12 Japanese Onsen Hot Springs You Can Visit With Swimsuits
Soaking in an “onsen,” a traditional Japanese hot spring, is an essential experience when traveling Japan. However, many travelers are uncomfortable with the nudity often required at these communal facilities, and choose to forgo one of the best parts of being in the country. Thankfully, while rare, there are a number of Japanese hot springs that allow visitors to cover up while bathing, letting you relish their warm, mineral-rich waters without bearing it all. This article will introduce 12 stunning Japanese hot spring paradises with onsen you can freely hop in with swimsuits and more!
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What Are “Onsen” Hot Springs?
“Onsen” is the Japanese word for natural hot springs, which often have mineral-rich waters and are located in gorgeous bathhouse facilities. They are an integral part of Japanese culture and are said to have numerous health benefits. Typically, onsen are gender-separated, and have rules and customs dictating bathing etiquette, which includes being fully naked to protect the purity of the water while allowing one to absorb its full effects.
For those unused to these customs, stripping off and sharing a bath with strangers can be an insurmountable challenge. While we strongly recommend letting go of your embarrassment and doing as the locals do, there are alternatives available for those who’d prefer not to. This includes reserved baths, called “kashikiri,” which are often found in “ryokan” (traditional Japanese inns) or bathhouses. These are available for individuals, couples, or groups to reserve for a private bathing session, either included in the room price or for an extra fee.
In addition, there are also a bunch of hot springs across Japan that allow visitors to wear swimsuits, towels, or special bathing clothes, which we’ll be exploring in this article.
Bathing in a Japanese Onsen With a Swimsuit
As mentioned, the norm in Japan is to bathe in a hot spring naked. However, there are exceptions. These hot springs are generally intended for mixed-gender bathing, which is called “konyoku” in Japanese, and they often have a more casual, natural atmosphere than a typical onsen.
Some of these facilities will permit you to bring your own bathing suit or towel, while others will rent out special bathing clothes to wear. This means you can freely enjoy an authentic Japanese onsen experience without the awkward nudity!
However, before stepping in, it's essential to understand and respect the rules of each onsen before you visit. Some konyoku facilities may have specific hours or certain days designated for swimsuit-wearing visitors, while others have separate areas for clothed and nude bathers. Many also have women-only hours, so be sure to inquire about the policies of each hot spring beforehand to ensure a smooth and comfortable visit.
12 Japanese Onsen You Can Visit With Swimsuits
1. Takaragawa Onsen: A Tranquil Outdoor Oasis (Minakami, Gunma)
Takaragawa Onsen is a serene hot spring hideaway tucked amongst the mountains of Gunma's outdoorsy Minakami region. The facility straddles a scenic river, and is enclosed by lush greenery that peaks in autumn when the maples turn a vibrant red.
Osenkaku is the sole accommodation in Takaragawa Onsen, and is open for day-trippers as well as overnight stays. Its oldest facility was established in 1936, and it continues to lovingly preserve the blissful, rustic ambience of the location. When visiting Takaragawa Onsen, wearing special bathing clothes provided by the facility is mandatory, which is included in the day-trip admission fee. Personal swimsuits are not allowed.
The outdoor baths at Takaragawa Onsen are the main attraction. They are some of the biggest in Japan, and allow plenty of space even when packed with large groups. There are four outdoor baths available, one exclusively for women, while the others are mixed-gender. Guests can tour the baths and relax in their warm, rejuvenating waters while enjoying the views.
Accommodation: Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku
2. Sennin-buro: An Onsen Oasis in a River (Kawayu Onsen, Wakayama)
Sennin-buro, located in Kawayu Onsen, offers an exciting twist on the traditional Japanese onsen experience - instead of submerging yourself in a bath, you’ll swim in a hot spring river! The geothermal water bubbles up at a toasty 73°C and is cooled by the Oto River, creating an optimal bathing temperature of around 40°C. Being in a public area, visitors must wear their own swimsuits.
This one-of-a-kind river bath is said to hold up to a thousand bathers at once! You'll find a selection of accommodations on the north side, while the south presents a lushly forested mountain backdrop. Many of the accommodations provide guests with shovels, letting them dig out their own private hot spring on the river bank.
Be aware that Sennin-buro is only open from December to February, right in the middle of winter.
Accommodation in Kawayu Onsen: Kawayu Onsen Fujiya
3. Ganiyu: A Cozy Outdoor Bath in the Middle of Town (Nagayu Onsen, Oita)
Ganiyu derives its name from a local tale of a crab's love for a woman, with the word “gani” meaning crab. It is a small, snug bath encased by rocks tucked along a flowing river in the heart of the Nagayu Onsen hot spring town, and permits mixed-gender bathing with towels or swimsuits.
