If you’re looking for something special to do on your visit to Japan, it is hard to beat a visit to one of Japan’s iconic onsen. Some of the best onsen in the country can be found in the region of Hokkaido. These hot spring resorts are uniquely Japanese, with a long history and a lot of cultural impact.

If you watch anime, you have probably seen a scene set at an onsen. They are such a major piece of Japanese culture that they are often marked on maps. Why not take the opportunity to visit one of these onsen hot spring resorts yourself?

What you can expect when visiting an onsen

Hot springs at Daiichi Takimotokan, Noboribetsu.

Traditionally, an onsen can take a number of forms. They can have either indoor baths or outdoor baths. They may be publicly run by the local municipality or privately run, in which case they are usually a part of a hotel or bed and breakfast establishment. All onsen (hot springs) have one thing in common: they get their water from geothermal hot springs, not heated tap water.

Most onsen have spate areas for men and women to bathe. Children of either sex can often be seen in either the men’s or women’s sections with their parents. While most onsen allow for nude bathing, most people cover themselves with a towel when not in the water. Some onsen allow guests to wear their towel in the water, while others regard it as unsanitary and forbid it. In some areas, however, people are required to wear swimsuits or other clothing designed especially for bathing. Read this guide to know “how to take a bath in an onsen in Japan.”

All guests that use an onsen are expected to wash themselves thoroughly before entering the hot springs. All of these Japanese hot spring resorts include equipment of one kind or another to allow you to do this, whether that is stools, buckets, or faucets, or more modern show facilities. Make sure to rinse all the soap off your body, since it is not acceptable to enter the onsen while you are still soapy.

As for atmosphere, you may find your onsen being either very quiet or very noisy. Some play piped music and may feature some fountains gushing playfully. Your fellow bathers might chit-chat while relaxing. Onsen usually forbid any rowdiness, though kids are often allowed to splash around and play in the water.

Last but not least, if you have tattoos, know that you may be asked to cover your tattoos with a patch or a kind of sticking plaster. This became a common way to prevent gang members from using onsen. There used to be a blanket ban on tattoos at many onsen, but the restrictions have eased and are very relaxed for visiting foreigners, who may not encounter any comment at all.

1) Noboribetsu Onsen, Noboribetsu

The Hell Valley – Jigokudani at Noboribetsu Onsen. Photo Credit: メルビル at Wikimedia Commons.

Nonoribetsu is one of the most famous hot spring resort towns in all of Japan. There are eleven different kinds of hot springs at this onsen. You can find many different facilities and hotels that are centered around the onsen. The Hotel Daiichi Takimotokan offers bright and spacious hot spring baths that are considered by many to be the best of their kind in Japan.

There are many others that are almost as nice, though they are not as nice for daytime visitors and it I recommended that you stay at these locations to get their best experience. Be sure to visit Jigoku-dani Valley, sometimes called “Hell Valley” which features numerous sulfur springs and other volcanic features.

This lovely resort town is a 15-minute bus ride from JR Noboribetsu Station, which costs 340 yen one way. There are one to two buses an hour. You’ll find it quite easy and pleasant to walk around the town itself.

2) Jozankei Onsen, Sapporo

Jozankei onsen during autumn. Photo Credit: jozankei.jp

Along with many amazing hot springs, Jozankei onsen is also one of the must-see spots for fall colors in Hokkaido. This valley is less than an hour away from the city center of Sapporo, making it a great day trip if you’re in the area. The area’s hot springs are very active, with over 50 hot spring sources.

The onsen here are some of the most scenic you’ll find, especially in the fall as the leaves of the trees change color and the air cools. Take the time to visit Shiraito Fall and the Pool of Maizuru as well. There are 13 daily shuttles to Jozankei that depart from Sapporo Station, Odori, and Susukino. You do need a reservation, which you can do by following the directions found here.

3) Toyako Onsen, Lake Toya

Toyako onsen resort town and the mountains. Photo Credit: 663highland at Wikimedia Commons.

This picturesque hot springs resort town sits on the shores of Lake Toya, one of the beautiful caldera lakes in Japan. While you are there, be sure to visit the Toya Village-Run hot Springs (Toya Ikoi no Ie). This popular and lovely hot spring bath is not open-air, but it does provide amazing views of Lake Toya.

