Kansai Onsen: The 10 Best Hot Springs in Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and More!
- Published: Aug 25 2023
Japan's Kansai region is packed with rejuvenating, historical, and beautiful hot springs. From the old world charm of Kinosaki Onsen and Arima Onsen to the coastal bliss of Sumoto Onsen and Nanki Shirahama Onsen, Kansai offers a diverse range of therapeutic destinations reenergizing travelers for the next leg of their trip. Read on for our top Kansai onsen hot spring picks, and fill your Japan itinerary with both relaxation and discovery!
What Are “Onsen” Hot Springs?
“Onsen” is the Japanese word for natural hot springs. Visitors seeking warmth and rejuvenation can bathe and relax in communal, gender-separated bathhouses, open-air baths, or rent their own private bath. It’s also possible to enjoy onsen on both a day-trip or by staying overnight at a hot spring-equipped “ryokan” (traditional inn).
Japan's hot spring traditions can be traced back to as early as the Nara Period (710-794), and they are said to have numerous health benefits. Japan is home to almost 30,000 hot spring sources, and virtually every region has a hot spring to enjoy - and Kansai is no exception!
Where Is the Kansai Region?
The Kansai region consists of seven prefectures in central southwestern Japan: Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Wakayama, Shiga, and sometimes Mie, depending on the map. It has long been a hub of culture and political power, and is home to two of Japan’s former capitals: Nara and Kyoto.
These days, Kansai is perhaps best known for Osaka, nicknamed the “Nation’s Kitchen,” famous for its lively atmosphere, scrumptious street food, and friendly locals; as well as Kyoto, which served as the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, and is loved for its geisha culture and iconic temples like Kiyomizu-dera and Kinkaku-ji.
Kobe is another prominent Kansai city adored for its renowned Kobe beef and cosmopolitan streetscape. Nara was also once the ancient capital of Japan, and has been a hub of Buddhism since ancient times. It continues to captivate visitors with its World Heritage sites like Todai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, and Kasuga Taisha Shrine, as well as the friendly deer in Nara Park.
Wakayama's Mt. Koya and the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes emanate a deeply spiritual power, and are rich in untouched natural splendor. Shiga is dominated by Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, while Mie hosts the sacred Ise Grand Shrine.
Overall, the Kansai region’s appeal lies in its important historical legacy, unique traditions, and distinctive cultural identity. The area is characterized by traditional performing arts, offbeat dialects, and a love of good grub. Must-eat Kansai goodies include “takoyaki” octopus batter balls and “okonomiyaki” savory pancakes.
The 10 Best Kansai Onsen
1. Kinosaki Onsen: A Photogenic Town With Old-World Charm (Hyogo Prefecture)
Kinosaki Onsen is a picture-perfect hot spring town offering an authentic snapshot of pre-modern Japan. Dotting the town are seven walkable hot spring bathhouses each with a unique look and feel, offering visitors plenty of choice. Kinosaki Onsen’s 1,300-year legacy emanates from every nook and cranny, balanced by a chic revamp to keep it looking fresh. Its atmospheric streets are filled with top-notch restaurants and cafes serving local produce, including the highly coveted wintertime snow crab, along with boutique stores stocking high-quality handmade crafts.
Take a stroll around dusk and bask in the warm glow of ryokan windows and streetlamps along the willow tree-lined Otani River. Yukata-clad guests milling about add to its traditional character, while nearby tourist attractions like Genbudo Park, the Kinosaki Onsen Ropeway, the Kinosaki Straw Craft Museum, and Gokurakuji Temple present even more reasons to make the 2.5-hour train trip from Kyoto.
