There’s no better way to thaw out in the dead of winter than with a steamy hot spring bath. For many in Japan, onsen (hot springs) baths are a daily ritual. These steamy soaks are synonymous with healing — both physically and mentally — thanks to the mineral-rich volcanic waters.
These experiences are typically enjoyed in traditional ryokans (Japanese inns), but can also be found in a variety of settings — including community bathhouses, private en-suite soaking tubs in modern hotels and even in a “bath” of hot-spring-heated sand.
If you’re curious about dipping your toes into the steamy spring waters, take a trip to these onsens for a versatile lineup of experiences across Japan.
The famous hot spring town of Hakone — roughly two hours southwest of Tokyo by train — plays host to several public and private onsen opportunities, but our top pick is Gora Kadan.
Once the summer home of the imperial family, this traditional ryokan checks all the boxes: lovely gardens, elaborate kaiseki (multi-course) Japanese meals, a modern spa and communal onsens (his and hers) that overlook the mountainous landscapes of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.
If you’re not keen on sharing, several of the minimalist rooms include their own private open-air baths, as well as Japanese tatami mat bedding to round out the authentic experience.
Park Hyatt Tokyo
Who says onsens are best enjoyed in the countryside? One of Tokyo’s most famous urban retreats, this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star tower made its claim to fame when the 52nd-floor New York Bar starred in the 2003 indie-romance Lost in Translation. However, the Shinjuku mainstay is home to quite a bit more than just a famous cocktail bar.
The serene spa area is among the largest and most lavish in the city — it’s so exclusive that even hotel guests have to pay to access it. Stretching across 22,000 square feet, the Club on the Park combines a massive two-story spa, gym and wellness center. Within the palatial sanctuary, you can enjoy various heat therapies — take a dip in steamy baths, whirlpools and wet saunas.
A combination of modern and classic Japanese luxury can be found at this urban sanctuary. Located in Tokyo’s financial district, the Four-Star address features 84 rooms that have been designed to channel the soothing surroundings of a ryokan.
Featuring shoji sliding doors, rock gardens and light wood accents, the clean, simple rooms also include furo soaking tubs (small and deep Japanese-style baths) facing large windows with views of the Imperial Palace Gardens.
Izu Marriott Hotel Shuzenji
Don’t let the retro façade fool you: this newly opened Izu Peninsula property just south of Tokyo is much more luxurious than you’d expect. A health and wellness resort in the middle of the forest, the hotel channels the vibes of a ryokan but with modern amenities, a contemporary restaurant and English-speaking staff.
Pretty light wood floors, smart toilets, in-room granite soaking tubs (overlooking Mt Fuji, no less), hiking trails and a photogenic nearby golf course (which spoils players with self-driving carts) are just a few of the unique selling points at this rural address.
While you’re in the area, you may want to visit a customary community onsen. A short drive will take you into the ancient temple town of Shuzenji, where you’ll find Tokko No Yu — one of the oldest and most celebrated hot springs in Japan.
Shiosai no Yado Seikai
Famous for its hot springs, the town of Beppu — on the eastern coast of the southern island of Kyushu — is home to countless ryokans and onsen hotels, but Shiosai no Yado Seikai is among the most contemporary.
The oceanfront address provides a mix of Western- and Japanese-style bedrooms, each featuring its own terrace and romantic open-air bath. Enjoy the local waters with a trip down to the beach, where a communal hot spring sits within feet of the waves.
During your time in Beppu, try another, less traditional form of heat therapy. In the nearby beach town of Ibusuki, relax on the sand as you’re buried up to your neck in grains that have been heated by natural spring waters. It is believed that the weight and warmth of the sand promotes better circulation, opens up pores and generally improves your health.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Known as the Wild Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudani Yaen-Koen (located near Nagano) is a wild time. The powder-covered park claims to be the only place in the world where you can watch monkeys bathing in hot springs — though we’re sorry to report that you can’t join in on the fun.
These red-faced Japanese macaques take refuge from their chilly surroundings in the steaming baths, which are fed fresh water from the mountain springs.
There’s a nominal admission fee that is used to maintain the park, and wear sneakers because you’ll have to make a short trek before you come across the onsen-loving monkeys.
If you’re looking for an authentic onsen encounter (which calls for mineral spring waters) where you don’t merely gawk from afar, we’d suggest a trip to Amanemu, situated about six hours east of the capital on the shores of Ago Bay in the southeastern Mie prefecture.
At this gorgeous resort, you’ll discover public bathing pavilions as well as 24 luxurious suites and four villas.
Each room includes a romantic Japanese garden and a private onsen fed by the hotel’s own mountain spring.