There are also several open-air baths at other onsens, some of which are located at hotels that also offer a number of other services. Visiting this village is also a great chance to see classical local Japanese culture, from foot baths to local parks. Take the time to play on the clear waters of Lake Toya, as well.

In addition, visit Silo Viewing Platform and Mount Usu Eruption Memorial Park to make your Lake Toya expedition a great adventure. Don’t forget to visit Usuzan Ropeway as well, especially when you go there in the fall. If you are going to stay a night at Toyaka onsen town, then stay at The Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort. The hotel offers a panoramic view of Lake Toya that you can experience from your room.

You can easily reach Tokayo from Sapporo, Muroran, Hakodate, and Shin-Chitose Airport.

4) Tokachigawa Onsen, Otofuke

A hot spring bath of Hotel Daiheigen at Tokachigawa Onsen Resort.

This lovely onsen is known for how it can help improve both health and beauty. Its waters, in particular, are very good at helping to moisturize skin. It is a lovely traditional open-air onsen and well worth a visit if you are in the Hokkaido region.

If you visit the onsen in the winter, make sure you pay a visit to one of its annual events called Tokachigawa Swan Festival Sairinka. Incredible lightning displays make the festival a quite magical sight to behold. Date of the festival can be found here.

Needless to say that Tokachi area in the Hokkaido region has its own charms to overwhelm you. From outdoor nature expeditions to a hot springs bath at the onsen, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in Tokachi area that are in fact worth exploring. It takes about a-20 minute ride by taxi from Obihiro station to Tokachigawa onsen.

5) Kawayu Onsen, Akan Mashu National Park

A foot bath at Kawayu Onsen. Photo Credit: Tzu-hsun, Hsu at Wikimedia Commons.

This is a popular hot spring resort town located in the Akan Mashu National Park. The water here is especially acidic, with a pH of 1.4. Besides its wonderful hot springs, it is also a good place to stay when you are visiting the national park. There is also an Eco Museum that talks about Akan Mashu National Park and the history of the onsen.

A really great walking trail also starts here and continues onto Iozan, also called Sulfur Mountain. For a more intriguing look at something uniquely Japanese, visit the Sumo Museum, which is dedicated the town’s favorite son, the sumo wrestler star Taiho Koki.

6) Yunokawa Onsen, Hakodate

A Japanese style room with personal hot spring tub of Heisei-kan Shiosaitei Hotel at Yunokawa Onsen, Hakodate. Photo Credit: Toho Resort.

Located close to the Hakodate airport and can easily be reached by car or bus, Yunokawa features many wonderful hotels and resorts. Many of them provide access to the onsen to both overnight and day visitors. The waters of the hot spring here are renowned for their healing properties.

Besides the hot springs, there are a lot of other things to see, including a Trappistine convent, the Kosetsuen Garden, the Shinoritate Castle Ruins, as well as many others. Be sure to plan to see the Yunokawa Hot Spring Resort Fireworks Display. Those of you who would like to see Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) should get to the Hakodate City Botanical Garden. In fact, the garden is located in the hot springs area.

7) Sounkyo Onsen, Daisetsuzan National Park

Kurodake Ropeway and fall foliage at Sounkyo Onsen. Photo Credit: Tourism Association Sounkyo.

This hot spring resort town is located in the Daisetsuzan National Park. Sounkyo is a picturesque and touristy town that is one of the best places to see autumn leaves in Hokkaido. It sits in a narrow gorge that means there are not only great views in the area but also scenic waterfalls.

There are several hot baths, both indoor and outdoor, including the local public bath. For a more active adventure, follow a trail to see the Ginga no Taki (Milky Way Falls) and Ryusei no Taki (Shooting Star Falls). You can reach the area by train or bus from Ashaikawa.

In conclusion, one thing that I will always tell you that don’t miss visiting one of these spectacular onsen resorts in Hokkaido. Alongside experiencing a relaxing hot spring bath there, you will be able to see the surrounding mind-boggling vistas and well known sightseeing spots. Thank you!