What Is Onsen?

What Is Onsen?

If you're ever in Japan, you absolutely have to check out an onsen. These natural hot springs are not just any bath, they're warm, soothing, and loaded with minerals that can make you feel amazing. Onsens are nature's own spa, heated deep underground, and perfect for relaxing. Imagine lounging in water that's naturally hotter than 25° C, filled with good stuff like lithium, sulfur, and iron, which are all believed to keep you healthy and prevent diseases.

Japanese people have loved onsen for ages, thinking of them as a way to treat long-term health issues. It's like a natural form of medicine that supports modern treatments, which are more about fixing immediate health problems.

An onsen is different from a sento, which is a public bathhouse you find in cities that uses regular heated tap water. Sentos are great for a quick bath and are loved by locals, but Onsens offers that impressive touch with their mineral-rich waters.

So, when you're in Japan, don't just pass by, make sure to visit an onsen. It's not just a bath; it's a chance to relax deeply and feel refreshed like never before.


Natural onsen in Japan


Types Of Onsens

As you wander through Japan, you'll find yourself seeing all kinds of different onsens, with its unusual charm.


Day-use onsens are open to everyone. You can either book in advance or just drop in for a relaxing bath. Prices range from around $3 to $20, depending on the place and what they offer. Remember to bring your own towels and wash off before you hop in.

If you're not ready for a full onsen, try an Ashiyu. These are little pools just for your feet, filled with warm onsen water. It's a great way to get a feel for the onsen without diving in completely. Plus, they're often free and easy to find near onsen towns. Just sit back and let the hot water soothe your tired feet.


Ashiyu (foot-onsen) in Japan


Onsens exclusive to hotel or ryokan guests

Some onsens are part of a ryokan (traditional inn) or hotel and are just for guests who stay overnight. Some places also offer day access. Here’s what you might find:

  • Public onsens are big, communal baths, separated for men and women. These are usually included in your stay if you're sleeping there.
  • Private onsens can be booked for your personal use at an extra cost.
  • In-room onsens are special baths right in your hotel room, often on a balcony with a view. They're a little pricier and you need to book them in advance because they're pretty popular.
  • Visiting any of these onsens can make your trip to Japan truly unforgettable.

Benefits Of Onsens

Toji, or "hot water cure," is a heartwarming tradition where you bathe in an onsen, Japan's natural hot springs, to heal and rejuvenate. This practice has been cherished in Japan for centuries, and it involves staying at an onsen ryokan (a traditional inn) to fully enjoy the soothing, mineral-rich waters.

How would you feel relaxing in comforting waters, letting the natural minerals work their magic on your body? It's a simple, lovely way to feel better, both inside and out. Why not give it a try and see how much you love it? Let's see the benefits of onsen in detail below!

Improved blood circulation

Bathing in a warm onsen is great for your body. The natural minerals in the water work their magic, helping your blood carry more oxygen. It's a simple pleasure that leaves you feeling refreshed and your circulation flowing smoothly. Relax in the warmness, surrounded by nature, and feel every bit of stress just melt away.


Bathing in a warm onsen


Ease Your Stress

There's something truly exceptional about relaxing in an onsen bath. The hot spring water soothes your tense muscles, and the serene environment helps calm your mind. You'll notice you sleep more soundly after a dip in an onsen.

Soothe Your Aches

The waters of an onsen provide a gentle lift, easing the burden on sore joints. As you float, your muscles can fully relax without any pressure, reducing tension and helping alleviate pain. This peaceful experience can also ease stress and anxiety.

Revitalize Your Skin

Onsens are loved for their ability to enhance skin health. The presence of silica in many onsens helps to smooth and soften dry, rough skin, giving it a healthier appearance. For those dealing with conditions like eczema or psoriasis, choosing an onsen rich in sulfur can be particularly beneficial, as it helps soothe itchiness and discomfort.


Relaxing in the onsen


Your First Visit to an Onsen

Heading to an onsen for the first time? There's no need to worry! Here are some simple tips to make your visit enjoyable:

Onsen Fees

Onsen entry prices vary, usually between JPY 200 and 2,000. However, many wonderful onsens are priced from JPY 400 to 800. You can bring your own bath towel or use one provided by the onsen, some even offer towel rental.

Packing for Your Stay: What To Bring Along?

When staying at a traditional Japanese-style inn, known as a Ryokan, you'll be offered a yukata. This is a light cotton kimono-style outfit perfect for lounging after your bath, wearing pajamas, or just relaxing around the inn.

