As temperatures around the country fall, now is the perfect time to indulge in the Japanese pastime of onsen. Best described as a hot spring bathing spa, onsen is a long held tradition in Japan and the near endless supply of geothermal springs is the one positive aspect of living in a nation of constantly shifting tectonic plates. Below are some of the best onsen in Japan.
Kurokawa Onsen, Kyushu
The island of Kyushu is known for being perhaps the best area for onsen, and Kurokawa Onsen is probably the pick of the bunch. Located around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mount Aso, it is a beautiful town that has retained its traditional charm and resisted the big money lure of the concrete and neon spa hotels you find elsewhere. Kurokawa Onsen is particularly well known for its ‘rotenburo’ (outside baths) next to rushing rivers, such as Yamamizuki bath, considered one of the best riverside baths in Japan.
Beppu Onsen, Oita
Another Kyushu based onsen area, Beppu, in Oita prefecture, is one of the country’s best know, and produces eight different springs. One of the most remarkable things about the onsen in Beppu, aside from the fact that you can see the steam rising up all over the city, is the variety of bath types. Rather than just having hot water onsen, Beppu also boasts steam baths, hot mud baths and sand baths where bathers are buried in naturally heated sand. If you want to try out the latter, head to Takegawara Spa. It was constructed in 1879 and it perhaps Beppu’s most famous bathhouse. Though be warned, the building is partially surrounded by a red light district.
Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma
Located in the mountains of Gunma at 1200 meters (4,000 ft) above sea level, Kusatsu Onsen is probably Japan’s most popuar spa, and has been listed in Japan’s Top 100 Onsen at number one for the last 12 years in a row. The high quality water, as much as 32,300 liters of it being discharged every year making it the greatest quantity in Japan, is said to cure all diseases bar love sickness. The unique bathing method of jikanyu (where bathers sit in 48 degree water for exactly three minutes) and yumomi (stirring the water with long planks for cooling the temperature of the water, also serving as an important pre-bathing exercise) are customs that have been passed down since the Edo period.
To continue reading a full story and learn about more Onsen cultures in Japan, please click Japan’s Best Onsen Towns.