Recommended Accommodation in Kinosaki Onsen: Koyado Enn
2. Arima Onsen: Historic Hot Springs in Kobe (Hyogo Prefecture)
Arima Onsen is a Kansai hot spring oasis reachable in just a half-hour train ride from central Kobe. Its prestigious history can be traced all the way back to its mention in the “Nihon Shoki,” Japan’s second-oldest historical record, which tells of Emperor Jomei’s visit in 631. Instead of volcanic heat, Arima's hot spring water is sourced from ancient seawater buried 60 km underground, giving it a unique quality luring in onsen fans from across the globe.
Arima Onsen has two different main hot spring types: Kinsen (Golden Spring), and Ginsen (Silver Spring). Kinsen is high in iron and salt and has a golden-reddish-brown hue. Soaking in it is said to help treat several illnesses while moisturizing the skin. Ginsen is clear in color, carbonic, and mildly radioactive, and is believed to boost blood circulation, activate cells, and relieve muscle aches.
After bathing, allow yourself time to wander amongst the Edo Period (1603-1868) buildings lining the retro Arima Main Road, browse through its ample selection of restaurants and shops, and pick up one of Arima’s famous “carbonated crackers” to munch on. Next, venture out of town and into the surrounding nature by visiting Zuihou-ji Park, renowned for its autumn foliage, or ascend Mt. Rokko on the Rokko Arima Ropeway for jaw-dropping panoramic views over the entire region.
Arima's proximity to Tajima, where Kobe’s pedigree cattle are reared, also makes it the ideal place to savor Kobe beef. Toy enthusiasts should also visit the six-story Arima Toys & Automata Museum, which showcases a mix of traditional toys popular with fans of retro goods.
Recommended Accommodation in Arima Onsen: Arima Onsen Taketoritei Maruyama
3. Sumoto Onsen: Where Hot Springs Meet Coastal Bliss (Hyogo Prefecture)
Sumoto Onsen is a coastal hot spring resort on Awaji Island, which lies between Japan’s mainland of Honshu and the massive island of Shikoku. Long bridges connect Awaji Island to both landmasses, making it easily accessible by bus from Kobe. Sumoto Onsen is the largest hot spring town on the island, and is full of hotels promising healing soaks in open-air baths encompassed by invigorating ocean views.
Those craving nostalgia should make a beeline for Sumoto Retro Komichi. This cute retro neighborhood is characterized by an aesthetically pleasing mix of Meiji (1868-1912) and early Showa era (1926-1989) townhouses, and originally flourished during Sumoto’s time as a castle town. Explore its narrow laneways, and enjoy a bite at one of the quaint cafes and eateries.
For a dose of beach bliss, head to Ohama Beach, a 750-meter-long stretch of pristine sandy coastline showcasing the beauty of Osaka Bay. History enthusiasts should also climb up to the hilltop ruins of Sumoto Castle, where you’ll find remnants of stone walls and a replica castle tower, and be rewarded with sweeping vistas of the island.
Recommended Accommodation in Sumoto Onsen: Shimahana
4. Nanki Shirahama Onsen: Ancient Hot Springs With a Hip Resort Vibe (Wakayama Prefecture)
Despite its laid-back beachy appearance, Nanki Shirahama Onsen stands together with Arima Onsen and Dogo Onsen in Ehime as one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. Its history dates back to the 7th century, when it attracted princes and emperors of the Japanese royal household. The area has a mild climate with breathtaking natural beauty, and feels more like a tropical resort than a traditional onsen town.
Alongside its scenic location, Nanki Shirahama Onsen’s main draw is the diversity of hot spring sources, which range from chloride springs that moisturize the skin to sulfur-rich waters known for their detoxifying properties. Visitors can make the most of these by staying at a hot spring resort hotel, or with a casual footbath accompanied by ocean vistas.
For seafood lovers, Nanki Shirahama Onsen is also a gourmet paradise. Treat your tastebuds to abundant fresh catches at the Fisherman's Wharf, or eat your way through Tore Tore Market, which is one of the largest seafood markets in western Japan, and has grill-it-yourself seafood BBQ plans.