Even with swimsuits, Ganiyu’s highly visible location near roads and bridges can be intimidating, although the township itself is quite small. Visitors can get changed under a nearby bridge, and the liberating feeling of bathing out in the open is utter bliss, so don’t be shy!
Ganiyu is also known for its therapeutic properties, with its carbonated, saline waters said to help alleviate skin conditions and beautify the body. Plus, the surrounding Nagayu Onsen is famed as one of the world’s few sources of naturally carbonated hot spring water!
Accommodation Near Ganiyu: Resonate Club Kuju
4. Shinzanso: An Adventure Into the Japanese Alps (Shin-Hotaka Onsen, Gifu)
Shinzanso is a ryokan inn that hosts multiple hot spring baths, including one that allows bathing suits or special bathing wraps for women. Accessible only via a suspension bridge over the Gamada River, and tucked in the depths of the Northern Alps, Shinzanso is an irresistible destination for those seeking adventure.
It’s no exaggeration to call Shinzanso's mixed-gender open-air bath the pinnacle of tranquility. Separated from the river only by a ring of rocks, guests can immerse themselves in rejuvenating waters sourced directly from the nearby hot spring. Shinzanso also has separate women’s and men’s hot springs baths, which are imbued with a laid-back, rustic wooden ambience.
Being right amongst the majestic Northern Alps, Shinzanso is also a convenient base for exploring the Hida Mountains. Thrilling skiing and hiking opportunities await before or after bathing, and the nearby Shinhotaka Ropeway will take you straight up to a breathtaking panorama 2,156 meters above sea level.
5. Mizunashi Kaihin Onsen: Soak in a Seaside Hot Spring (Hakodate, Hokkaido)
Mizunashi Kaihin Onsen is a free public bath on the coast of the southern tip of Hokkaido. Right by the open sea, visitors with their own swimsuits can enjoy a refreshing, breezy soak in this simplistic rock bath while gazing upon the magnificent Tsugaru Strait.
This slice of paradise was born from hot spring water rising near the shoreline from the nearby active volcano of Mt. Esan. The ocean’s tide dictates the bath’s temperature, and bathing is possible only during low tide. However, if the tide is too low, the water becomes unbearably hot, so getting the timing right is crucial! You can see the tides in Japanese on the official website.
Accommodation Near Mizunashi Kaihin Onsen: Hotel Keipu
6. Kotan Onsen: Share a Bath With Swans By Lake Kussharo (Teshikaga, Hokkaido)
Sitting on the shores of Lake Kussharo, Kotan Onsen delivers a picturesque hot spring excursion immersed in the pristine wilderness of Japan’s northern frontier of Hokkaido. This free hot spring was built and is painstakingly maintained by dedicated local volunteers, and bathing in a swimsuit or towel is permitted.
The main draw of Kotan Onsen is the breathtaking view of Lake Kussharo. The bath is almost level with the lake, making it feel like a single body of water. In winter, migratory swans gather near the heat of the onsen, granting plenty of opportunities for up-close encounters with these beautiful birds. At sunset, the lake transforms into a golden spectacle, reflecting the fiery sky upon the surface.
Although a large rock divides the bath between genders, Kotan Onsen is essentially a mixed konyoku facility. There are separate changing rooms for men and women, which local volunteers also maintain.
Accommodation Near Kotan Onsen: Artemina Bettei
7. Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen: Soak up the Sunset on the Sea of Japan (Fukaura, Aomori)
Perched on the northwestern tip of mainland Japan, Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen is a hot spring hotel famed for its onsen baths set amongst craggy coastal surroundings. The remoteness offers a retreat into rural Japan, and its location at the foot of the Shirakami Sanchi mountain range, a World Heritage Site containing Japan's last virgin beech forests, gives visitors plenty of reasons to make the journey.
Day-trip visitors can use the bath during daytime hours, while evenings are reserved for hotel guests. The awe-inspiring sunsets over the Sea of Japan alone makes it worth staying the night. The open-air onsen includes both mixed-gender and women-only baths, and the hotel provides bathing clothes for an additional fee to day-trippers. There are also scenic indoor baths presenting sweeping views of the dynamic coastline.
Here, you can admire the rough waves crashing against the coastal rocks while soaking up the therapeutic waters, believed to have skin-beautifying properties. The water has a distinctive reddish brown hue, which comes from its rich iron content oxidizing when exposed to the air.
Accommodation: Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen
8. Motomachi Hama Onsen: Hot Springs on a Volcanic Island (Oshima Island, Tokyo)
Motomachi Hama Onsen sits on the scenic shores of Oshima Island, the largest of the Izu Islands and technically part of Tokyo. It is a mixed-gender, open-air hot spring that requires bathing suits, and has gender-separated changing rooms and showers.
