Exploring Japan’s Onsen Culture: A Journey Through Its Top Hot Springs

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Japan, a land where the practice of bathing is elevated to an art form, boasts a deep-rooted onsen (hot spring) culture that dates back centuries.

From the bustling cities to the serene countryside, the presence of onsens is a testament to Japan’s unique geothermal activity and its integral role in everyday life.

In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of Japanese baths and onsens, exploring everything from the daily bathing rituals to the serene allure of famous hot spring destinations.


In winter, hot spring towns often experience a unique phenomenon where steam rises throughout the town. This occurs because the hot water from the springs, often at temperatures well above the ambient, interacts with the cold air. As a result, the significant temperature difference causes steam to form, creating an enchanting, misty atmosphere that blankets the town. This scenic view not only adds to the charm and allure of the hot spring area but also provides a cozy and mystical experience to visitors.


The Abundance of Hot Springs in Japan: Exploring the Why

Japan’s landscape is dotted with over 3,000 onsen locations, thanks to its volcanic activity. These natural hot springs are not just a geographical marvel; they are intertwined with the cultural fabric of the country.

The geological setting, with Japan located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, accounts for the high volcanic activity, leading to the formation of numerous hot springs.

Each onsen is unique, offering different mineral compositions, which are believed to have various health benefits.

The Japanese Way of Enjoying Onsen: A Unique Experience

Onsen bathing in Japan is more than a mere soak. It’s a ritual that starts with washing at a shower station before entering the bath, ensuring a clean experience for all.

Quiet contemplation and relaxation are key elements.

People often travel to onsens for therapeutic reasons, as the minerals in the water are known for healing properties. It’s also a social activity, where friends and family gather to unwind.

The onsen experience is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, representing a fusion of cleanliness, health, and social connection.

Japan’s Three Great Onsens: Exploring the Legendary Waters of Arima, Kusatsu, and Gero”

Arima Onsen in Hyogo: A Blend of Luxury and History


If you’re hesitant about hot spring customs, why not try a foot bath? Just soaking your feet up to your ankles in the hot spring can relieve the fatigue of traveling.

Arima Onsen, nestled in the mountains of Hyogo Prefecture, is one of Japan’s oldest and most prestigious hot spring resorts. With a history spanning over a thousand years, this onsen town offers a rich cultural experience. Arima’s waters are famous for their variety, particularly the “Kinsen” (gold water) rich in iron, and the clear “Ginsen” (silver water). Visitors can enjoy the blend of luxury ryokans (traditional inns) and the historical charm that permeates the town.

Things you must try at Arima Onsen
Kobe Beef (神戸牛, こうべぎゅう): A globally renowned delicacy, Kobe beef is known for its flavor, tenderness, and well-marbled texture.
Tansan Senbei (炭酸せんべい, たんさんせんべい): These are unique carbonated crackers, a local favorite.
Manju (饅頭, まんじゅう): A traditional Japanese confection made of flour, rice powder, buckwheat, and filled with sweet red bean paste.
Dango (団子, だんご): Sweet dumplings made from mochiko (rice flour), often served on a skewer.
Croquettes (コロッケ): A popular snack or side dish, often filled with minced meat, vegetables, or seafood.
Arima Beer (有馬ビール): A local craft beer, offering a unique taste to visitors.
Arima Cider Teppo Water (ありまサイダー てっぽう水): A locally produced cider, named after the famous Teppo water of Arima.
Boar Meat Buns (イノシシ肉まん, いのししにくまん): Buns filled with boar meat, offering a distinctive flavor​​.

Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma: Where Nature Meets Wellness

Kusatsu Onsen, located in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture, is celebrated for its high-quality sulfuric waters, renowned for their healing properties.

The picturesque town is surrounded by lush nature, providing a serene backdrop for relaxation.

The Yubatake (‘hot water field’) is a symbol of the town, where steaming water cools before being distributed to the various bathhouses.

Kusatsu is also known for its traditional ‘yumomi’ performance, where the water’s temperature is lowered using large wooden paddles in a rhythmic and communal manner.


The Yubatake, meaning “hot water field” in Japanese, is a symbolic and central attraction in Kusatsu Onsen, one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts. Located in Gunma Prefecture, the Yubatake is renowned for its high sulfur content and is among the top sources of hot spring water in Japan. This area showcases a unique wooden structure designed to cool the boiling water, which flows down the wooden channels, creating a picturesque and steamy landscape. It’s not only a stunning sight but also integral to Kusatsu’s rich hot spring culture, attracting numerous visitors yearly who come to experience its therapeutic benefits.

Things you must try at Kusatsu Onsen

Soba (Buckwheat Noodles)(蕎麦、そば): Due to its proximity to Nagano, which is famous for soba, Kusatsu Onsen offers a variety of delicious soba dishes.
Pork Dishes(豚肉料理): The area is known for its pork production, resulting in a range of pork-based dishes including tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and pork shabu-shabu (thinly sliced pork swished in hot broth).
Onsen Manju(温泉まんじゅう): A type of steamed bun that is a local delicacy.
Local Sake(地酒、じざけ): The region offers a selection of delicious local sake, perfect for pairing with its various culinary offerings.

Gero Onsen in Gifu: A Haven of Peace and Healing

Gero Onsen in Gifu Prefecture is revered as one of Japan’s top three onsens. The town, alongside the Hida River, offers a picturesque setting for rejuvenation.

The alkaline waters here are known for their general health benefits and are said to leave the skin silky smooth.

Gero’s charm lies in its welcoming atmosphere, where visitors can indulge in open-air baths, visit the local footbaths, and experience the traditional hospitality of the ryokan inns.

The town also offers cultural attractions like the Gero Onsen Gassho Village, showcasing traditional thatched houses.


Ayu no Shioyaki is a traditional Japanese dish featuring grilled Ayu fish, known for its sweet flavor. Ayu, also known as sweetfish, is a small river fish commonly found in Japan. The fish is typically salted and then grilled whole over an open flame, which gives it a crispy skin and a smoky, savory taste.

Things you must try at Gero Onsen

Hida Beef(飛騨牛、ひだぎゅう): Renowned for its quality and flavor, Hida beef is a highlight of Gero Onsen’s culinary offerings.
Hoba Miso Steak(朴葉味噌ステーキ、ほうばみそ): This unique dish features steak grilled with a secret miso recipe, providing a distinctive local flavor.
Hida Beef Rice Bowls(飛騨牛丼、ひだぎゅうどん): These bowls combine the delicious Hida beef with rice, offering a satisfying and traditional meal.
Hida Beef and Hida Pork Nigiri(飛騨牛と飛騨豚の握り): A special take on nigiri, using locally sourced Hida beef and pork.
Honwaka Pudding(ほんわかプリン): A special dessert made with 100% Gero milk, known for its creamy texture and rich flavor.

Japan’s onsen and bathing culture is not just about cleanliness; it’s a journey into the heart of Japanese tradition and relaxation.

The experience of soaking in the mineral-rich waters of Arima, Kusatsu, and Gero Onsen, amidst Japan’s breathtaking landscapes, is more than just a bath – it’s a rejuvenating escape for the mind, body, and soul. When in Japan, embracing the onsen experience is an unmissable opportunity to connect with a key aspect of Japanese culture.

So, we encourage you to dive in, soak up, and enjoy the transformative power of Japanese hot springs.

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