It was a very long summer. In fact, it still is (it’s almost 30 degrees today despite being almost mid-September), but the temperatures will soon begin to calm down, gradually paving the way to the much anticipated and stunningly gorgeous autumn. With the new season of course come new adventures; new ways to entertain ourselves and reboot our energy, but undeniably one of the best ways to do that is having a quiet onsen experience far, far away from the crowded metropolis. The following 12 hot spring resorts offer the ultimate refreshing experience — from unique baths and stay plans to exquisite cuisine and breathtaking scenery you’d want to picture in your mind forever.
If you haven’t made any plans for the upcoming long weekends in the next few months, here are a few outstanding resorts to soak in.
1. Hotel Matsumotoro (Gunma)
Just two hours away from central Tokyo and nestled at the entrance to the famous onsen town Ikaho in Gunma Prefecture, this quiet, family-friendly hotel boasts two scenic open-air baths (in addition to two indoor baths and a foot onsen) that have even served as healing waters for wounded samurais in the past. Surrounded by unique tourist spots, including the world heritage site Tomioka Silk Mill and the magnificent Lake Haruna, this hotel is the perfect weekend getaway with plenty of opportunities for a quiet holiday in nature with the whole family.
At night, enjoy an exquisite kaiseki (full-course) meal and sing your heart away at the hotel’s two karaoke rooms. If you’re visiting this month, you’ll also see the most famous yearly event in the region, the Ikaho Matsuri, running September 18 to 20. Until the end of October, Matsumotoro also offers special discount plans to commemorate its grand renewal opening earlier this year.
Where: 164 Ikaho-machi, Shibukawa-shi, Gunma Prefecture
Stay: Cheapest weekday plans start from ¥11,000 per person
2. Yubara Onsen Hakkei (Okayama)
Located in the mountains of Okayama Prefecture, this historic onsen prides itself with its natural waters famed for their beautifying properties. In fact, Yubara is nicknamed “Bijin-no-yu” (beautiful woman’s bath) thanks to its ability to make your skin softer and smoother. There is a mixed rotemburo (outdoor bath) right in front of Hakkei where men and women can wear towels or bathing clothes and enjoy the quality springs together for free at anytime – perfect for couples on a romantic getaway. And when you’re done with the bath, tour around the area for an authentic experience of rural living in Okayama: from fruit picking to strolling among lavender gardens and cycling around the spectacular Hiruzen highlands.
Where: 1572 Toyosaka, Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture
Stay: From ¥14,040 per person
3. Yuyake Koyake (Hyogo)
For people who find it awkward to bathe with a group of strangers, having a private open-air bath in your room that has all needed minerals and splendid views of the mountains, sounds like a great deal. Well, at Yuyake Koyake this is all possible. The inn features 17 guest rooms equipped with rotemburo, as well as other open-air baths available by special booking. To add to that, it also offers creative cuisine using only fresh vegetables from its own garden and other seasonal, locally grown ingredients. Dubbed “an oasis of green serenity,” this is the perfect getaway for busy urbanites.
Where: 187 Maenosho, Yumesaki-cho, Himeji-shi, Hyogo Prefecture
Stay: From ¥25,272 per person
4. Kaisekiyado Suihoen (Gifu)
Suihoen is a traditional Japanese-style ryokan located close to the famous Shirakawago Gassho village in Gifu Prefecture’s Gero Onsen area, which has long been regarded as one of Japan’s “Big Three” hot spring regions. One of the best features of this ryokan is its pride in serving traditional cuisine, especially the locally sourced Hida beef and rice grown in the area.
The rice is cooked on an open clay stove in large silver pots, giving it a very unique taste and aroma. For those who doubt that plain rice can taste differently, this is a must-try delicacy that has won four consecutive gold awards and three consecutive grand prizes in Japan’s national Delicious Rice Contest. Suihoen features 19 rooms—nine of which have private baths—that allow guests to relax and rejuvenate their mind, body and spirit as they overlook the breathtaking natural scenery of the surrounding countryside.
Where: 2519-1 Mori, Gero-shi, Gifu Prefecture
Stay: From ¥18,809 per person
5. Hotel Wakamizu (Hyogo)
Takarazuka in Hyogo Prefecture is mostly known for its powerful all-female musical theater troupes, but locals say there’s more to it than that: it’s a quaint onsen town boasting natural beauty, amazing food and friendly people. Hotel Wakamizu offers visitors an elegant authentic Japanese experience as soon as they step in: the lobby exudes a quintessential Japanese aura, while the corridors are lined with flowers in traditional delicate ikebana arrangements, adding to the luxuriousness of the building.