With a prime coastal location, Motomachi Hama Onsen presents breathtaking views of the Izu Peninsula, deep-blue Pacific Ocean, and Oshima Island’s own volcanic Mt. Mihara, giving one plenty to look at. The sunsets are also very popular, with many aiming to visit in the evening to bask in the glorious orange glow.
Beyond the onsen, Oshima Island is full of activities and attractions. You can embark on treks through picturesque trails, dive into vibrant underwater worlds, or enjoy unforgettable camping experiences amongst vibrant wilderness.
Accommodation Near Motomachi Hama Onsen: Book Tea Bed IZUOSHIMA
9. Ashitsuki Onsen: A Healing Hot Spring on the Sea (Shikinejima Island, Tokyo)
Ashitsuki Onsen is a secluded hot spring on Shikinejima Island, another of the Izu Islands administered by Tokyo, about 160 kilometers south of the city. Situated in a clearing on the coast, the bath is separated from the open sea only by a wall of natural rock, granting one the same hot spring experience as enjoyed by the island’s ancestors.
Ashitsuki Onsen is also called the “surgical hot spring” by locals for its ability to help heal cuts and scratches. This service is open to the public free of charge, and there is a well-maintained changing room just a short distance from the bath. It is mixed-gender, and wearing your own bathing suit is a must.
The small island of Shikinejima has much to offer. There are several other similar hot springs that permit swimwear dotted throughout, such as Jinata Onsen and Matsugashita Miyabiyu, cementing it as a haven for hot spring-lovers. Outdoor enthusiasts can partake in activities such as camping, diving, and hiking, and the crystal-clear waters of the shell-shaped Tomari Beach make it a must-visit for swimmers and snorkelers.
10. Hatcho-no-Yu: A Rustic Hot Spring Hideaway (Okukinu Onsen, Tochigi)
Located deep in the forests of Nikko National Park in Tochigi, Hatcho-no-Yu is a charming traditional inn that promises a serene escape immersed in tranquil wilderness. It exudes a rural charm through its homely log cabin interior and antique hanging lamps, which are leftover from the days when the facility lacked electricity - as recent as 1988!
The hot spring waters of Hatcho-no-Yu are 100% natural, ensuring an authentic experience. There are several mixed-gender baths to try, encompassed by cascading waterfalls and lush forests that look great in any season. There are also gender-separated baths, and the mixed baths have designated women-only hours, so make sure to take note of the time before jumping in. While you can’t wear a swimsuit, you can wrap yourself in a towel while bathing, but make sure it is white or lightly colored to avoid the dye seeping into the water.
Hatcho-no-Yu is also the ideal base for exploring Nikko National Park. Hikers can hit up trails directly out of the inn, ranging from gentle walks along nearby forest paths to longer and more challenging hikes around the wetlands.
11. Shiriyaki Onsen: Back to Bathing Basics (Nakanojo, Gunma)
Shiriyaki Onsen is another sublime choice for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path Japanese hot spring escapade. Simple yet beautiful, this wild hot spring is part of a river and has plenty of space to accommodate large groups, all for free.
Shiriyaki's name translates to “burning buttocks,” which derives from the feeling of the hot spring water bubbling up from the waterbed and toasting your behind. Visitors are free to don a bathing suit or towel.
While there is no connecting accommodation, or even a proper changing room, you'll find a selection of inns and hotels along the river if you wish to stay the night. It is also just a 25-minute drive from Kusatsu Onsen, which is considered one of Japan’s best hot spring towns, famous for its picturesque “yubatake” hot water field.
Accommodation Near Shiriyaki Onsen: Hotel Ichii
12. Sunayu: Healing Waters Straight From the Riverbed (Yubara Onsen, Okayama)
Sunayu is one of the most popular attractions of the well-developed hot spring resort of Yubara Onsen, which sits at the base of the Yubara Dam and beside the Asahi River. This mixed-gender onsen bursts with beauty throughout the year, from views of cherry blossoms to vibrant autumn foliage, and even glistening snow. Swimsuits are permitted, and women can also rent special bathing wraps if needed. There is a gender-separated changing facility also on site.
Its name, Sunayu, means “sand bath,” which refers to hot spring water from the riverbed moving sand from the bottom of the river. The water here is known for its skin-beautifying effects, and visitors can choose between three baths, each with a different temperature. The nearby town is also chock-full of old-school Japanese buildings, and is well worth a stroll.
Accommodation Near Sunayu: Hakkei
Onsen With Swimsuits: More Common Than You Think
Wearing a swimsuit in a mixed-gender “konyoku” hot spring is a comfortable way to experience Japanese onsen culture while maintaining privacy. Whether you prefer the deep mountain wilderness, open ocean breeze, or even modern indoor facilities with restaurants and more, there’s a Japanese hot spring suiting all preferences!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.