Onsen are very popular experiences, especially if you are a newcomer to Japan. These hot spring baths take advantage of the natural volcanism of Japan to offer visitors the opportunity to bath in soothing warm waters. Onsen have been a part of Japanese culture for a very long time and have a rich tradition built around them.
If you’re visiting Tokyo, there are plenty of onsen towns that offer tourists a relaxing experience. They offer an excellent break from busy city life.
We feature the ones that are not located in Tokyo but outside the city and they are often considered the best when you plan on visiting as part of your day trips from Tokyo. Don’t worry as they are easily accessible by trains. You’d better visit one of these at the weekend and stay a night there for the best onsen experience.
Are you ready to explore them and witness Japan’s iconic landmarks along the way?
Here are five great and most popular onsen towns near Tokyo:
1. Hakone Onsen
Hakone has been a popular area for natural hot spring baths for centuries. The town has many bathhouses, drawing from more than a dozen springs.
There are a number of inns you can stay at that have their own onsen. Many of these also open their doors to day visitors, as well.
Tenzan, a traditional Japanese style onsen and one of the most popular bathhouses in Hakone, has some lovely onsen pools, including many outdoor ones and restaurants and cafe nearby. Many of the bathhouses offer spectacular views of the surrounding area and sit in peaceful woods.
The Hotel Green Plaza Hakone is another awesome onsen hotel where you can stay overnight if you want to with stunning views of Mount Fuji. It offers its baths both for hotel guests and day-tripper. It’s a 3-minute walk from Ubako Station on the Hakone Ropeway.
You can easily reach Hakone by rail, taking the Odakyu Railway from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto station, a ride of about 85 minutes at a cost of 2330 yen.
2. Kusatsu Onsen
Located in Gunma Prefecture, this small mountain town has the largest flowing water volume of all the hot springs in Japan. There are also some of the most acidic waters in Japan, which kills all bacteria and other microorganisms in the water.
Because of the unique properties of the waters, Kusatsu has developed its own bathing traditions. There are two bathing styles that are unique to Kusatsu and you should experience them both separately for skin beautification and blood circulation.
The Jikan-yu style has bathers pray at a small indoor shrine. The water is then stirred by the bathers, lowering its high temperature and helping the body absorb the steam after vigorous exercise.
The act of stirring the water is called Yumomi, which you can see in the Netsunoyu building located adjacent to yubatake (Hot Water Field, the symbol of Kosatsu).
Everyone usually sings a song at this point, too, opening up the lungs. When bathers enter the water, they cover their heads with towels and pour water on the back to help benefit from the healing properties.
This is a more coordinated onsen ritual than many and bathers will follow the bath leader’s call, staying in the water for only three minutes.
Awase-yu, a traditional bathing culture, is more relaxed. Bathers soak in four or five tubs of increasing water temperature to help them take the heat.
You can experience this bathing tradition at Otakinoyu, a popular hot spring in Kusatsu. Besides, this onsen offers private “Shakunage” baths for rent at 2,000 yen per hour, available for couples and families to bathe together.
There are only few restaurants and shops that serve guests to this unique onsen town, as well.
You can reach Kusatsu by taking the JR limited express from Ueno Station to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station, then taking a bus thirty minutes to the town, or by taking a number of buses.
3. Atami Onsen
For centuries, the waters of Atami have appealed to bathers. Located on the Izu Peninsula, Atami is a very popular destination for couples with many excellent hot springs resorts. The most famous spring is the saltwater spring, which is very unique among Japan’s many onsens.
This is a very romantic trip, with plenty of food and shopping for visitors, including Onsen-manju, a sweet dumpling that Atami is famous for.
There are also plenty of other sights to see besides the onsen, including Atami castle, some wonderful museums, and the Akao Herb and Rose Garden.
Atami Korakuen Hotel is one of the largest hotels with natural onsen in the Atami area offering a panoramic view of the ocean, a large public bath and reserveable open-air baths.
You can reach Atami by taking the Tokaido Shinkansen, or limited express trains (80 mintues), which go straight there. Your fastest option, the Shinkansen, takes 50 minutes.
4. Ikaho Onsen
In Gunma Prefecture, Kusatsu Onsen is not the only onsen resort town you can explore rather it has some and one of the most popular among them is Ikaho Onsen. One interesting fact and the uniqueness you find here is it provides you iron enriched hot spring water.
The charming small town is centered on a 300-meter-long set of stone stairs that lead through the middle of town. These stairs are lined by shops and places to eat.
A visit here will seem like a trip back in time. The town has a hidden feel. There are many onsen, as well as some excellent sightseeing on the Ikaho Ropeway. Depending on the season, you can go fruit-picking or enjoy some spectacular fall foliage.
In this area, many tourists also visit Mizusawa Temple, Mount Haruna and Lake Haruna to enjoy picturesque nature.
To reach Ikaho by train, take the Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station to Takasaki Station, which is a 60-minute ride. From there, take the Joetsu Line to Shibukawa Station, for a grand total trip time of around 3 hours.
You can stay at Mimatsukan for a pleasant and memorable stay in the area of Ikaho Onsen Town. It offers a spacious indoor hot spring bath and a rooftop outdoor one, which I particularly like.
5. Kinugawa Onsen
For most visitors to Nikko, they want to explore its historic buildings including Toshogu Shrine, and Rinnoji Temple, and Okunikko area to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Lake Chuzenji, Ryuzu Waterfall, Mount Nantai, Kegon Waterfall, Mount Hangetsuyama, Irohazak – the winding roads and so on.
Nikko is at its best in autumn when surrounding areas are blanketed by stunning fall colors. To find out more about Nikko’s exclusive autumn nature, click here.
If you plan to visit Nikko and stay overnight in a perfect place with onsen baths, choose Kinugawa Onsen.
You can stat at Nanaeyae that offers open-air hot spring baths, beautiful views of the valley, and authentic Japanese dishes. The hotel is a 5-minute walk from Kinugawa Onsen Station.
This onsen town is a place to sightsee in the morning and then relax in hot springs for the rest of the day. Stay at one of the many inns along the river Kinugawa. It is a good idea to book a ride on a riverboat to get some of the best views of the area.
Don’t forget to enjoy the foot baths that you find here, they are free!
For the more athletic, there are plenty of excellent hikes that allow you to get closer to nature. You can also visit the nearby theme park of Edo Wonderland, which is an educational park that immerses visitors in life during the Edo period.
Kinugawa can be accessed by train. In Tokyo, take the Tobu Nikko line toward Nikko from Asakusa Station.
Onsens often have gender-segregated bathing areas, though this can vary, as can the clothing requirements. Some ban tattoos, as these are associated with organized crime.
You can learn some important onsen etiquette. Be sure to learn and follow the onsen rules.