1. Jigokudani Onsen in Nagano
Yes, many onsens in Japan are made for human beings. But in the Yamanouchi municipality in northern Nagano Prefecture, there is a special hot spring bath made for the Japanese Macaques. Also known as Snow Monkeys, these adorable wild creatures enjoy their relaxing bath in the man-made pool located in the forests of the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Although the park is open all year round, the best season to watch the monkeys is in winter, when large numbers descend from the mountains to dip in the warm 41 degree Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) hot spring in chilly weather.
It can be quite entertaining to watch the monkeys interact with one another in their large group, especially when you can observe them up close given there are no fences in the park. Like humans, the younger monkeys are typically more energetic and play freely in the bath, while the adult monkeys usually rest and enjoy the soak with their eyes closed. After watching the Snow Monkeys enjoy their onsen, warm yourselves up in the only Japanese onsen ryokan in Jigokudani just across the river at Korakukan. Who knows, the monkeys may just come to the inn’s open air bath and join you in your relaxing dip!
2. Hottarakashi Onsen in Yamanashi
The Yamanashi Prefecture is near the centre of Honshu, the main island of Japan. 78% of the prefecture is covered by forests, and the southern part is home to the famous Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. At Hottarakashi Onsen in this landlocked prefecture, you can find the only hot spring in Japan where one can catch the spectacular sunrise and night scenery overlooking Mount Fuji! The name “Hottarakashi” means “to be left alone” in English, which is indeed a befitting name for the bath. About 20 years ago, the large wooden handmade bathtub was left out in the open by its unknown owner due to lack of funds to maintain it. Word spread that the onsen was open to the public for free and soon it became a famous hot spring.
Although it is no longer a free public bath, Hottarakashi Onsen has retained much of its original charm with the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine in Japan. Besides its strategic location atop Kofu Basin opposite from Mount Fuji, it is awesome that Hottarakashi is open daily one hour before sunrise, and only closes late at night. Not only does this allow you ample time to enjoy the hot spring, you should also go there early to admire the stunning sunrise. After that, you may enjoy a good breakfast in one of the on-site restaurants, explore the region for its picturesque scenery or go fruit-picking. Finally, return to the rustic onsen for the amazing night scenery. This is certainly one onsen that you feel like soaking in forever!
3. Kawayu Onsen in Wakayama
Kawayu Onsen literally means “hot water river” in English. It is a hot spring town where you will find highly acidic spring water from the Kii Mountain Range in Hongu area of Wakayama Prefecture. What is special about the onsen in this town is you may dig anywhere along the Oto River to enjoy a hot spring bath.
The pure spring water at Kawayu Onsen has a high temperature of about 73 degree Celsius (about 163 Fahrenheit). Due to its strong acidic nature, it is said to be good for the skin because of its bactericidal effect. But because of this, the water is unfit for circulation pipes as it will corrode the metal, hence all the hot springs in the town are flowing freely. If you happen to pass by the town, don’t miss the chance to enjoy a free quick soak! Kawayu Onsen is good to visit any time of the year. If you visit during the winter months, join in the fun at the Sennin-buro River Bath, a giant outdoor bath that literally means 1,000 people can bathe at the same time in the steamy onsen.