Japan is known as a treasure box of hot springs. In fact, there are 3,084 hot spring sites along with 20,972 bathing facilities located throughout the nation. They range from the traditional open-air bath to modernized spa facility accommodating various pools and tubs with different qualities of water. And each year more than 132 million Japanese stay overnight a hot springs inn, according to the Ministry of Environment. During cold seasons, there is nothing more pleasant than soaking in a nice hot spring while enjoying the falling snow or scenic-mountain views. Here are some of my favorite hot springs. Why not visit one or more to enjoy the Land of Hot Springs?
(1 hour from Misawa)
Sukayu Hot Spring is the first national government-designated “hot spring health resort.” It was dubbed so 60 years ago because of its sulfur-rich waters, old-world allure, traditional indoor baths and surrounding natural beauty – a model example of the Japanese onsen. Drop by the spa and experience the famous Hiba-Sennin-Buro, or bath for a 1,000 people. The name of this large, traditionally crafted wooden pool is an exaggeration in that it could probably only hold about 100 people at once. But it is usual in more ways than one. The strong smell is a clear indicator that the white-green-colored water here is rich in sulfur. It was not too hot, but a brief 10- to 15-minute bath made me very warm. According to the posted signs, this hot spring contains acid-sulfur and works for various symptoms, such as diabetes, skin diseases and muscle aches. The facility also has restaurant and shop. Besides the large mixed-gender bath, the spa has smaller baths furnished with showers and washing space as well as segregated pools. If you don’t want to take a bath in public, take a 15-minute walk down to a unique hot-spring shack, called Manjufukashi (literally, bun-steamer). This is a wooden shack with long wooden benches over an underground hot spring. Hot steam wafts upward heating up fully clothed recliners from the legs up.
INFO: 50 Sukayuzawa, Minami Arakawayama, Arakawa, Aomori City, Aomori Pref., 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m., 600 yen ($5), Tel. 017-738-6400.
(3 hours from Misawa)
Just as the nickname “Inn of Lamps” indicates, the hot spring relies solely on light produced from its lamps. Neither mobile phones nor GPS systems work. Situated deep in the valley, the only sounds to be heard are that of streams, waterfall and chirping birds, which create a surreal, quiet and serene bathing experience. With 520 yen ($4.50) admission, you can tour the hot spring resort made up of wooden lodges, shacks and five baths located in and outside of the buildings. You are able to take your time and enjoy hopping baths from confined indoor wooden bathes to large open-air rock bathes with views of waterfalls and river streams. A few hours of daytime bathing in the forest sure will make you feel refreshed and energized. During winter, fantastic night views with the lamps and the snow attract many.
INFO: 1-7 takinoue Aonisawa, Okiura, Kuroishi City, Aomori Pref. 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., 520 yen ($4.50), Tel. 0172-54-8588.
(1 hour from Zama)
Foot spas, or ashiyu, are a very popular form of enjoying hot springs, as it is a nice way to relax as you soak your feet in public. You can enjoy a hot soak without undressing. Among public foot bathes located throughout the nation, Dopponoyu of Man-yo Park (Yugawara Onsen) is one of the most popular ones. There are nine different springs in the park and each has a different bathing effect. Its Heisei Spring has great relaxing effects, while Kanmoku Spring is said to be good for your liver and eyes. While touring the garden in a rental pair of sandals, you can enjoy all the nine springs for only 300 yen ($2.50).
INFO: 704 Miyakawa, Yugawara-cho, Kanagawa Pref., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 300 yen ($2.50) for adult, tel. 0465-64-2326.
(40 mins. from Atsugi)
Situated on the hilly terrain of Tanzawa mountain range, Nanasawa Onsen is a quiet and somber natural hot spring resort, known as “spa for the beauty,” as its strong alkaline spring water is known to help keep skin healthy and smooth. According to a local, there are a lot of boar in the area, and they catch them to cook them for “Shishinabe” (pan of wild boar pork), a popular local delicacy from October to April every year. Fukumatsu, one of the traditional Japanese inns within the resort, is 900 yen ($8) for admission to bathe in its hot spring pool. There is a large wooden pool with a bamboo garden and water-wheel for a backdrop. The strong alkaline spring water - heavy, smooth and slimy feels like bathing in soap. Locals have used the hot spring for hundreds of years, and today, in search of a strong and effective alkaline hot spring, many tourists from all over Japan visit the resort.
INFO: 1751 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture, 11 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., 900 yen ($8), Tel. 046-248-0324
(3 hours from Kanto Plain)
Biwanoyu in Asama Onsen is known as a hot spring resort for feudal lords. Since it was founded by the resident lord of Matsumoto Castle about 400 years ago, it was exclusive to lords throughout feudal age. Today, fortunately, anyone can enter the traditional bathing facility for the admission of 800 yen ($7). The mineral transparent hot spring is said to be effective for not only stiff shoulders, but it also cures rheumatic diseases, gastrointestinal troubles and external wounds. Separated bathing halls for male and female each have an open-air bathing pool. Soaking in extremely smooth hot water at an open-air bath while enjoying the view of a well-maintained garden will help you to feel as if you were a feudal lord. The facility also has restaurants, shops and rest space where various items relating to feudal lords are displayed.
INFO: 3-26-1 Asama Onsen, Matsumoto City, Nagano Pref., Tue – Sun; 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., 800 yen ($7) for adults; Tel. 0263-46-1977.
(4 hours from Iwakuni)
With its 1,400-year-old history, Arima Onsen is one of Japan’s three oldest hot springs, along with Dogo in Ehime Prefecture and Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture. Situated behind Mount Rokko, this “hidden treasure of modern Kobe” produces two kinds of mineral-rich, naturally heated spring water –“kinsen” (gold spring), rich in iron and sodium; and “ginsen” (silver spring), which contains radium and carbonate. This hot-spring town is home to numerous traditional Japanese inns, souvenir shops and beautiful parks.
INFO: Kin-no-Yu [Golden Spa], 833 Arimacho, Kita-ku, Kobe City, Hyogo Pref., 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 650 yen ($5.50) for adults, Tel 078-904-0680. Gin-no-Yu [Silver Spa], 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 550 yen ($4.50) for adults, Tel 078-904-0256.