The highlight, however, is the roof, which boasts a large open-air bath also surrounded by flowers and pleasant aroma (in addition to a splendid view of the nearby town and river). The rose bath (pictured) open for visitors on Mondays and Saturdays is a truly refreshing experience, which will leave your skin soft and smooth.
As to food, we think it’s enough to say that Hotel Wakamizu was featured in the Michelin Guide Hyogo special edition (2016) and we can only recommend you to try their renowned kaiseki that pays homage to all four seasons.
Where: 9-25 Yumotocho, Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture
Stay: ¥19,440 per person
6. Hazu Gassyo (Aichi)
Located near Toyota in Aichi Prefecture, Hazu Gassyo is an exclusive Japanese-style inn offering traditional hospitality in a peaceful and picturesque setting. It has only five rooms, making sure that each guest receives the ryokan’s highest omotenashi hospitality, which includes a full set of soul and body pampering — from exquisite food to a refreshing hot spring dip.
Enjoy a rotemburo made from traditional Japanese cypress while overlooking a beautiful valley of serene forests, rivers and neighboring tea plantations that are a natural way of life. Lovers of traditional architecture will not be disappointed by the understated beauty of exposed beams, open fireplaces and the use of ornate, wooden carpentry throughout the resort. The hotel building itself is two stories with high ceilings, and all rooms also have both living and bedroom areas that provide the feeling of a private villa. The lobby is cozy and inviting, with a real fireplace and a beautiful view of the valley from the balcony—making for a truly relaxing atmosphere.
Where: 18-1 Minamidaira, Toyooka, Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture
Stay: From ¥17,000 per person
7. Lamp no Yado (Ishikawa)
If you’re traveling with someone you want to impress, count on this one. Lamp no Yado is situated at the tip of the Noto Peninsula, distinctly located at the base of a sheltered cliff face. Facing the Sea of Japan, the rotemburo offer spectacular views day or night and are illuminated with chochin (traditional lanterns) in the evening after the sun sets. The ladies’ rotemburo is in a man-made cave, which allows privacy while adding a natural, rustic ambiance.
Though the stay is impressive in itself, wait ‘till the food is served. Original kaiseki cuisine offers the freshest seasonal delicacies, served at a dining hall with signature lamps and views of the pool and sea. Private dining areas are, of course, also available. Visitors will also delight at the treasures to be found in the local Wajima morning market—one of the largest in Japan, as well as the 1,000 Hirata—rice paddies terraced into the cliff face hundreds of years ago—and the castle town of Kanazawa. One of the most popular onsen resorts in Japan, this one gets fully booked easily, so make sure you reserve well in advance.
Where: 10-11 Jike, Misaki-machi, Suzu-shi, Ishikawa Prefecture
Stay: From ¥18,000 per person
8. Kifu no Sato (Okayama)
There is a feeling of tradition as you enter the spacious main foyer of this ryokan — everything from the seasonal flowers and the decor is designed to enhance the atmosphere of history and an authentic ryokan experience. Kifu no Sato offers four bathhouses within the establishment for your comfort and relaxation. But what attracts visitors even more than the healing waters, fresh cuisine and comfortable rooms, is the unique “samurai culture tour” the ryokan offers. Including plenty of hands-on activities sure to delight and excite, the tour offers you a visit to the Miyamoto Musashi museum and the samurai’s birth house, a sword drawing experience and a taste of a feudal lord’s Travelodge meal. Enough said.
Where: 180 Yunogo, Mimasaka City, Okayama Prefecture
Stay: From ¥20,844
9. Dai-ichi Takimotokan (Hokkaido)
Nestled in the valley town of Noboribetsu, a stay at Dai-ichi Takimotokan is an opportunity to experience a more tranquil and traditional side of Japan. In a true ryokan style, all but eight of the 399 rooms in Dai-ichi Takimotokan are furnished in traditional Japanese style, with an emphasis on natural materials. Over 2 million liters of geothermal water from five different springs flows through each day, providing a constant stream that is continually refreshing each of the 30 baths. Add the beautiful panorama of green hills and the steam rising from Hell Valley and you’ll feel truly refreshed—in body and soul.
