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HIS Hawaii Japan Tips 05/19/2024

Destination Guide: Best Onsen Spots in Japan

Written by Nichole Bowen

Japan is a hotspot for culture — and I do mean that literally! Read below for the best onsen towns in Japan!

If you’ve ever been to Japan, you know the importance of onsen, or hot springs, to Japanese culture. Whether a stop at a simple sento with friends or family after a long day, or a holiday vacation to one of the many famous onsen destinations, hot spring visits are a crucial part of regular life in Japan. But, even within a single town, options can be seemingly infinite. So how does one decide on which onsen destination to visit?

With this guide, you’ll have the tools you need to pick the onsen destination that’s right for you. Whether its simmering in hot springs of southern Kyushu or warming up in the baths of snowy Hokkaido in the north, a dip in one of these onsens are bound to have you feeling relaxed and renewed. So get ready to take the plunge into Japanese culture and see what these onsen destinations are all about!

These destinations will be listed by island, going from north to south, for your reading convenience.



First on the list is Noboribetsu, a famous hot spring town on the northern island of Hokkaido. Only about 1.5-2 hours from the city of Sapporo, this area is a popular destination for those looking to escape the city for a day or two.

Said to be discovered over one thousand years ago by a monk in the 12th century, Noboribetsu has been a destination for weary travelers for a long time. It gained popularity in the Edo Period (1603-1868) as a place for wandering samurai to rest after a long journey.

Like many hot spring towns, Noboribetsu is settled in a volcanic hot spot. The geothermal activity from the Shikotsu-Toya mountainous area provides hot sulfurous water, rich in minerals that do wonders for health and leave your skin glowing.

Hokkaido’s Jigokudani. Looks like this “hell” did freeze over!

If you’re interested in seeing the volcanic activity in action, take a visit to Jigokudani (not to be confused with the monkey park in Nagano). Translated to “hell valley”, this area is sprinkled with sulfuric steam vents, volcanic craters, and milky blue hot spring rivers. Like a scene from another planet, this scenery is not to be missed!

How to get there: From Shin-Sapporo Station, take the Suzuran Limited Express Higashi-Muroran on the Hokuto line. Get off at Horobetsu Station. This route takes about 1.5 hours.


Hoshino Aomori-ya

Hot tip: If you see anything with the name Hoshino, you know you’re in for top-tier accommodations.

Hoshino Resorts always have the most beautiful rooms!

Aomori-ya is one of the many gorgeous resorts in the Hoshino family of hotels and ryokans. Beginning in the 18th century as a small, local ryokan in Karuizawa, the company started to rapidly expand in 2001, as it aimed to create accommodations that seamlessly blend the beauty of tradition with modern comfort. They aim to provide “a unique experience focused on the local charms of each destination and a high level of omotenashi, Japanese-style hospitality”.

Aomori-ya is no different. This beautiful ryokan is a favorite amongst HIS customers, returning time and time again. The facility offers three different types of baths, including a gorgeous outdoor rotenburo, or open-air bath, surrounded by a pond.

Aomori is famous for its apples, and Aomori-ya is unique in that it provides an actual apple juice faucet that dispenses fresh, delicious Aomori apple juice! And if you can’t get enough of those scrumptious apples, try apple picking at a nearby orchard.

Apple juice fountain?! How cool!!

If you’d like to visit, why not join our Hokkaido + Aomori Food & Foliage Tour this autumn? This popular tour is filling up fast, so if you’re interested, sign up today!

How to get there: From Aomori Station, take the Aoimori Tetsudo train labelled “Local Hachinohe”. Get off at Misawa Station, and Aomori-ya is just a five minute walk away. There is also a free shuttle bus from Misawa Station, Misawa Airport, and Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel. A reservation is required at least two days prior to use the shuttle.


If you’re at all familiar with the world of onsen, chances are you’ve heard of Ginzan.

Nestled in the beautiful mountains of Yamagata, this famous onsen town flourished in the Edo period (1603-1868) as a silver mining town. However, its fame continued long after mining activity ceased as it preserved its historic buildings for a nostalgic charm that is found few and far between in the modern world. Visitors can walk on cobblestone paths along the Ginzan River, stopping at foot baths scattered throughout the town to relax their tired feet. Each step carries them back in time to the Edo period, walking along the same walkways that so many before them have for centuries.

Now that’s a winter scene! Makes me want to get cozy in a hot spring!

Because it is settled so deeply in nature, far from the influence of the modern world, Ginzan is stunning in every season. However, winter is where this town truly shines. Snow blankets the thatched roofs while warm, welcoming light shines along the cobblestone streets, beckoning visitors to come inside.

