Here is the ultimate guide to have fun discovering new places relaxing in some fabulous hot springs. Heal your fatigue in the medicinal water of this 10 Onsen and have a traditional bath experience for the weekend. You’ll feel regenerated and ready to go back to whatever you were doing with a boost of thermal energy! These Onsen are all located in Gunma Prefecture, about 3 hours distant from central Tokyo, and make the perfect one- two-day trip for a short holiday. You can spend the night in some traditional hotel (Ryokan) to be completely drawn in a Japanese-style atmosphere and enjoy some onsen quality food. Have a good stay!
Kusatsu Onsen (草津温泉)
This hot spring is ranked as one of the best three Onsen in Japan, and other than its acid water, offers natural landscapes and has a long history. There is even a special way of bathing called jikanyu, kept from the Edo tradition. Have fun discovering what’s about! At the center of the resort, you’ll find the Yubatake, a wooden facility for thermal moderation, very interesting to research about, and you can assist the Yumomi show. This one explains the traditional method of cooling hot water with long paddles, taking you back to how it was done in the past. If you would like to enjoy inner baths too it may be convenient to purchase the Sanyu Meguri Tegata Pass. Finally, Kusatsu Tropical Wonderland may be an interesting side trip (located near the resort, this facility shows peculiar flowers in a tropical environment).
Access: about 3 hours taking JR Line and bus from Tokyo Station
More information about the pass: http://onsen-kusatsu.com/blog/santo.html (Japanese Only)
Ikaho Onsen (伊香保温泉)
This onsen has been famous since the 14th century, and it was even mentioned in the Manyoshu (the oldest existing poem collection in Japan). It’s said that the traditional onsen manju was ideated here too. The symbol of the hot spring is the 365 stone steps that were built between 15th and 16th century, in a period of war, to make soldiers recover faster. Now it’s become a commercial road where you can find many souvenirs and Japanese onsen sweets. There is also a legend about these stone steps: if you manage to climb them reaching the shrine at the top you will have a secure financial future. Good to know, right? There are also two sources of onsen here: Kogane no yu (the most ancient one, gold color, and sulfuric water) and Shirogane no yu (more recent, silver spring with sialic acid water). Finally, this hot spring claims to be an autumn leaves spot too, offering a nostalgic landscape with its traditional Japanese style bridge surrounded by red foliage trees.
Access: Approximately 2 hours from Tokyo Station by Shinkansen, Joetsu Line, and bus
Manza Onsen (万座温泉)
As one of the highest Onsen in all Japan, Manza hot spring is located 1760 m above sea level and presents beautiful milky white waters. It has the volcanic origin so it’s high in sulfur content and it has proven to be very good to improve general health and various diseases. Near the facility, you’ll find ski grounds and an outstanding view, particularly on Onioshidashi (a park formed from lava that offers a very scenic landscape). Another spectacular place is the Emerald Lake on Mount Shirane, this too close to the resort. Finally, other than health benefits this hot spring water is really good to soothe skin, so it’s very popular among ladies.
Access: 3 hours and half with shinkansen and bus from Tokyo Station
Website: http://www.manzaonsen.gr.jp/index.php (Japanese only)
Shima Onsen (四万温泉)
Discovered in Heian period (794-1185) Shima Onsen has been chosen as the first Naturally Certified Onsen in Japan, offering a very quiet and relaxing atmosphere. It’s located along Shima River, from where it takes the name and is divided into 5 areas: Onsenguchi, Yamaguchi, Arayu, Yuzuriha and Hinatami. Its water is very gentle on the skin with a combination of sodium, calcium chloride and sulfate. Some of these springs are drinkable too! One of the most popular features of this hot spring is the Sekizenkan; a ryokan which it’s said has been used as one of the models for the onsen of the Ghibli movie “Spirited Away”. You can imagine how many people gather there every day! Other interesting spots offering natural landscapes are Lake Okushima and Maya Falls.
Access: 3 hours and half for a very cheap price using Direct Highway bus service from Tokyo Station
Minakami Onsen (水上温泉)
It’s an area formed by 9 onsen resorts which seems to be loved by many Japanese writers (Dazai Osamu, Yosano Tekkan etc.). Offering a very rich natural landscape with the near Tanigawa Mountain and the Tone River, this hot spring has been popular for more than one attraction. Just recently has become available ski, snowboarding, and other winter sports and there is even a steam locomotive which runs regularly between Minakami and Takasaki Station for the visitors of the onsen. Of course, it’s always filled with fans who want to experience the past way of travel and relax in hot springs on the same day!
Access: Approximately 2 hours with Joetsu Shinkansen and bus from Tokyo Station
Sarugakyo Onsen (猿ヶ京温泉)
Ancient legends tell the origin of this Onsen’s name, formed by 6 resorts near Lake Akayako. Based on the past stories Sarugakyo name was given when Kenshin Uesugi dreamt to start Kanhasshu in the day of the monkey, staring at the placid waters of this onsen (Saru stands for monkey). Other ancient stories say that a monkey saved a wounded child soaking him in Sarugakyo Onsen thermal waters. It was intended since the beginning as a place to recover after traveling through Mikuni-kaido, an old highway road that connects Kanto region and Niigata, and it grew bigger and popular as time passed by, until today, with its large fame and its visitors from all over the world.
Access: 2 hours and 20 minutes with Josetsu line shinkansen and bus from Tokyo Station
Website: http://www.sarugakyo-ryokan.com/index.html (Japanese only)
Akagi Onsen (赤城温泉)
Located near Mount Akagi, famous for its splendid spring azaleas, Akagi Onsen offers milky white waters good for rheumatism, digestive problems, and stress. It’s a small hot spring and seems to be not so known, being, in fact, a little secret gem of Gunma Prefecture.
Access: about 3 hours with JR Line, Tobu Ryomo Line, and bus from Tokyo Station
Website: http://www.akg5.jp/ (Japanese Only)
Oigami Onsen (老神温泉)
Oigami Onsen offers natural landscapes such as Katashina Gorge and nearby presents one of the largest markets in the Kanto region, held from April to November. Very close to Oze National Park and Katamari Valley, famous for its waterfall and its scenic beauty, Oigami Onsen has a long history and many legends. One of them explains the origin of the hot spring: during a fight between Akagiyama God (a snake) and Nikkonantai God (a mountain), the first was hit by an arrow at the base of the mountain and in the spot where he was wounded water started to boil, originating today onsen.
Access: 2 hours and half by shinkansen and bus from Tokyo Station
Website: http://www.oigami.net/ (Japanese only)
Yujuku Onsen (湯宿温泉)
Discovered about 1200 years ago, Yujuku Onsen still maintains the traditional buildings of the past, with a pure Japanese style. Its medical water is perfect to treat muscle pains, bad circulation, burns and a large spectrum of wounds. It’s a small and cute hot spring where you can relax in a quieter atmosphere, having your privacy.
Access: 2 hours and 20 minutes by bus from Tokyo Station
Tumbnail image is from Flickr