In Japan, the temperature outside has dropped to the lowest it has been this year. It’s the season when it feels like your hands are freezing just when you’re out for a walk outdoors. This is the ideal time to surround yourself with the beautiful Japanese countryside and relax in some soothingly hot water.
Onsen is a big part of the culture in Japan. The hot spring water contains many minerals and continues to be regarded by Japanese people to be one of the best ways to rejuvenate yourself. The hot springs also lend themselves to being good environments for ryokan, or Japanese traditional inns. Due to the popularity of these kinds of places, onsen continue to be built all around the country. However, the hot springs that appear naturally and do not need to be dug up have been regarded as the best.
During the Edo Period (1603–1867), a philosopher who served under Tokugawa Ieyasu named Hayashi Razan created writings which contained the top three onsen in the world. Since then, Japanese people continue to consider these three natural hot springs to be the definitive best. They are called the sanmeisen, or “three famed hot springs,” and they are Arima Onsen, Kusatsu Onsen, and Gero Onsen.
Arima Onsen is located about 30 minutes away from Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture. The town is accessible from Osaka and from Kobe. The area around the hot spring is lined with traditional wooden buildings and numerous gourmet restaurants.
The hot springs are famous for the mixture of various components in the water. These compounds are said to help with skin health and even arthritis. Additionally, there are different types of onsen to choose from, including kinsen, or gold hot springs, and ginsen, or silver hot springs. The baths contain compounds that are said to promote blood circulation and combat eczema. For anyone looking for a therapeutic onsen experience, Arima Onsen is a terrific choice.
Located in Gunma Prefecture, Kusatsu Onsen is quite the visual spectacle. In the central area, you can see the mineral deposits collected in an arrangement of special drums called yubatake. It is even possible to buy the mineral mix to take home with you before you leave.
Kusatsu Onsen produces more than 32,300 liters of hot spring water. This onsen is known for its high acidity and salt levels which stimulate the skin. One way to enjoy Kusatsu Onsen is by yumomi, a stirring of the water with big paddles. Usually, this is done for you and is almost like a performance, but is actually useful in cooling the water which would be too hot to enter otherwise.
Gero Onsen is the choice for anyone looking for beautiful nature to have as a backdrop to their visit to the hot springs. Found in Gifu Prefecture, this is one of the most historically popular onsen in Japan. There are many legends about it, including one that describes an injured white heron that led a villager to the source of the hot spring. This hot spring is also known for having hosted Japanese emperors throughout history and has supposedly been used since the early 10th century.
The water is described as smooth. A moderate temperature and a balanced alkaline level make this water perfect for those who are wary of scalding water or extreme pH levels. The mild hot spring water is also said to make your skin smooth, which led to it being referred to as bijin no yu, or “hot water of the beautiful people.”
All three onsen have different attributes and boast local attractions. Many of them were covered in this article, but the best way to experience them is in person, of course. Warm yourself up and take a trip down to one of these legendary hot springs. With international travel becoming more difficult, this is a good way to spice up your end of the year travels.