Onsens in Japan, or better known as Paradise

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Onsens in Japan are what the Greeks must have imagined life to be like for the gods on Mount Olympus, paradise. Imagine a room full of jacuzzis some boiling, some medicinal, some ice cold, giant pools, steam rooms, relaxation rooms with comfortable longe chairs, soothing music, and refreshments. The Japanese consider this relaxation time an integral part of their culture and we see why. Of course that is once you get over the fact that your walking around and taking a bath with nothing but a towel on your head with several Japanese none who find this odd at all and have no concern to look at anyone else as they are more concerned with their own relaxation time.

Our first "rural" onsen in Hokkaido

What exactly is an onsen?

Onsens, or hotsprings, are an integral part of Japanese culture and as Japan is volcanically active they are usually found everywhere. The word “onsen” is usually used in reference to a bathing facility. Now there are many types of onsens: indoor, outdoor, public, private, big, small, in a commercial building, in a random hut in the country side, and even in hotels. Many of the “baths” contain herbs, sulfur, etc usually with a health benefit attached. Some are very simple with only three or four baths while some are luxurious with many baths, saunas, relaxation rooms, massages, and much more.

Onsens were traditionally outdoors in the countryside, but today, as implied above, they are found everywhere.

Why do people go to onsens?

Other than being an incredibly relaxing and peaceful place, onsens are believed to have healing powers derived from the minerals in the water. The benefits include healing aches and pains, curing certain diseases, especially chronic skin diseases, aiding in diabetes, improving circulation, aiding constipation, increasing blood flow, and much more. In addition, these facilities are very clean and there has never been a proven case of passing diseases in these facilities... In case you were wondering.

Mixed or single sex onsens?

Traditionally, onsens were mixed and some still are, but only in very rural areas. In general mixed onsens in large cities require a bathing suit, and in places where there are mixed onsens there is usually also men-only and women-only facilities for those not wishing to share their nakedness with both sexes. As for the little ones, children, regardless of sex can go into either the male or the female baths.


The price can range from a few dollars up to one hundred dollars, depending on the type of onsen, the facilities, etc. We once paid thirty dollars for an onsen in an airport with sleeping facilities, personal televisions, a library, free drinks, and the best breakfast buffet, and it was worth it instead of getting a much more expensive hotel room by the airport waiting for our flight! Other than that, for the typical onsen you can usually count on paying five dollars.

Why do we love it?

Onsens are basically just for relaxing, in the complete sense of the word. Not much noise, no distractions, just complete bliss and peace. It’s one of those things that can’t be explained only experienced. If you do go to Japan and you don’t go to an onsen you are not only missing a large part of Japanese culture but also one of the most pleasant experiences. Before we oversell the idea, the second time is better than the first as you know what to expect and thus are more at ease.

As a side note, the “jimjibang” in Korea is quite similar and our biggest regret in Korea is not experimenting one.

Now don’t be like us and spend your first time staring at naked bodies trying to figure out what to do and check out our tips in Onsens: A How To (Upcoming Article).

Here are the pictures from only one of the onsens we visited as there were almost no other people there, but since the majority of onsens are full of people it didn't seem appropriate to be snapping pictures, but a simple google image search can give those who have never experiences an onsen a better idea.

The outside baths of this simple countryside onsen in Hokkaido
With our couchsurfing host Yoshi-san who took us to this typical Hokkaido onsen

One of the inside baths on the men's side of the onsen
Have you been to an onsen? If you haven’t been would you? Also have you been to both a jimjibang and an onsen and if so how do they compare?

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