In addition to the different mineral compositions to choose from, each of the spa baths are made from different materials, including Japanese cypress, marble, granite or tile, each imparting a subtle difference to your onsen experience. To help you cool off afterward, you will also find a bar serving beer, sake and various non-alcoholic drink machines — or enjoy a drink while taking in the view in the outside bath. Noboribetsu was one of the cities that were most affected by the Hokkaido earthquake last week, so your visit there would be appreciated by the locals now more than ever.
Where: 55 Noboribetsu onsenmachi, Noboribetsu-shi, Hokkaido
Stay: From ¥9,504 per person
10. Noto no Sho (Ishikawa)
The Noto no Sho ryokan is a relaxed and peaceful haven for weary travelers, situated on a hill atop the Noto peninsula with all rooms facing the deep, blue Japan sea. The large, Japanese-style layouts feature semi-outdoor baths, allowing a deeper connection to the naturally beautiful area and soothing ocean views.
Noto no Sho invites you to try its high-quality, natural hot spring with a base alkalinity of 10.5 pH, the therapeutic properties of which are effective at treating a host of medical conditions such as skin problems, movement disorders, neurosis, gastrointestinal disease as well as fatigue and muscle stiffness. Only a 10-minute drive from the hotel, along the coastline you can see shiroyone senmaida, the 1,000-stepped rice fields; terraces built by hand hundreds of years ago by the local inhabitants. The shape of the fields contour the land and cliffs resulting in breathtaking views that have to be seen to be believed.
Where: Nebuta Onsen, Onomachi, Wajima-shi, Ishikawa Prefecture
Stay: From ¥22,000 per person
11. Hotel Iya Onsen (Tokushima)
One of Japan’s most unique hot spring experiences can be discovered in the remote, and we mean remote, Iya Valley deep in the dense heart of Tokushima’s forested mountains.
Hotel Iya Onsen boasts a jaw-dropping, heart-stopping location — perched on the edge of a steep gorge overlooking the Yoshino River, the bright blue artery that runs through all four prefectures of Shikoku. While the clean and contemporary Japanese-style rooms offer cinematic mountain scenes from your window à la Sound of Music, getting to the outdoor onsen feels a bit more Indiana Jones: Bathers mount a cable car that slides down into the valley, from where a tunnel of wooden stairs continue further down to the riverside rotenburo. Once you’ve arrived, it’s pretty much you, the bath and nature — there are no showers since the onsen water flows directly from the source and over the bath’s edge into the river, keeping it constantly warm and clean.
© Photo by Rebecca Quin
In spite of its remote setting, the food is as fresh and delicious as it gets. The extravagant multi-course kaiseki dinner and breakfast showcase the local, seasonal products sourced from the forest and the river, and it’s all to be enjoyed from their aerial restaurant where wide windows make the mountains look practically within touching distance.
Dubbed, the “Tibet of Japan”, the surrounding Iya Valley offers plenty of secret adventure, from the otherworldly kazurabashi hanging suspension bridges to the mysterious Kakashi no Sato scarecrow village, known as the “Valley of the Dolls.” If you’re seeking a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, onsen related or otherwise, Hotel Iya Onsen has it all.
Where: 367-28 Matsuo Matumoto Ikeda-cho Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima Prefecture
Stay: From ¥19,590 per person
12. Takamine Onsen (Nagano Prefecture)
Hidden deep in the mountains of Takamine Highland in snowy Nagano prefecture, this breathtaking hot spring is elevated at 2,000 meters above sea level, making the phrase “bath above the clouds” as literal as it gets. A log cabin at a glance, the interior of this two-story ryokan is traditional Japanese — all of its 23 guestrooms showcase a standard tatami-floored room with wooden fusuma doors.
Takamine Onsen offers four therapeutic bathing facilities — including the heavenly open-air “Bath Above the Clouds” rotemburo, the inn’s most popular attraction. A view to remember unveils before your eyes everytime you soak in this bath, autumn or spring: a panoramic view of billowing clouds below the Takamine highlands shifting from sunrise to sunset.
The inn’s strategic location attracts guest throughout the year, be it hiking in spring and autumn or skiing in winter. But regardless of what season you visit, every night at 8:30 p.m., guests gather in front of the ryokan for a quiet star watching relaxing therapy that just has to be seen (and felt) to be believed. The ultimate emotional escape from the city, this ryokan is a true cloud No.9.
Where: Komoro City, Takamine Kogen, Nagano Prefecture
Stay: From ¥12,000 per person (for a room of two)
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