Spa holiday in Japan? Relax your body and mind in a Japanese onsen
There are more than 30,000 onsens, or hot springs, in Japan, which is more than in any other country. You’ll find especially many of them on the southwesternmost of Japan’s main islands, Kyushu, which is also famous for its active volcanoes and beautiful beaches. Head to the famous spa town Beppu and experience onsens in four different ways.
Japan has been attracting foreigners for decades to get a glimpse of its cultural heritage, and a big part of it is the traditional onsen culture that dates back to ancient times. Japanese believe that hot water heals both the body and soul, and the onsen has also been believed to possess some mystical and holy powers.
The onsen water contains different minerals that are believed to absorb into your body through your skin, and this can provide various medical benefits. Onsens are classified by their mineral composition, and in order for a hot spring to be considered an onsen, it needs to have at least 1 of 19 different types of minerals. The water also needs to be at least +25°C – although, in almost half of the onsens, it’s at least +42°C.
Although you can already get an onsen experience right in Tokyo, you should head to the spa town of Beppu to get a more thorough spa experience. Beppu, on the island of Kyushu, is one of Japan's most famous hot spring resorts, which lets you experience onsens in many different ways: as a regular hot bath, a mud or sand bath, by admiring their impressive scenery or by feasting on food steamed in them.
Relax your mind and body in hot water or sand
You can get a traditional spa experience by staying, for example, at Beppu Onsen Ryotiku Bettei Hotel, where you can enjoy both outdoor and indoor onsens. The hotel, and Japanese hot springs in general, have their own sides for women and men, and you go to the onsen naked.
When staying at a hotel, head to the onsen by wearing the comfy Yukata bathrobe found in your room and slip on the slippers also found in the room. Don’t forget to wash yourself before diving in. Traditionally, the Japanese have a shower by sitting down, and you can find everything you need, from shampoo to shower gel, in the shower.
A sand bath is a unique experience, which you should definitely try on your spa holiday. You can experience it, for example, at Hyota onsen. Dig yourself a small hole in the sand and lie down in it, covering your body with the warm sand. The deeper the hole you dig, the hotter the sand bath you get.
Feel the warmth and relaxation spread throughout your body and sweat drops appear on your face as your blood circulation increases. In addition to the sand bath, Hyota also has traditional onsens, both indoors and outdoors. The experience is topped off with a cup of 88-Celcius “Lucky spring water" – please drink it carefully.
Get your full onsen experience in two more ways
Onsens can also be admired without going into them. These ones are referred to as “hells”, and you can find seven different steaming ponds in various colours in the Beppu area. The Umi jigoku “sea hell” steams in stunning bright cobalt blue and gets its name from the colour. It is surrounded by a beautiful garden and walking paths with palm trees, and one of the paths is also lined with red torii gates leading to Hakuryu Inari Daijin temple.
In contrast, the Chinoike Jigoku, or the "blood pond hell", shines in mysterious and dangerous-looking hot, red colour. The water in the blood pond hell is +78°C and close to 30 metres deep. The bright red mascot devil warns you not to get too close to the dangerous steaming hot water.
Lastly, complete your onsen holiday by tasting local food cooked in the steam of an onsen at Jigoku Mushi Kobo restaurant. You can even steam your food yourself with the help of the restaurant staff. On the menu, you’ll find different combinations of steamed vegetables and rice, chicken, meat or seafood.
Finnair flies daily to Tokyo Haneda, and the fastest way to get to Beppu and Kyushu Island is to fly to Oita Airport, located a 45-minute bus ride away from Beppu. However, there is a lot to see and do also in other parts of Kyushu Island, so you might want to fly back from another destination, such as Kumamoto or Fukuoka.