Best Tokyo onsen
Like all good things, let’s start with a proper introduction -- I’m Beniko Yamada, and I love onsen. I make my living as an office worker, but I spend all my free time on trips to Japan’s hot springs, and to date I’ve visited 3,750 of them. And no -- that’s not a typo, by the way.
I’m enchanted by the bubbling waters of onsen and it’s an honor to be able to share some of my favorites in Tokyo with CNNGo readers.
While the word “onsen” conjures up images of springs bubbling in sylvan valleys, there’s no shortage of superb soaks in and around the capital city (which is far larger than you might think, by the way).
For a wild experience, you can head to a southern island; for a historic one, to a famed resort; and for those times you just want to relax in the company of neighbors, there’s always a local sento bath. They’re all here -- right in the Big Ringo.
Jinata Onsen (Shikine Island)
Shikine Island sits in the Pacific, roughly 160 kilometers south of central Tokyo. Yet it’s still considered within city limits -- administratively, anyway.
Jinata Onsen, written with the characters for “land” and “snake,” takes its name from the way the terrain twists and bends like a serpent. The dynamic backdrop and bright orange waters make it hard to believe a place like this is really has a Tokyo zipcode.
But its most striking feature, the one that makes it so popular with visitors and one of the best Tokyo onsen, is that the natural “tub” only appears at low tide. As the waters recede, heated spring water and seawater mix, creating a truly unique ocean/onsen hybrid experience.
Although there aren’t any shower facilities -- or any facilities at all, really -- anyone with a bathing suit can drop by for a soak. And it’s free.
Matsugashita Miyabi-yu (Shikine Island)
Another Shikine Island favorite, located right next to the port. Like the Jinata Onsen this is mixed-gender bathing, and with bathing suits. It’s also free. Unlike Jinata Onsen, you don’t have to worry about the tides here. Matsugashita Miyabi-yu is ready anytime (except for brief periods when it’s closed for cleaning).
There’s also a nice footbath, so even those who don’t feel like changing into a bathing suit can soak their feet at one of the best Tokyo onsen.
Uramigataki Rotenburo (Hachijo Island)
Located 290 kilometers south of the city, Hachijo-jima is one of seven islands in the Izu chain. Blessed with warm weather year round, it’s a perfect onsen environment.
Uramigataki is simplicity itself, an outdoor spring covered by a little gazebo. Operated by the local government, it’s free to use, and like the others mentioned above is mixed-gender, designed for use in bathing suits. The creeping vines give one of the best Tokyo onsen a South Pacific feel unlike anywhere else in Japan.
Yunohama Rotenburo (Niijima Island)
Niijima is known for its white-sand beaches and great surf breaks. The free Yunohama bath, with its ancient Greek motif, is right on the beach, just a five-minute walk from the port.
This unique approach to onsen architecture isn’t just eye-catching -- it’s surprisingly well done. Yunohama is popular among young and old, male and female alike and is one of Niijima’s most popular spots, as well as one of the best Tokyo onsen.
Setagaya Onsen Sanga-no-yu (Tokyo)
This onsen is attached to a sports club built on land that once was home to the mansion of the Mito Tokugawa clan. In addition to the standard gender-segregated bathing, Setagaya Onsen Sanga-no-yu has a mixed bathing area (bathing suits required).
The large outdoor tubs, surrounded by greenery, make one forget they’re in a square in the middle of a major metropolis.
The photo was taken in the outdoor mixed-bathing pool, and on clear days, you can even see Mount Fuji. Dark, salty waters with a mountain view? Now that’s relaxing in style at one of the best Tokyo onsen.
Even locals can be surprised at just how many sento bathouses can be found in the metro area. Longtime Yokohama favorite Asahi-yu is located right on Highway 15.
The traditionally tiled roof and bold neon signs enhance the Showa-retro feel. In fact, you’ll feel like you slipped back through time a few decades. But the best feature is the murky water, considered some of the finest mineral spring water in Japan.
And it being a sento, the price of entry is reasonable. Easy access and out-of-the-ordinary at the same time, Asahi-yu is highly recommended as one of the best Tokyo onsen.
Musashikoyama onsen Shimizu-yu (Tokyo)
Shimizu-yu is a standout even in a city filled with sento. It has springs flowing with both yellow and black waters. The ogon no yu (golden bath) in the photo is one of the few sento renowned for therapeutic waters, thanks to being fed by an iron-rich salt spring.
And the best part is, once you’re done with those silky golden waters, you can jump in Tokyo’s only black-water spring. The combination of the Japanese-style atmosphere and cozy, comfy waters at sento prices makes Shimizu-yu a popular stop for city folk and visitors alike.
Tokigawa onsen (Saitama)
Tokigawa’s hot springs bubble up in the mountains of Saitama and happen to be Japan’s most alkali waters, with a pH of 11.3.
Although it’s called Ryokan Tokigawa, this isn’t actually an inn. It’s an elegant hidden retreat that’s limited to just four groups a day (the entrance fee includes a meal as well).
The silky waters leave skin feeling smooth and beautiful, which makes this exclusive onsen a favorite with the ladies.