Guests can stay at a traditional Japanese inn, where hospitality is a priority. These ryokan offer private baths as well as public ones, so even those with tattoos or those who are a little more shy can enjoy the warm comfort of the onsen.

How to get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Yamagata Shinkansen Tsubasa to Oishida Station (3 hours and 20 minutes). Then take the Ginzan Onsen bus (about 35 minutes).


If you’re looking for a conveniently located onsen destination with fewer tourists, look no further. Only an hour outside of Tokyo by bullet train, Minakami is an easy location to get to, but it is often overlooked by those opting to go to nearby ski resorts in Nagano, so that means way less crowds to deal with!

The famous Takaragawa Onsen in Minakami — enjoy the onsen with views of the river!

This town, found in Gunma prefecture, is a great area for outdoorsy folks, boasting fantastic ski resorts in winter and river rafting, golf, and hiking in the warmer months. Those with a creative side can enjoy Takumi-no-Sato, or the craftsman’s village, where you can partake in a variety of local crafts like cloisonne, straw weaving, and indigo dyeing. Feeling hungry? Why not try fruit picking at Fruit Land Mogitore, where you can pick seasonal fruits to your heart’s content all-year round.

After a long day of adventuring, crafting, and fruit picking, nothing sounds better than a quiet dip in a hot spring, free from any major crowds. This area has a great combination of both traditional Japanese inns as well as modern hotels, all of which offer a variety of public, private, indoor, and outdoor baths. There’s a little something for everyone in the town of Minakami!

Minakami is one of the many exciting stops on our Japan Art + Culture Tour (which has an Onsen almost every night!), so if you’re interested in Japanese culture and onsens, sign up today!

How to get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Joetsu Shinkansen towards Niigata and get off at Jomokogen Station (about 1 hour and 11 minutes). From there, you can take the Minakami train line or bus to get to your hotel.


Hakone is well-known around Japan as one of the best onsen towns to go on vacation.Not only does it boast fantastic onsen ryokan, but it also offers a lot to do in the area, starting with great views of the iconic Mt. Fuji. You can get this view from both the nearby Lake Ashi boat rides as well as from the ropeway over Owakudani Volcanic Area — the same volcanic hotspot that provides Hakone with sulfurous, mineral-rich hot spring water!

Lake Ashi views of Mt. Fuji! Take the pirate boat cruise for stunning scenery!

Hakone-Yumoto, the entrance to Hakone area, is the main area, but the nearby mountainous area of Gora (my personal favorite) has a lot to do and see, as well as some of the best accommodations. Here, you can also find the Hakone Open-Air Sculpture Museum, one of the most unique art museums I have ever visited.

The museum is home to sculptures from both local and international artists, and each is methodically placed in stunning spots out in nature. Walking around this museum is more like taking a stroll in a park in the mountains, but this park has incredible, surreal sculptures scattered all along the way. I recommend going in the autumn to see the art amongst the fall leaves, but any season is gorgeous in this area.

A few tips for Hakone: This town is conveniently located about an hour outside of Tokyo, on the way to Osaka, so it’s an easy stop for those looking to get out of the city for a night while traveling between the two. If you plan to stay for a day or two, definitely look into getting the Hakone Free Pass, which allows you free use of the transportation in Hakone, not only including buses and trains, but also the Lake Ashi boats and Owakudani Ropeway! Finally, if you’re looking to avoid crowds, try to go in the off-season (avoid Golden Week at all costs!).

And don’t forget to try a kuro-tamago (“black egg”), Hakone’s famous eggs boiled in the volcanic waters of Owakudani, said to add seven years to your life!

An egg that adds seven years to your life?! I’ll take ten!

Wanting to visit Hakone, but not feeling confident going on your own? Why not join one of our tours visiting the area this fall! Check out our Japan Art + Culture Tour and our World Heritage Tour for two different perspectives on the same spectacular town!

How to get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen to Odawara Station (33 minutes), then take the Local Hakone-Yumoto train on the Hakonetozan Line (14 minutes) and get off at Hakone-Yumoto Station.


Onsen and the beach? Sign me up! Atami, literally translated to “hot ocean”, is a great place for those looking to get a coastal onsen experience not too far from Tokyo. Atami has been a retreat for weary travelers, aristocrats, and samurai since the 8th century, but it really gained popularity in the Edo Period when it became a favorite destination among the ruling class. You’ll definitely feel like royalty sitting in one of these hot springs!

Stunning, coastal Atami!