During the warmer months, you can swap Kansai hot springs for sunbathing on the pristine white sands of Shirahama Beach. This bow-shaped, palm tree-lined 600-meter-long paradise attracts 600,000 tourists each year, and hosts numerous events like beach yoga, triathlons, and fireworks festivals.
Recommended Accommodation in Nanki Shirahama Onsen: Nanki-Shirahama Marriott Hotel
5. Kawayu Onsen: Riverside Bathing in Swimsuits (Wakayama Prefecture)
Kawayu Onsen is best known for the “Sennin-buro,” which is an open-air natural river hot spring open between December and February. Geothermal water welling up at 73°C mixes with the Oto River, yielding a temperature perfect for escaping the winter chill. Being a public space, Sennin-buro is mixed gender and swimsuits are permitted, making it ideal for those squeamish about bathing nude with strangers.
Required Reading: 12 Japanese Onsen Hot Springs You Can Visit With Swimsuits.
You’ll find a selection of Kansai onsen accommodation along the river’s north side, while the south side flaunts a forested mountain backdrop. For those just passing through, there is also the rustic Kawayu Onsen Public Bathhouse, which is open to day visitors for 300 yen.
Recommended Accommodation in Kawayu Onsen: Kawayu Onsen Fujiya
6. Yuhigaura Onsen: Soak by Serene Sunsets (Kyoto Prefecture)
Yuhigaura Onsen is a hidden gem in Kyotango City on the beautiful north coast of Kyoto Prefecture. Its first hot spring source was excavated in 1980, followed by another in 2006, providing a high-quality source of natural geothermal water with weak alkaline, high-temperature properties. Bathing here is said to beautify the skin and alleviate fatigue and several ailments.
However, Yuhigaura Onsen's main claim to fame is its mesmerizing sunsets over the Sea of Japan. On the nearby Hamazume Beach, you'll find a driftwood swing set up from spring to autumn ー an ideal photo spot to frame the sunset. Beachgoers can also stroll along the promenade and relish the liberating vibes at their own pace.
For a more outdoorsy experience, Yuhigaura Onsen also has a seaside camping ground letting visitors fully appreciate the natural surroundings. While the roughly 3-hour train ride from Kyoto Station makes it a bit of a trek, those seeking a quiet, hidden retreat to fully unwind by the Sea of Japan will find the journey to this Kansai onsen well worth it.
Recommended Accommodation Near Yuhigaura Onsen: Jukaitei
7. Amanohashidate Onsen: Hot Springs by One of Japan’s Best Views (Kyoto Prefecture)
Most Japanophiles will be familiar with Amanohashidate, a stunning 3.6-kilometer-long forested sandbar cutting across Miyazu Bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture. This natural land bridge is considered one of the “Three Views of Japan,” a title bestowed upon three scenic spots that captured the heart of a 17th century philosopher. Amanohashidate View Land provides an excellent lookout over Amanohashidate from atop Mt. Monju, and is accessible by chair lift and monorail.
Tired travelers to Amanohashidate will also be pleased to know that the area is home to several Kansai hot spring facilities. The most convenient is Amanohashidate Onsen, which is located beside Amanohashidate Station, reachable in about 2-3 hours from Kyoto Station by train. Its bathhouse is called “Chie-no-Yu,” meaning “Bath of Wisdom,” and its therapeutic waters can be enjoyed in both indoor and outdoor baths for a modest fee of 700 yen (adults), or in a private bath for 5,000 yen. Day-trippers can also use the hot springs and saunas at the nearby Amanohashidate Hotel.
Other hot springs in the area include Miyazu Pinto-Yu, Yurayura Onsen-kyo, and Nariai Kannon Onsen.
Recommended Accommodation in Amanohashidate Onsen: Amanohashidate Hotel
8. Ogoto Onsen: A Hot Spring Haven on the Shore of Lake Biwa (Shiga Prefecture)
Just a 20-minute train ride from Kyoto Station is the scenic Kansai hot spring town of Ogoto Onsen. Nestled on the western bank of Lake Biwa, this popular holiday destination has a history spanning over 1,200 years, and is a great place to rest your feet after exploring the laneways of Kyoto’s traditional districts.
