japan is very trusty society and you don't hear much about thieves.

Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu Onsen is one of Japan's most famous onsen resorts. The entire city of Kusatsu produces an output of as many as 37,000 liters of hot onsen water per minute, and while being equipped with modern facilities, there are around 10 communal small spas throughout the city that are open to public without fees which is the traditions unique to Kusatsu. 

Next to the central onsen Yubatake, there's a place for a traditional cooling process and dancing and singing theater that you must visit.

Such communal spas like Kikan-yu, Yu-momi and others are treasures of onsen lovers. Kusatsu Onsen is blessed with large volumes of high quality hot spring water that suppose to cure every illness but lovesickness.

 Probably the best onsen in Kusatsu - Ohtakinoyu. There are several dipping tubs inside ohtakinoyu that you can taste in different tempetyre.  Well known as hot spring resort for many centuries, Kusatsu's fame was further boasted by German doctor Erwin von Baelz, who served at the imperial court in the late 1800s and recommended Kusatsu for its water's health benefits.

Ikaho Onsen

Ikaho onsen is locating in the central part of Gunma prefecture north of Tokyo and have a very unique charm in the middle of the town where visitors can scale a stone staircase Ishidan-gai (the stone steps street) with 360- steps that boasts a history of over 400years.

The hot spring in Ikaho was said to have found in the 7th century and the spring is of sulfate and of carbonic acid, and its concentration is so high that it sometimes dyes towels red. The source of the spring is on top of the town hill and feeding the hot spring water to ryokans locating on the foot hills of the Ikaho. Ikaho’s autumn is well known for its bright red autumn leaves surrounding the traditional Japanese bride near the Ikaho rotenburo. Around $10 fee.


Isobe Onsen

Isobe Onsen is locating near Usui River and its near by Asama mountain is still simmering. The town was start to florishing when the mountain erupted in 1738 which created various sismic shifts and created hot springs. The output of thermal water there is said to have increased as a result of the sismic shifts and well known for enhancing beauty as well as being therapeautic in the treatment of gastric ailments.

The area is also known as having given rise to the famous folktale "Shita Kri Susume" (A sparrow whose tongue was cut then later rescued by an old man), which interestingly both Korea and Japan has similar fables. Isobe onsen said to be an inventor of the hot spring mark that is widely used in Japan.


Near Isobe locating one of most famous mushroom restaurant where all dishes are mushroom oriented. They are amazingly delicious!!

Hoshi onsen, Chojukan.
Hoshi onsen was (said to) discovered over 1200 years ago by the holy man Kukai but the Chojukan was built in 1875 for overnight visitors. The contry style rustic inn is widely considered as the most beautiful onsen ryokan and most photographed ryokan in Japan.  Its indoor wooden building bath is extremely famous for its beauty and elegant arch style window.

The bath is large size and has separate changing room for male and female but end up in the same place. It's a mixed bath but the onsen's darkness covers most of the privacy. The large tub is separated by chestnut wood log and the floor is covered by pebble stones. 
One of the best indoor onsen I've ever visited is Hoshi onsen. The round windows reflects nature's colored rays into the hot spring water then ansenbles into something out of this world feeling. The round chestnut lumber in the middle serves as pillow to further relaxation. 


Siriyaki onsen
Siriyaki onsen is locating near Kusatsu onsen. If you plan to  visit Kusatsu, I highly recommend to visit Siriyaki. This place is one of the rare primitive hot springs in Japan and the water is just about right by naturally mixing with the cold  river water and the hot springs in the middle of it. There's neither light nor any place to change cloth but when sun goes down, there's nothing to see unless you have moon light. Tel: (0279)95-5121 or (0279)95-3111 to locate the area through your GPS but if you want to stay a night; you may want to make a reservation because this is a small town. There are only 3 or so ryokans available and mostly young couples who'd like to enjoy tranquility are often come to this place.

Shiriyaki wintertime

Shima Onsen

Shima onsen's sekijenkan is oldest hot spring inn in Japan. The ryokan was opened in 1694 and ever since it's been providing heavely thermal water to all sorts of people continuously. Shima Onsen is situated along the valley of the Shima River where rows of inns line its tranquil streets.

The hot spring water here is said to be effective in the treatment aof as many as 40,000 (shima) ailments. The resort has thus played host to endless visitors seekign the benefit of the healing powers of its waters for as far back as 1,000 years. Shima has several community baths that can be walk around to visit. To get to the beautiful community baths along side of the shima river, I suggets you to obtain the town map from the tourism information office. Most of these comunity baths are mixed baths.