Atami is a great spot because it’s big enough that it has a wide variety of accommodations and activities to suit the needs of any traveler. There are big western style spa hotels and resorts as well as quaint little ryokans with the full Japanese inn experience, and a lot of these offer both private and public hot spring options. As for what to do, there is lots of shopping, of course, but any nature-lover can enjoy beaches, parks, and hiking trails, many of which offer gorgeous views of Suruga Bay. Art lovers can also enjoy themselves at the MOA Museum of Art, which features art from both Japan as well as the rest of the world!

Atami also has something special for every season! If you’re in Atami during the summer, there are spectacular fireworks displays over the bay, and springtime brings about the Atami Baien (plum blossom) Festival. This is when all the plum blossoms bloom, and locals celebrate these much like cherry blossom festivals in the rest of Japan — that means food, drinks, song, and all-around celebration!

How to get there: From Tokyo, depart from Tokyo Station and take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen and get off at Atami Station (about 45 minutes).


Kinosaki Onsen dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185), making it one of Japan’s oldest onsen towns, It was said to have been discovered by a Buddhist monk who designated it a place of pilgrimage and healing. Today, the town very much maintains its old charm, featuring picturesque canals, willow-lined streets, and traditional wooden buildings. Visitors can immerse themselves in the past by wearing yukata (like a light cloth kimono) around town, which creates a nostalgic atmosphere of old Japan.

Wear your yukata around town and step into old Japan!

This town is known for its seven main bathhouses, known as soto-yu, for which visitors can buy onsen passes that grant them access to all of them, regardless of where they’re staying. And if you’re looking for a break from the onsens, why not try a “forest bath” instead? This is a Japanese practice that basically just means a walk in the forest, but places emphasis on the cleansing properties that spending time in nature has on the human mind. Settled within the forest, Kinosaki Onsen is a great spot for this! You can also take boat rides around the bay, or celebrate one of the many festivals held in the area — I recommend the Snow Crab Festival in the Winter! Yum!

Our Taste of Kansai Tour makes a stop here, so if you’d like to stop at one of Japan’s oldest onsen towns and eat fantastic food all along the way, sign up before spots fill up!

How to get there: From Kyoto Station, take the San-in Line and get off at Kinosaki Onsen Station (about 3 hours and 15 minutes).


Dogo Onsen

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the bathhouse in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, this is your chance! The iconic Dogo Onsen Honkan in Dogo is said to have inspired Miyazaki’s fictional bathhouse, and this onsen isn’t just culturally significant in modern times. In fact, this is one of Japan’s oldest onsens, dating back to over 3,000 years.

Dogo Onsen has been visited by emperors, aristocrats, artists, and commoners alike throughout its long history. Steeped in a rich culture, this town is home to many legends and myths, said to have hosted deities and mythical creatures, much like those in Spirited Away!

You can just feel the rich, ancient culture!

Dogo Onsen Honkan is a three-story wooden structure that blends traditional Japanese and western architecture to create an archetypal place of gathering that has been referenced in literature for centuries. Although it no longer offers lodging, you can still visit the bathhouse itself, and there are plenty of ryokans around Dogo where you can make your homebase.

As a cultural hub, the town offers not only traditional onsen experience, but is also sprinkled with museums and galleries. And while you’re there, why not watch a traditional Yumiharizuki dance? If you feel like getting outside Dogo, you can also check out some of the nearby nature scenes as well as the popular Matsuyama Castle. This is one of Japan’s 12 remaining castles, so it’s definitely worth a visit!

If you’d like to check out Dogo Onsen as well as the rest of incredible Shikoku, sign up for our Shikoku Odyssey Tour with Ultimate Japan!

How to get there: From Matsuyama City, depart from Matsuyamaekimae Station. Take the Local Dogo Onsen tram on the Iyo Tetsudo Jr- Matsuyamaekimae Line and get off at Dogo Onsen Station (about 25 minutes.).

From Osaka, take the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama Station (about 45 minutes), then take the Yosan Line-Limited Express to Matsuyama (about 1.5 hours) to Matsuyama Station. Walk 5 minutes to JR Matsuyamaekimae Station and follow the instructions above to get to Dogo Onsen.



As we move south, Kyushu has some delightful onsen spots to visit, and Beppu is one of the most renown. It’s a bit over two hours away from Fukuoka, so it’s definitely worth staying overnight at one of the many incredible accommodations the town has to offer.

