Andrea Urbinati

Best Onsen in Japan’s Countryside

Di Andrea Urbinati

blogger, andrea urbinati, marketing, copywriting, seo
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When it comes to Japan travel, one of the must-try experiences is visiting the onsen, or natural hot springs. Japan’s countryside is dotted with over 2,300 onsen, each offering a unique and rejuvenating experience. Whether it’s the healing waters of Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma, the tranquil retreat of Hakone Onsen just a short trip from Tokyo, or the steamy cityscape of Beppu in Oita prefecture, there’s an onsen experience for every traveler. Join me as we explore the best onsen destinations in Japan’s picturesque countryside.

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The Onsen Experience

Finding the Perfect Onsen

For those unfamiliar with the concept, an onsen is a traditional Japanese hot spring, often located in areas with volcanic activity. These natural hot springs are channeled into soaking pools for guests to enjoy. Japan is home to thousands of onsens, ranging from public baths to luxurious hotel accommodations with private onsens. When planning our visit, we initially considered Hakone but ultimately discovered the allure of Kagaonsen, which turned out to be a delightful surprise.

Immersing in Relaxation

There are two primary ways to experience an onsen: a visit to a public spring, which tends to be bustling with visitors, or staying at a ryokan with its own private baths. Opting for the latter, we chose to spend our final days at Beniya Mukayu, a remarkable onsen ryokan nestled in the mountains of Yakushiyama, drawing from the natural springs of Yamashiro Onsen. The hotel provided a serene retreat, offering luxurious amenities and a setting conducive to unwinding.

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The Healing Power of Natural Hot Springs

Embracing Tranquility

During our stay at Beniya Mukayu, the healing properties of the onsen became apparent. The ryokan’s tranquil ambiance and access to private baths allowed for a truly rejuvenating experience. The calming effects of the hot spring waters, combined with the peaceful surroundings, provided a sense of renewal and relaxation. It was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Indulgent Dining Experiences

In addition to the onsen, the culinary experiences at Beniya Mukayu contributed to our overall sense of well-being. The thoughtfully prepared meals, served in the comfort of our robes, showcased the finest Japanese cuisine. Each dish was a work of art, reflecting the chef’s dedication to quality and creativity. The carefully curated dining experiences, complemented by the serene ambiance of the ryokan, added to the restorative nature of our stay.

In conclusion, the magical allure of onsen in Japan’s countryside extends beyond mere relaxation; it encompasses a holistic rejuvenation of body and spirit, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking a truly transformative experience.

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Kusatsu Onsen

Why Kusatsu is Japan’s Premier Onsen

Kusatsu Onsen is renowned for its high-quality hot springs, making it a top destination for those seeking traditional Japanese bathing experiences. The natural mineral-rich waters of Kusatsu Onsen are believed to offer therapeutic properties and have been highly regarded for centuries. The unique sulfurous composition of the hot springs sets Kusatsu apart from other onsen towns, attracting visitors looking to indulge in the healing benefits of the waters. The distinctiveness of Kusatsu’s onsen culture and the town’s commitment to preserving its historical charm contribute to its status as Japan’s premier onsen destination.

Activities Around Kusatsu Onsen

In addition to indulging in the rejuvenating hot springs, visitors to Kusatsu Onsen can explore the picturesque Yubatake, a central hot water field where the natural spring water is cooled before being channeled into the baths. The town also offers opportunities for traditional cultural experiences such as yukata-clad strolls through the charming streets, where local shops and restaurants provide a glimpse into the authentic charm of rural Japan. Outdoor enthusiasts can venture to the nearby Mount Kusatsu-Shirane for hiking and breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Furthermore, the Kusatsu International Ski Resort is a popular winter attraction, offering skiing and snowboarding opportunities amidst the stunning natural scenery.

How to Reach Kusatsu Onsen from Tokyo

Traveling from Tokyo to Kusatsu Onsen is relatively straightforward. The most convenient way to reach Kusatsu Onsen from Tokyo is by taking the JR Limited Express train “Kusatsu” from Ueno Station. The scenic train ride takes approximately 4 hours, offering travelers a chance to admire the Japanese countryside along the way. Alternatively, those preferring a direct route can take the highway bus from Shinjuku Station, which takes around 4.5 hours to reach Kusatsu Onsen. While the journey may take a few hours, the tranquil setting and unparalleled onsen experience that awaits make the trip well worth it.

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Exploring the Charms of Hakone Onsen

Hakone is a paradise for onsen enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of hot spring experiences that cater to every preference. The area is often referred to as an “onsen theme park” due to its wide variety of onsen styles and types, making it an ideal destination for anyone seeking relaxation and rejuvenation.

The Best Ryokan in Hakone

When it comes to indulging in the ultimate onsen experience, Hakone boasts some of the finest ryokans in Japan. These traditional Japanese inns provide an authentic and immersive onsen experience, allowing guests to immerse themselves in Japanese hospitality and culture. Some notable ryokans include Gora Kadan, Hakone Ginyu, and Tensui Saryo, each offering its own unique blend of luxury and tranquility.