Sekijenkan Tel 0279-64-2101.
Tamura 0279-64-2111.


Shinsuikwan is a very beautiful Meiji style old ryokan in Kodama gun. To reach there from Tokyo,
you should take the Shinganshen bullet train then get off at Honjo station. From there, you can get a taxi to the Shinsukwan which is a traditional Japanese style ryokan. Normally, like most of the Japanese ryokan, the fee ($100 ~ $150) is including the dinner and use of their hot springs. Shinsukwan's onsen is well known for its slickness after the bath and amazingly it has two completely separate types of water is coexist in the same onsen. Direct opposit from the ryokan across the river, you can find another amazing onsen which is community bath in the town. For the day use, the fee is 800 yen. Shinsukan 0274-52-2641


Shinto shrine near Shinsuikan - Shinto is a Japanese religion that believes in gods reside in natural phenomena such as trees, mountains, rocks and waterfalls. It has no moral code, no sacred scriptures, nor particular philosophy. All Japanese are somewhat linked to both Budhism and Shintoism by nature and coexist deeply. Buddha was accepted as another Shinto god when introduced in 6th century by Korean across the straight and the two religions are cross crissing throughout Japanese life.

Shinsuikan's unique double tub. Each tub has its own different minerals.

Takaragawa Onsen

Takaragawa onsen is considered as one of the top 10 most beautiful onsen in Japan. Its large rotenburos are locating along side of the river and connected by bridge. Best time to enjoy the onsen is winter time especially when it snows but any season is good to visit the place. Both of these (above and below) pictures are taken during the summer time visits. Takaragawa is complete mixed bath onsen where all sorts of people (many foreigners) are roaming around with almost naked (nothing more than covering the private part) but when sun goes down, after all the day dippers gone back home, this place is becoming a lover's paradise. Takaragawa onsen 0278-75-2121


Oami Onsen
Oami Onsen, Tochigi-ken
Yumori Tanakaya ryokan. 0287-32-3232 http://www.tnky.jp/
Oami onsen is locating near Siobara onsen and it has one of most breath taking view all around the
natural hot springs. To reach here, you must find the ryokan which is in the middle of winding road so it's very easy to miss the ryokan. Once you find the parking spot, you must pay the fee at the attendant then descend down to the Hokigawa river using the stiff cliff pasage way with over 300 stairs. There are two large rotenburos completely mingled with the surrounding
nature and few more by the river. All except one rotenburo (which for women only) are mixed baths. 

Down by the river,  you can find a large concrete cave where the hot spring is coming out and the tempeture can be changed by letting the cold river coming in to the cave. When water gets too hat, you can swim in the  cold river along with trouts. The ryokan is not so impressive looking from the outside
but it actually sits on top of the cliff so it has one of the best views in the area. The ryokan was first opened in 1890 and offers great Japanese food and hospitality, Best time to visit the area is late autumn when the entire valley is turning in to red forest but problem with that is there will be so many cars and people, you can't really enjoy the tranquility of the onsen.


Shiobara Onsen

Shiobara Motoyu Ooide-kan. 0287-32-2438
In Japan, there's a group called secret hot spring association. Their motive is to protect the good hot
springs from general public so it doesn't get spoiled. One of the secret hot spring is Motoyu in Okushiobara. There are three hot spring Japanese inns in the area. Gensen-kan" is famous for its rustic onsen settings (picture below) and the other is "Ooide-kan" (picture above) which is on the hill above Gensen kan. Ooidekan is also called as a "black hot spring (Sumi-no-yu)" because its ink like black water.  
At the entrance, a sign says not to bring the towel in to the bath because it will dye black. There are rotenburo (open-air bath), and the mixed bathing of the famous black  water hot spring and a separate women's bath. Gensen kan has one women's bath and one mixed bath. Tel 0287-32-3221.


Chichibu has so many onsens however it tooks me several trips there to find a nice onsen that I liked.


Nagatoro river rafting. It's amazing to see how these wooden rafts can navigate through rough waters and rocks in between. 

Nagatoro's soba and veggie fry.

A lady name Sako-san sent me email one day asking me to add her onsen and her beautiful village in Sawatari which is a hot spring resort with over 800 years of history. I haven't been to the spa yet but it looks beautiful and next time when I'm in Japan, I will definitely will visit. According to Sako-san, "Sawatari spa is really off the beaten track, only few foreigners, even Japanese know. But everybody who came here said that it is really a nice place and nice water"
Inn’s websites below.
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