A cornerstone of Japanese culture, bathing in hot springs (onsen) restores the body and mind and offers a relaxation experience like no other. There’s nothing better than escaping into nature and enjoying a discrete onsen experience surrounded by trees, mountains and even the ocean. From indoor sanctuaries with a snowy view to outdoor onsen that immerse you in your surroundings, the hot springs listed below are all perfect for warming up during the winter. Enjoy the snow around you and the crisp weather on your skin at these secluded hot springs in the north of Japan.
Head to the mountains northeast of Lake Tazawa in Akita Prefecture to enjoy seven ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) with private onsen surrounded by stunning forests and abundant nature. Collectively, these tranquil ryokan are named Nyuto Onsen and offer some of the most private and rustic hot spring experiences in the area. Many of them have been in operation for over three-hundred years.
Some of the onsen here are also mixed gender, which makes it ideal for couples looking to relax together. Whenever you visit this stunning resort area, you’ll be able to enjoy the changing of the seasons around you while you bathe - plus it’s a perfect place to warm up in winter. Each of the ryokan have rooms in which to spend the night, where you can also enjoy traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast, making your stay a true luxury experience. You can purchase the Yumeguricho pass which will allow you to access all seven of the hot springs, enabling you to take advantage of the different waters and minerals the onsen draw from. There’s also a free shuttle bus that will take you between the hot springs.
Furofushi Onsen (Aomori)
Are you ready to bathe with a view of the Sea of Japan? This special outdoor onsen extends into the ocean, and there’s nothing quite like feeling the winter sea breeze on your skin as you bathe in the hot waters. There are also indoor onsen for people who prefer a roof over their head while bathing. There are also female-only onsen, and saunas available for an all-round health experience. Visitors who stay overnight in the hotel can enjoy sunset views from the onsen as well as the other facilities on-site like karaoke rooms and locally-sourced cuisine in the restaurant. On Saturdays, guests are treated to a live shamisen (traditional Japanese banjo) concert which only adds to the serene atmosphere of this ryokan. This secluded coastal spot is based around the idea of never aging or growing weaker so jump in and find your very own fountain of youth in Aomori.
Get totally off the grid in this truly remote onsen! Hidden in a valley within the Hakkoda Mountains, you’ll find a wooden cabin which will be your retreat as you relax at the four hot springs inside. Aoni Onsen in Aomori has only recently gotten electricity, but you still won’t find power outlets or be able to access wifi or data, this is a spot for true relaxation in every way. The inn is still lit with oil lamps providing a romantic setting for your hot spring experience. Of the four onsen available, one is a discrete outdoor bath set within a lush garden which in turn is surrounded by the forests on the mountain. It’s a natural paradise that looks particularly beautiful with the fresh mountain snow surrounding you as you bathe. You can also enjoy two hiba wood baths each with their own healing properties, and finally, an indoor hot spring which looks out onto a waterfall. The indoor onsen are segregated while the outdoor onsen is mixed gender with some slots during the day for women only. Rest your body and mind at the quiet Aoni Onsen and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
© Japan Ryokan Association/© JNTO
With over 1,300 years of history, Higashiyama Onsen is a perfect hot spring resort to escape the crowds and do as the samurai, feudal lords, and writers of old did to relax. Particularly popular with samurai, you can learn all about them nearby at the Aizu Samurai Mansion which features 38-rooms dedicated to life during the Edo period. The Yukawa River runs through the town so many local inns have natural views of waterfalls, mountains, and lush foliage coupled with the sound of babbling brooks and birds making this a tranquil area to soak in. Many rooms have private hot springs to enjoy but there are also open-air baths and public baths available.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort is one of the most unique resorts, thanks to the place retaining much of its traditional hot spring village charm. Found in Yamagata Prefecture and a bullet train ride from Tokyo, Zao is a skier's paradise with white and fluffy slopes populated by the area's famous naturally occurring Snow Monsters. But beyond the fantastic skiing opportunities, Zao also offers a village full of hot springs that have in their water a uniquely high level of sulfur which encourages muscle relaxation and can even help visitors who suffer from high blood pressure. Zao onsen is the perfect cure for skiers looking for a way to unwind after a day on the slopes.