Go Deep into Japan
Packed with natural hot springs, luxurious resorts, and cozy traditional inns, Japan is the ideal setting for anyone seeking a relaxing getaway. Nurture your body and cleanse your mind by journeying to picture-perfect wellness retreats and hot spring resorts, as introduced by travel and spa journalist Yumiko Itakura.
Travel & Spa Journalist
Following her career as a magazine editor, Yumiko Itakura became an independent travel and spa journalist. She writes for a variety of travel and lifestyle publications, appeared as a speaker for radio talk shows and events, and has also served as an advisor for numerous projects related to travel, beauty, and wellness.
I’ve always been interested in travel and wellness. During my travels around the world, I realized that spas serve as the perfect primer to the culture and traditions of each region. You can find each country’s health rituals, home remedies, cuisine, and architecture all condensed into a single space. Even how the spa therapists interact with you can tell you a lot about your destination. At the spa, you can feel the culture with your entire body. At the same time, it’s like going through a ritual of purification and cleansing.
In Japan, in particular, taking time to relax used to be seen in a slightly negative light, as an indulgent pastime. But I think there has been a change in attitude in recent years. With more and more people becoming health-conscious, hotels and spas throughout Japan have started to offer wellness retreats, stress-management programs, and various kinds of personal consultations regarding diet and exercise.
Since international travel was restricted throughout the pandemic, it gave me a chance to discover various wellness programs in my own country. I had so much fun discovering everything Japan had to offer. I hope to keep sharing the benefits of traveling for health and wellbeing with everyone.
I think the sheer quantity and variety of hot springs—known as onsen - make Japan a great place for relaxation. The onsen of each region have distinct characteristics—they vary in terms of temperature, color, and mineral content. Many of these baths are believed to have curative benefits, such as healing wounds and easing muscle pain. I think it’s quite enjoyable to travel around and try out various hot springs to find one best suited to your taste. I truly believe that there’s a hot spring for everyone!
Hot spring baths are often housed in traditional inns, known as ryokans. These are great places to try local dishes and experience omotenashi—the art of Japanese hospitality. Some ryokans in Japan have been around for hundreds of years, so you’ll find yourself staying in a piece of history.
A lot of onsen are communal baths where you have to dip in with others in your birthday suit, but there are plenty of other options available. You can choose to stay in a room with your own luxurious private bath attached—these usually come with excellent views. Some hotels give you the option to rent out an entire communal bath for a duration of time. You’ll also find that onsen towns that are dotted with footbaths, perfect for a quick rest.
Hot springs (Onsen)
For a luxurious getaway, stay at the HOSHINOYA Karuizawa—a secluded mountainside resort. Karuizawa is just a short bullet train ride from Tokyo and is popular with Japanese tourists in the summer as temperatures tend to stay cool. At the hotel, you can take time for self-reflection as you soak in the serene Meditation Bath or walk in the lush forested grounds. I believe that eating well is key to wellbeing. There, you’ll be treated to healthy, hearty meals packed with locally-picked mushrooms and fermented ingredients.
To get the full ryokan experience, pay a visit to Nishimuraya Honkan in the Kinosaki Onsen area. The 160-year old inn is known for its stunning traditional architecture, beautiful garden, incredible hospitality. At the annex building nearby, you can rent out its mineral-rich bath for a duration of time. I personally go there year after year in the summer, when you can dress up in a summer kimono and take a stroll outside to see fireworks. Foodies will rejoice, as the place is known for its delicious crabs, and beef—they go so well with the locally-grown rice. The area is about a two- to three-hour train ride from the nearest cities, Kyoto and Osaka. It’s totally worth going there for a tranquil getaway!
Another one of my favorite places is Beppu in the southern island of Kyushu—I make plans to go there quite often. It has a huge variety of onsen, and bathing culture is deeply rooted into the locals’ daily lives. People there visit onsen baths just as you would pop into a cafe for a cup of coffee!
Otemachi, in the heart of Tokyo,, is home to a number of world-renowned hotel franchises that offer luxurious spa experiences. I personally love the spa in Aman Tokyo, which incorporates Japanese treatments and techniques, and uses traditional ingredients like camphor and the kuromoji plant (Lindera umbellata). Many of these urban hotels also feature hot-spring style baths and pools with great views. It’s a rejuvenating experience.
In close proximity is the Imperial Palace garden, an urban oasis where visitors can immerse themselves in nature and relax. Travelers staying in Tokyo can also opt to pay an overnight visit to nearby resort areas such as Hakone and Izu, both known for hot springs and beautiful natural views.
Kyoto is home to plenty of small, niche ryokan inns imbued with the local culture. Alternatively, you can stay at a Zen temple where you can meditate, receive lectures from monks, and detox with green tea.
“Power spot” is a well-known phrase here in Japan. It refers to a spiritual place where you can feel in-tune with nature and draw some good fortune. A power spot can be anything from an ancient shrine to a secluded waterfall. I love to relax and revive my senses by combining a visit to a power spot with a stay at a hot spring retreat. You’ll be spoiled for choice as you can find these kinds of places throughout the country. I personally recommend Takachiho gorge in Miyazaki. It’s a breathtaking spot, where you can take a boat ride across sapphire blue waters. I have many fun memories there, getting to know locals and just soaking in the views. It’s a truly relaxing experience.
There’s nothing more soothing than ocean views. One trip that stood out for me was a cruise across the Seto Inland Sea on the guntû. It’s like a floating ryokan, complete with communal baths and a sushi bar. You get to enjoy fish sourced straight from the sea below you and take day excursions to get a glimpse of life on the nearby islands. It’s a great way to relax—I highly recommend it.
Another great place where you can immerse yourself in culture is Kanazawa, where you can try things such as pottery-making and tea-ceremony. These kinds of traditional activities are an exercise in mindfulness—they can help you focus your attention and be in the moment. I recommend staying in an urban-casual hotel and then traveling by train next day to the Kaga Onsen area, where you can enjoy even more culture and relaxing hot springs.
If you love the beach, head to the tropical paradise of Okinawa, in the south part of Japan. Numerous resorts on the islands here offer a wealth of spa and wellness treatments, and the natural beauty truly nourishes the soul. I personally love staying at Halekulani Okinawa and Hyatt Regency Seragaki Island, Okinawa.
Wellness comes in many forms, whether it’s a luxurious massage or a mindful woodland walk. I think Japan’s culture of hospitality, combined with its abundance of hot springs and nature retreats, makes it the ultimate relaxation getaway. I hope visitors coming here can unwind and rejuvenate their senses as they discover age-old remedies, power spots, healing onsen waters, and much more throughout their wellness journey.
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