Like many of the towns we’ve talked about so far, Beppu is near a geothermal hotspot, which allows for the mineral-rich hot springs that we all know and love. But Beppu has something a little special, also offering mud baths, steam vents, and even hot sand baths, creating truly unique onsen experiences! Try visiting one (or all!) of the “Beppu Hatto”, or the eight hot springs of Beppu, all of which offer different bathing experiences to try.

Steam rising up from the hot springs of Beppu

As for sightseeing, Beppu has a lot to see! The most popular are the “hells” of Beppu (similar to those at Jigokudani in Noboribetsu). Each has its own unique characteristics; “Umi Jigoku” or “sea hell”, is a bright, boiling blue, “Shiraike Jigoku” or “White Pond Hell” is a milky white, while “Chinoike Jigoku” or “Blood Pond Hell” is a deep red. These are just a few of the “hells” you can visit, so definitely make sure to check them all out to see which is your favorite!

Besides the Hells of Beppu, there are lots of other things to do. For example, you can also try steam cooking, where you actually cook food in the onsen water! There is also a Bamboo Crafts Center and Zoological Garden for those looking to get away from the heat for a little.

How to get there: From Fukuoka (Hakata Station), take the Sonic Limited Express Oita. Get off at Beppu Station (about 2 hours).


Next we’ll move to the other side of Kyushu to Unzen Onsen in Nagasaki Prefecture. Unzen Onsen sits on Mt. Unzen, an active volcano that provides soothing hot water with minerals that do wonders for one’s health. Unzen has been around since the Edo Period and, since then, aristocrats, samurai, and other travelers have found respite in its tranquil waters.

Scenic Unzen Ropeway

Settled in the mountains in Unzen-Amakusa National Park, Unzen is known for its scenic beauty in addition to its wonderful hot spring offerings. Hiking trails and observation points allow fantastic views of the volcanic landscape and nearby Ariake Sea. For the best views, definitely don’t miss a ride on the Unzen Ropeway up Nita Pass! These views are stunning in any season, but autumn is supposed to be particularly spectacular. Unzen also has “hells” of its own, much like Beppu, so don’t forget to check these out for some otherworldly scenes of bubbling sulfur water and steam vents!

The hells of Unzen!

Unzen is a little out of the way, so why not take it easy and let us take care of it for you? Join our Autumn Sumo and Onsen Tour today!

How to get there: From Nagasaki City, take the Nagasaki-Unzen Line Limited Express Bus from the Nagasaki Ekimae bus stop (in front of Nagasaki station) and get off at Unzen Oyama Information Center (about 1 hour and 45 minutes).


After all these lovely onsen destinations, how about something a little different? Last, but certainly not least, we have Ibusuki Onsen in Kagoshima Prefecture, a truly unique area that is sure to be a memorable experience. While this coastal town does have regular hot springs, rich in minerals like sodium chloride and hydrogen carbonate, the most captivating feature of this area is the sunamushi, or sand baths! If you ever buried your friends in the sand as a kid, it’s a lot like that, except these sands are naturally heated, allowing the body to relax in the warmth and absorb the rich minerals buried in the earth!

Ready for your sand bath?

Plus, what’s more relaxing than a walk on the beach? Ibusuki is a coastal town, so once you’re all loosey-goosey from your sand bath, take a stroll down the beach or through the nearby volcanic landscape with stunning coastal views. The town also has several different museums, galleries, and even festivals, so make sure to look at the town calendar to see what’s available while you’re there! And when you work up an appetite after all that adventure, the town also has incredible seafood in addition to some fantastic regional dishes, such as Kagoshima Kurobuta pork and flying fish!

Our Autumn Sumo and Onsen Tour in Kyushu also visits Ibusuki Onsen, so make sure to check it out if you’re interested!

How to get there: From Kagoshima City, depart from Kagoshimachuo Station using the Ibusukimakurazaki Line, and get off at Ibusuki Station (about 50 minutes).


Wow! There’s so many great onsen destinations to choose from — and there are even more that didn’t make the list! All this information can be overwhelming, so if you’re having trouble deciding which of these amazing places to visit, you can always contact us with questions. Our staff would be happy to help you decide on the best onsen destination to suit your needs.

We have a lot of group tours going to these areas including our Japan Art + Culture Tour, Kyushu Autumn Sumo and Onsen Tour, Taste of Kansai Tour, World Heritage Tour, Food & Foilage Tour, and Shikoku Odyssey Tour with Ultimate Japan — all this Autumn 2024! Check them out at our website below!

If group tours aren’t really your thing, keep an eye out for HIS updates with our newsletter! We may soon be releasing private packages to some of these destinations… but you didn’t hear it from me!