The Best Spas in Japan

The island land of Japan is full of natural wonders, among them is the strong geothermal activity. The spas, known as onsen in Japan, have been used for centuries. Today, Japan offers a great range of spa experience, from luxurious spa hotels in the major cities to picturesque small-town ones high in the mountains. Whichever you choose, make sure you will be the most welcomed in the Land of the Sunset:

1.Hakone, Kanagawa prefecture: this small town of less than 15.000 inhabitants can boast with a spa complex with 17 springs, an open-air art museum and the status of UNESCO’s geoparks. The springs feed the spas located into several very luxurious hotels with long background. If you are not enjoying the refreshing springs, make sure you visit the Hakone Open-Air Museum; with its 70.000 m2 space, it houses more than 400 sculptures set into a woodland park;

01-Hakone, Kanagawa via flickr by Héctor García licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

2.Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture: another small-town spa, located near an active volcano. The population is half than the one of Hakone and most of it is included into catering for the tourists. The infrastructure is well developed and the spas is reachable by bus lines going to and from the major cities. The town has more than 100 hot water springs, among them the most famous is the Yubatake, which forms a small waterfall in the town center. The springs at Kusatsu run too hot for you to dip in right away, so they came with an interesting exercise to cool the water: before bathing you stir the water with long wooden plans as to chill it off. The effected is double-the water cools and your body heats from the exercise, so the temperature difference is decreased:

02-Kusatsu, Gunma via flickr by bm.iphone licensed CC BY 2.0

3.Dogo Onsen, city of Matsuyama: the Dogo Hot Spring got internationally famous when the anime artist Hayao Miyazaki used it as the template settings for his Oscar winning Spirited Away.

The bathhouse even has its very own train station, also featured in the movie. The buildings sprout three stories, each built in the turn-of-the-century Meiji era style, with ornate balconies and handrails.

03-Dogo Onsen via flickr by Rick Elizaga licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Bathhouse celebrated its hundred year existence in 1994 and it was awarded with the status of cultural heritage, the first of its kind to receive this high honor status. The spa is actually a complex made of many buildings and features: the Kami-no-yu (“water of the gods”) is and open-area public spa and it comes with a longue where people can enjoy tea, sweet cakes and small talk after the enjoyable bath. The Tama-no-yu (“water of the spring”) area is reserved for private baths and the lounge when you can try their famous rice dumplings.

The Yushinden was built several years later and it was used solely for the Imperial Family. The building was built by the best local stone and decorated with gilded furniture and lavish wall paintings. The nearby Hojoen Square has a small fountain-like spa with built-in benches, where you can treat your feet and hands with a mini spa. Both a local meet point and a tourist attraction, it only add to the old timey charm of Dogo. The town also has the Dodo Park with a castle, which was built as the medieval dwelling for the province’s ruler. Now, the castle is completely renovated and it house a large library, samurai compound, and a cherry tree orchard.

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