You'll either find the Yukata in your room or get one from reception. Remember to bring a yukata and obi (a belt for your yukata), along with a small towel for washing and a larger one for drying off. Although Japan is known for its safety, it’s best not to bring expensive items to the onsen.


Wearing yukata and walking around the onsen town


Changing Areas

The changing rooms are equipped with handy items like combs and hairdryers for you to use at no extra cost. You'll find baskets in each cubby or locker where you can safely store your belongings.

If a basket is turned upside down, it's a sign that it's clean and ready for you to use. Enjoy these little conveniences designed to make your visit smoother and more enjoyable!

Bathing Areas

Onsens typically have separate areas for men and women. In onsens that welcome both genders, bathing times are separate, so check the schedule to make sure you visit at the right time.

In the bathing areas, clothing is generally not allowed (it's a good idea to confirm this, as some mixed onsens might let you wear a bathing cover). If you're shy, you can use a small onsen towel for privacy as you enter the water. Be careful walking around, as the floors can be slippery from the natural minerals.

You'll find different baths with unique mineral contents to try. While there's usually no need to pay extra, it's wise to ask. You don’t have to rinse off every time you switch baths. Just ensure only your body goes into the water. You can keep your hand towel by the side of the bath or on your head.


Public onsen in Japan


Onsen etiquette

Before you get into the soothing waters of an onsen, make sure to take a thorough shower. This helps keep the water clean for everyone.

Most onsens provide soap and shampoo, but if not, you might need to purchase some. It's also a good idea to avoid eating right before you bathe. However, drinking plenty of water before and after your dip is crucial to stay hydrated.

Limit your time in the onsen to avoid dehydration. Although relaxing and good for your health, it's wise not to bathe more than three times a day.

Be mindful of onsen rules regarding tattoos, as they often have historical associations with the yakuza (Japanese mafia). While some places are becoming more tattoo-friendly, it's best to check the policy beforehand. You may need to cover your tattoos or, in some cases, might not be allowed to enter.

If you're enjoying the onsen with friends, feel free to chat quietly. Just remember to keep the noise down as a courtesy to other guests. Also, keep in mind that running, jumping into the water, and taking photos are usually not permitted to maintain the serene atmosphere of the onsen.


Enjoy stunning views of Mt. Fuji in the onsen


Relaxing After Your Onsen

Once you're done bathing, hold off on showering immediately. This allows your skin to absorb the wonderful minerals from the onsen water. If you prefer, a cool rinse is another great option that offers its own set of perks.

Many onsens also feature cozy rest areas and massage chairs. Take some time to relax in these spaces and extend the bliss of your onsen visit.

Enjoying Onsen Food And Drink

After your soothing bath, take a chilled Japanese cold milk beverage. Try a delightful sip of furutsu gyuunyuu (fruit milk) or koohii gyuunyuu (coffee milk). Don't miss out on the onsen tamago-eggs gently cooked in the natural heat of onsen waters. Some onsens even offer bottled onsen water, packed with health-boosting minerals.

To keep yourself hydrated, drink plenty of water, tea, or a sports drink after you leave the bath. It's best to avoid alcohol right after bathing, as it can lead to further dehydration.


Onsen eggs


Top Onsen Destinations in Japan

When you're exploring Japan, make sure to visit some of the famous onsen and onsen towns. Here's a list of must-see places for your trip:

Near Tokyo
  • Hakone: Known for its 17 famous Japanese spas.
  • Ito: A top onsen town known for its therapeutic waters and beautiful coastal views.
  • Atami: A beloved getaway for couples, renowned for its saltwater hot springs.
  • Kinugawa: Features theme parks and fun activities, making it a great spot for families.
  • Yunishigawa: This small town is known for the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival during winter.
  • Nikko Yumoto: Here, hot springs naturally bubble up from the earth.




Near Osaka
  • Kinosaki: This picturesque town along a river is perfect for a stroll under the willow trees.
  • Arima: A well-loved onsen town famous for its two unique types of spring water.
  • Yunohana: Known for its natural bath salts.
  • Shirahama: One of Japan's three oldest hot springs.


Kinosaki Onsen Town


Near Hokkaido
  • Noboribetsu: Offers nine different types of mineral waters, including sulfur springs.
  • Jozankei: A favorite for visitors from Sapporo, featuring many traditional inns.
  • Lake Toya: A renowned hot spring resort at the base of Mount Usu.


The "Hell Valley" of Noboribetsu Onsen


These destinations offer relaxing escapes with a variety of natural baths to rejuvenate your body and mind.