Onsen is the Japanese term for hot springs. “on” means warm and “sen” means spring. They are numerous and highly popular across Japan. Every region of the country has its share of hot springs and resort towns, which come with them. There are over 3,000 onsens in Japan, many of which can be found at ryokans listed at Japanese Guest Houses. Onsen are created from water that is heated naturally underground, and the water varies both in temperature and in mineral composition. The water is piped into the ryokans or other establishments, and then regulated at various temperatures. Traditionally, onsen were located outdoors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well.
Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. Japanese pople believe that bathing in an onsen can treat arthralgia, chronic skin diseases, diabetes, constipation, menstrual disorders and other diseases thus they have what is called the “Onsen Therapy” which means comprehensive bathing treatment to maintain health, normalize dysfunctions and prevent illnesses.
A particular onsen may feature several different baths, each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made with tile, acrylic glass or stainless steel.Hot spring baths come in many varieties, indoors and outdoors, gender separated and mixed, developed and undeveloped.
The best time visit an onsen is during late fall, winter, or early spring so you can enjoy the hot spring in the cold air. While the worst time to visit is on weekends as they are all fully booked. Also during holiday seasons of “Obon” (early, mid-August), “Oshogatsu” (late December, early January), “Golden Week” (late April, early May) not only because they are fully booked but also because prices are higher.
Onsen are usually divided into separate male and female baths with separate changing rooms, though you may find the odd exception.
Men’s baths are also usually color coded blue, while women’s are red.
Visiting an onsen when you go to Japan is an experience that you shouldn’t miss, besides its therapeutic effects, its an experience that one will never forget since it is refreshing and invigorating.