With a pH of 9.0, the alkaline hot spring water is claimed by locals to relieve muscular and joint pain, alleviate fatigue, improve skin conditions, and beautify the skin.
Ogoto Onsen boasts nine charming ryokan inns, including those with open-air bath-equipped guestrooms and rooftop baths overlooking Lake Biwa. Between soaks, you can indulge in delectable regional dishes like the mouthwatering Omi beef, Biwa trout, and Omi rice, all paired with a cup of Ogoto Onsen sake.
This Kansai onsen is also a good base for exploring nearby attractions. Within a 20 to 30-minute drive is the historic Enryakuji Temple atop Mt. Hiei, while the traditional streetscape of Sakamoto is a mere 10-minute drive away.
Recommended Accommodation in Ogoto Onsen: Yumotokan
9. Dorogawa Onsen: An Isolated Kansai Hot Spring Escape (Nara Prefecture)
Tucked deep in the mountains of Kansai lies the tranquil haven of Dorogawa Onsen. The hot spring water here comes from the nearby Mt. Omine, and is a weak alkaline spring that leaves the skin feeling smooth and is said to relieve muscle pain, joint pain, and other disorders. Climbers returning from their arduous journeys to Mt. Omine have long sought rejuvenation in these healing waters, readying them for their next adventure.
Dorogawa Onsen has two main streets hosting traditional shops and ryokan inns, some of which have been run by the same families for over 400 years. At night, the soft glow of paper lanterns upon the radiant vermillion bridges beg to be photographed.
The sacred Mt. Omine draws “shugendo” (Japanese mountain worship) believers seeking to complete the challenging pilgrimage to Ohminesanji Temple. While Mt. Omine is off-limits to women, those looking to get in touch with their spiritual side can also visit Ryusen-ji Temple in the town, which welcomes all and is easy to reach. Make sure to also leave room in your itinerary to explore the limestone caves in the area, including the famous Goyomatsu Limestone Cave.
Recommended Accommodation in Dorogawa Onsen: Atarashiya Ryokan
10. Minoh Onsen: Riveting Holiday Entertainment (Osaka Prefecture)
Just a 30-minute train journey from Osaka-Umeda Station, Minoh Onsen is perfectly positioned between the convenience of Osaka City and the serenity of Minoh Park.
Whether you’re looking to stay or just make a day-trip from Osaka, there’s no better choice than Oedo-Onsen Monogatari. This popular mega-scale chain hotel supersizes everything we love about Japanese culture through a stellar range of baths and facilities to both relax and entertain. Its iconic outdoor rooftop bath overlooks the entirety of the Osaka Plain, with the Osaka cityscape visible in the horizon. And that’s just the beginning ー there are open-air baths, lie-down baths, saunas, micro-bubble baths, bedrock baths, and plenty more, all with a slightly over-the-top but exciting Japanese flair.
Entertainment is also at the center of the Oedo-Onsen Monogatari experience. Guests can watch plays, song shows, and comedy performances at the 400-seat Minoh Theater, while the indoor festival area has a lively food court, horse stables, festival games, and even a video game arcade and bowling alley.
While it’s tempting to spend all your time indoors, the nearby Minoh Park lures out guests with its picturesque walking trails leading to the majestic Minoh Falls, whose beauty peaks from mid-November when framed by dazzling autumn foliage.
Recommended Accommodation in Minoh Onsen: Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari Minoh Kanko Hotel
Heal Your Body and Mind in Kansai Hot Springs
No matter where you go, the Kansai region is a treasure trove of rejuvenating hot springs. Whether you seek relaxation, breathtaking scenery, outdoor adventure, or historical intrigue, there is a Kansai onsen for everyone!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.