Navigating Your Way to Hakone from Tokyo

Getting to Hakone from Tokyo is a breeze, thanks to the convenience of Japan’s efficient transportation system. Travelers can opt for the iconic Shinkansen bullet train for a swift and scenic journey, or choose from various other transportation options, including local trains and buses. The picturesque route to Hakone from Tokyo sets the perfect tone for a relaxing onsen retreat, offering captivating views of the Japanese countryside along the way.

For more information on the best ryokans in Hakone, you can visit Hakone Ryokan Collection and explore a curated selection of traditional inns renowned for their exceptional onsen facilities and gracious hospitality.

Whether you’re seeking a traditional onsen experience or a modern twist on hot spring relaxation, Hakone’s onsen offerings are sure to leave a lasting impression, making it a must-visit destination for anyone eager to immerse themselves in Japan’s rich onsen culture.

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Beppu Onsen

The Unique Baths of Beppu Onsen

Beppu Onsen is renowned for its diverse and unique baths, offering visitors a one-of-a-kind bathing experience. The “Hells” of Beppu, which are natural hot springs with various mineral compositions believed to have healing properties, are a must-visit. The different types of baths, featuring distinct therapeutic qualities, range from mud baths to sand baths and steam baths. These baths provide an unforgettable and rejuvenating experience, making Beppu Onsen a top destination for relaxation and wellness.

Visiting the “Hells” of Beppu

The “Hells” of Beppu are a fascinating attraction comprising several natural hot springs with vibrant, colorful waters caused by the varying mineral content. One of the most renowned “Hells” is the Umi Jigoku or Sea Hell, featuring a striking cobalt-blue pond. Jigoku Meguri, a tour encompassing these unique hot springs, allows visitors to explore the different “Hells,” each with its mesmerizing characteristics. It’s a captivating way to witness the powerful forces of nature while enjoying the therapeutic benefits of the hot springs.

Traveling to Beppu from Tokyo

For travelers coming from Tokyo, the most convenient way to reach Beppu is by taking a bullet train from Tokyo Station to Kokura Station in Fukuoka, followed by a transfer to the Sonic Limited Express train to Beppu Station. This seamless journey, spanning approximately five to six hours, provides picturesque views of Japan’s countryside and coastline, offering a glimpse of the nation’s natural beauty before arriving at the alluring Beppu Onsen.

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Tips and Etiquette for Visiting an Onsen

Understanding Onsen Etiquette

When visiting a Japanese onsen, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the local customs and etiquette. Onsen, or hot spring baths, hold deep cultural significance in Japan, dating back to ancient times. The communal bathing experience is a cherished tradition, but it comes with its own set of rules and norms that visitors should respect.

One of the most notable aspects of onsen etiquette is the requirement to bathe nude. This practice may seem unusual to newcomers, but it’s a fundamental part of the experience. The idea is to cleanse both the body and the soul, leaving behind any reservations or inhibitions. However, if the prospect of public nudity makes you uncomfortable, some facilities offer private baths for a more secluded experience.

Before entering the onsen, it’s customary to thoroughly cleanse your body. This typically involves showering or using the provided washing stations to ensure that you enter the bathwater completely clean. Once inside the onsen, the serene atmosphere encourages quiet contemplation and relaxation. Remember to be mindful of others and maintain a sense of tranquility during your soak.

Preparing for Your Onsen Visit

Before your onsen visit, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. If you have tattoos, it’s important to research onsen establishments that are tattoo-friendly, as some traditional venues may have policies against tattooed guests. However, an increasing number of onsen facilities are becoming more accepting of visitors with tattoos, so it’s worth exploring your options.

Additionally, be mindful of the bathing etiquette and ensure that you are comfortable with the communal bathing experience. Most onsen facilities provide the essentials such as towels and toiletries, but it’s wise to bring along anything specific you may need. Lastly, approach your onsen visit with an open mind and a willingness to embrace the unique cultural customs surrounding this time-honored Japanese tradition.

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Q&A

Q1: What makes Japanese onsens unique compared to other hot springs around the world?
A1: Japanese onsens are unique due to their rich cultural significance and the variety of mineral compositions found in the hot spring waters. These minerals, derived from volcanic activity, are believed to have therapeutic properties. Additionally, the onsens are often set in picturesque natural surroundings, and their use is deeply rooted in Japanese bathing rituals and traditions.

Q2: Are there any specific health benefits associated with bathing in an onsen?
A2: Yes, onsens are believed to offer several health benefits due to their mineral-rich waters. These include improved circulation, relief from muscle and joint pain, skin rejuvenation, and overall stress reduction. Different onsens have different mineral compositions, which can offer varied health benefits.

Q3: Can you describe a traditional onsen bathing experience?
A3: A traditional onsen bathing experience involves first cleansing the body thoroughly at shower stations before entering the hot spring. Bathing in an onsen is usually a communal, nude experience, though private options are available. It’s a time for quiet relaxation and reflection, soaking in the mineral-rich waters while enjoying the natural surroundings.

