At a Glance: Must-Visit Onsen Towns

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During the cold, dark days of winter, I am reminded that this time of year is the best time for enjoying one of the finest things Japan has to offer. I speak of course of the onsen, Japan’s natural hot springs. To stew in them until you can bear it no longer only to rise from the waters into the frigid winter air is truly a sublime experience. Onsen are so popular, in fact, that several towns dedicated to serving patrons who wish to enjoy them have sprung up all over the country. Here’s a short list of some of my (as well as others’) favorite locales.

Kusatsu

Kusatsu is considered the premier onsen town of Japan. Located in Gunma prefecture only a few hours from Tokyo, Kusatsu is especially majestic in the winter due to its mountaintop location. Thousands of liters of water flow into the town from the mountains every single minute of the day. Be sure to watch a traditional Yumomi performance, which occurs six times a day.

Noboribetsu

Located in the southern portion of Hokkaido, Noboribetsu is widely known as the best onsen town on the northern island, and one of the best in all of Japan. The waters contain sulfur and hydrogen sulfide, which are said to soften and lighten skin, as well as iron, which lessens fatigue. The minerals in the water paint the surrounding landscape, giving it the nickname “Hell Valley”.

Gero

Another onsen town situated in the Gifu region, Gero is a little harder to get to than its neighbor Kusatsu. However, this adds to its charm and makes it a great discreet getaway for a weekend of solitude or romance. A Yu-meguri Tegata spa pass will allow you access to three onsen of your choice from a list of twenty, so do your homework before visiting!

Arima

Famously referred to as one of the three top three onsen in Japan (along with Gero and Kusatsu), it’s time for Kansai to shine. Located just within the city limits of Kobe, Arima is compact, which makes it easy to navigate on-foot. The town has two types of waters: the knsen (“gold water”) is colored brown with iron deposits and is said to be good for skin ailments and muscle pain. The clear ginsen (“silver water”) on the other hand contains radium and carbonate, and is said to cure various muscle and joint ailments.

Kurokawa

All the way west in the Kyushu region sits Kurokawa, an onsen town that has intentionally maintained its traditional atmosphere for centuries. Thanks to the community’s steadfast unity in this goal, all you’ll see are the original forms of the onsen dating back many years ago, built with wooden materials, earthen walls, cobblestone stairs, and curved roofs.

I hope you have the chance to visit one of these fine establishments some day, and soak in the scenery (and rejuvenating waters!)

Already thinking about booking a weekend in an onsen town? That’s something you can do when you only work on weekdays like Assistant Language Teachers! For more information on how you can too, read all about the job of an ALT and then how to apply!

Photos provided by Connor Steck. Cover photo by Kaede KBYS via Unsplash

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Connor Steck

From the US
Started his new life in Japan with a year in Hokkaido!