Japan has more hot spring facilities than almost anywhere in the world, so it’s the perfect place to warm up this winter with a good soak. Luckily, there are plenty of onsen towns near Tokyo to dip your toes into.
Winter in Japan is made bearable by sinking into a hot, steaming onsen (hot spring) so relaxing that you forget you’re in a room full of naked people. There are plenty of baths in Tokyo, but for a real escape head into nature to one of these resorts.
1. Kusatsu: A top-rated onsen4 hours from Shinjuku or Shibuya stations by bus
From ¥3,100 (one way)
An easy bus ride from Tokyo, Kusatsu is one of the better-known spots among onsen lovers due to its unique, open-air cooling technique. Stroll through the streets in the evening to admire the yubatake: a giant chute of hot water running through the center of the town and supplying the many onsen nearby.
You can try super-hot pools for free throughout the town and pay a small fee for some of the cooled ones with facilities. Although Kusatsu works as a day trip, you don’t want to miss the lights at night, so make this one an overnight stay. Don’t worry: Kusatsu can be done on a budget, so it shouldn’t break the bank.
Have a look at our guide to Kusatsu for all the info.
2. Hakone: Hot springs galore and Mt. Fuji views1 hour 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station by train
¥2,470 (one way) or get the Hakone Free Pass
If you’re after a fun take on an onsen, check out Yunessun — an onsen theme park with wine baths, tea baths, and more. For a traditional approach, choose from the many ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) that open their doors to visitors, like Kohan-no-yu which looks out across Lake Ashi. If you have tattoos, head to Tenzan, which has a beautiful rock-lined rotenburo (outdoor bath) and is more accepting than most (i.e., be discreet and you’ll be fine).
Hakone has plenty more than onsen to keep you entertained, with the aforementioned pirate ship plus art galleries, teahouses, steaming valleys, and other attractions.
3. Ikaho: Iron-rich waters and slurp-worthy noodles2 hour 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station by bus
From ¥2,850(one way)
Best known for the 300-meter staircase that leads up through the town, Ikaho is another of Gunma’s four famed onsen. The thermal waters here are reddish brown thanks to the iron presence and are believed to be good for poor circulation and fatigue.
Much like Kusatsu, you can see the source of the water here at the top of the steps, near the large public outdoor bath. There are two public baths in the town, and plenty of ryokan and hotels welcome visitors for between ¥410–¥1,500 a soak.
When you visit, be sure to make a short trip to nearby Mizusawa Temple, which is popular for the udon shops that line the route to its doors. The area is home to one of the three most famous types of udon in Japan, alongside Sanuki udon of Kagawa and Inaniwa udon of Akita.
4. Atami: A seaside resort1 hour 40 minutes from Tokyo Station
¥1,980 (one way)
Once a major seaside destination for Tokyoites, Atami has seen a decline in visitors over the decades, but this gives it a special kind of yesteryear charm. There are unusual saltwater onsen with incredible sea views and plenty of traditional inns dating back way past Japan’s 1980s “bubble era.”
If you’re looking for a special romantic option, the Chikurinan Mizuno Resort, which overlooks the bay, has couple’s rotenburo (outdoor bath, requires reservation) in their forested grounds. While you’re there, you can visit the fake Atami Castle and even see the sex museum — it’s an unusual spot for sure! The area is well known for fishing, so you can also enjoy deliciously fresh seafood on your visit.
Tip: For the non-Cheapo in a hurry, you can take the Shinkansen to Atami and slim the journey time down to 40 minutes.
5. Kinugawa: A riverside onsen town near Nikkō2 hours 15 minutes from Asakusa Station by train
¥3,231 (one way)
Perfect if you’re looking to combine your trip with a visit to Nikkō, Kinugawa is less famous but still a popular option with beautiful scenery. Despite having been through a boom and decline, recently, abandoned hotels have been removed and the area is enjoying a new lease of life. There are new nature trails and foot baths near the river, as well as parks.
The water is mild and clear and has been soaked in since the Edo period — give it a try at the public or private baths dotted throughout the town. There is a small theme park recreating feudal Japan to visit between soaks, as well as a park featuring world landscapes in miniature — what more could you want from a weekend?
Tip: If you want to leave behind the more built-up style of the town, visit one of the more rural spots like Okukinu Onsen (a collection of five onsen which require a bus from town and a hike to visit) or the small town of Yunishigawa (one hour by bus from Kinugawa), which is home to onsen as well as a snow house festival.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This article was first published in December 2017. Last updated November 2023.