Q4: Are there any cultural etiquettes or rules one should be aware of before visiting an onsen?
A4: Yes, onsens have specific etiquettes. These include washing and rinsing off thoroughly before entering the hot spring, not bringing towels into the water, keeping the onsen water clean, and being mindful of noise levels. Additionally, many onsens have policies regarding tattoos, which are traditionally associated with Yakuza (Japanese organized crime).

Q5: What is the best time of year to visit an onsen in Japan?
A5: Onsens can be enjoyed year-round, but many find the cooler months of autumn and winter particularly delightful for a hot spring bath. The contrast of the cool air and the hot water creates a uniquely refreshing experience, especially in outdoor onsens with scenic views.

Q6: Are there any onsens suitable for families with children?
A6: Yes, many onsens are family-friendly and offer facilities like shallow pools for children. Some also provide private family baths where families can enjoy the onsen experience together in privacy.

Q7: How accessible are rural onsens for international tourists?
A7: Many rural onsens are increasingly accessible to international tourists, with facilities and information available in English. Public transportation, such as trains and buses, often provide access to these rural locations. However, some remote onsens might require additional travel planning.

Q8: Can you recommend any onsens that are particularly unique or offer an unusual experience?
A8: Beppu Onsen in Oita Prefecture offers unique sand and mud baths. Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma is known for its Yubatake (hot water field) and powerful acidic waters. Hakone Onsen offers views of Mount Fuji, and Noboribetsu Onsen in Hokkaido is famous for its “Hell Valley” volcanic landscape.

Q9: Are there any onsens that are particularly famous or historical?
A9: Yes, Dogo Onsen in Ehime Prefecture is one of Japan’s oldest and most famous onsens, known for its historic public bathhouse. Arima Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture is also one of the oldest in Japan, known for its gold and silver waters.

Q10: What should a first-time visitor to a Japanese onsen expect, and how should they prepare?
A10: First-time visitors should expect a communal bathing experience focused on relaxation and etiquette. Prepare by bringing a small towel for washing and a larger one for drying off. Familiarize yourself with onsen rules and customs, be open to the experience, and remember to stay hydrated before and after the onsen bath.

Conclusion

In the heart of Japan’s countryside, nestled among rolling hills and tranquil rivers, lies a world of serenity and warmth: the traditional onsen. These hot springs are the country’s natural sanctuaries, where the water’s embrace dissolves the barriers between the self and nature. As we conclude our exploration of Japan’s best countryside onsen, let’s immerse ourselves one last time in the steamy whispers of rural Japan’s most idyllic retreats.

Imagine a day trip from the electrifying rush of Tokyo to the serene outskirts where the countryside unfurls its scenic beauty. It’s here, beyond the urban sprawl, that you can enjoy the Japanese countryside in its most authentic form. Each prefecture boasts its unique hot springs, from the volcanic baths of Kyushu to the mineral-rich waters of Nagano. The onsen experience is not just about relaxation; it’s a pilgrimage to Japan’s soulful core.

In the shadow of Mount Fuji, the Hakone region offers hot springs with breathtaking views that have captivated bathers for centuries. The picturesque Fuji serves as a backdrop to many ryokans, where a dip in an onsen is complemented by scenic vistas that capture the quintessence of Japan’s natural grandeur. The majestic mountains, the pristine waters, and the lush countryside converge to create a photographer’s dream and a nature lover’s paradise.

The rural Japan experience is not limited to Hakone. Travel to the Nara countryside or the hidden gems of Tottori, and you’ll find onsen that are steeped in history and tradition. These places are not just destinations; they are narratives written in steam and stone, telling tales of ancient Japan and offering a glimpse into the lifestyle that thrives away from the big cities. Here, one can don a yukata and walk the paths of countryside villages, or sit by the edge of a gorge and let the natural beauty of nature seep into the spirit.

As we’ve journeyed through these rural landscapes, from the iconic onsen of Ishigaki to the secluded springs of the Shiretoko Peninsula, it’s evident that to visit Japan’s countryside is to step into a realm where time moves to the rhythm of nature. These hot springs are more than just places to visit; they are sanctuaries that purify the mind and body, offering respite from the frenetic pace of modern life.

Each onsen we’ve visited has been a defining feature of the region, reflecting the history and culture that is as rich and diverse as the landscape itself. Whether you’re taking a day trip from Tokyo, spending an entire weekend in the osaka countryside, or embarking on a scenic journey to the heart of rural Japan, the onsen experience is an essential part of the adventure.

As the sun sets on our exploration, let’s carry with us the serene memories of the countryside’s hot springs—the steam rising against the backdrop of verdant forests, the soft murmur of flowing water, and the sense of peace that envelopes you. These moments, set against the breathtaking scenery of rural Japan, are snapshots of a journey that transcends the physical. They are invitations to return, to once again enjoy the Japanese countryside and the tranquil embrace of its onsen.

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About the author
blogger, andrea urbinati, marketing, copywriting, seo

Hi! I’m Andrea, a passionate freelance writer with a knack for captivating storytelling.

With a decade of marketing expertise and a genuine love for crafting compelling content, I bring your ideas to life!

Let me know if you need a writer for your blog!

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