From the 6th century onwards, Buddhist monks of Japan have used hot springs (onsen) to purify the mind and heal the body. During the Edo period of Japan, in the 18th century, Dr. Gotō Konzan started to study the effects of the hot springs on the human body. Nowadays, there are everywhere in Japan, creating a boom that caused many universities and health centers to open a section specializing in the use of this miraculous natural water to prevent (or even cure) some diseases.
There are about 30.000 onsen facilities spread from the south to the north of the Japanese archipelago. The temperature of the water is mostly about 42℃ (107.6F), although some of them can reach up to 50℃ (122F), such as the famous “Kusatsu Onsen” of has.
Kusatsu is a beautiful and peaceful mountain town located in the Gunma prefecture. In the center of the town, you can admire the “yubatake” - volcanic water field equipped with large, floating wooden planks. In the vicinity, you can challenge yourself and try to enter the hot waters of the onsen, but be warned that you might not be able last long!
From here on, you could try heading for a great trek into the mountains, passing along rivers and natural hot springs. (Note that you cannot hike mount Shirane due to the recent volcanic eruption, but there is no reason to be worried about enjoying Kusatsu onsen which is located far enough from the risk area).
We would also like to mention the Takaragawa onsen, here, in Gunma area. You can enjoy one of the many natural hot springs that it offers, all while listening to gurgling sounds of the nearby river. As it grows darker, the little wooden cabins placed near the onsen are illuminated, making the night atmosphere of this place very different from the norm; a very peaceful and a truly magical experience.
Through your travels in Japan, you should always aim to include at least one night in one of the many ryokans (Japanese traditional hotels), as they are always equipped with great quality onsens. Generally, their prices include an unlimited access to the baths and, if you would prefer to enjoy it privately, the possibility of renting a private onsen. In addition, you will be able to taste the flavor of the Japanese gastronomy in its purest and most traditional form.
If you’re starting out from Tōkyō, you can easily reach the city of Hakone in Kanagawa prefecture, famous for its onsens. Can you think of anything cozier than enjoying the hot springs in winter, surrounded by forests and mountains all covered up in snow? Some onsens here offer the drinking (tasting) of water, but not all of the water is drinkable. In fact, considering their composition, there are a lot of different types of water here. Some of them are acids, full of sulphur, alkaline, rich in iron and minerals etc. Their colour can vary from milky white to a more reddish colour.