Naked Indulgence: Japanese Onsens

16 February 2017
Read Time: 2.1 mins

Finding yourself in hot water can be a good thing – if you’re in Hakuba. 

After a busy day on the slopes, there’s one sure-fire cure for cold, numb extremities and sore leg muscles: the onsen. This Japanese word is a blanket term for the country’s naturally occurring hot springs and the spas that pop up around them.

For the Japanese, indulging in this steamy treat is part and parcel of any ski-resort experience, and after spending several days in the Japanese snow capital of Hakuba, I’ve decided it’s now part of mine. As a dedicated spa-goer, I quickly realised that this village is a literal hotspot for onsen, making it easy to fill a few days dipping into them all. 

A rest at the top of the mountain doesn't quite cut it for rest when there are onsens around. (Image: Getty)

Soaking in an onsen is not only extremely relaxing, but also very good for you. Balneotherapy, the practice of bathing in hot springs to treat physical problems, has been a go-to remedy in Japan for centuries. In fact, enthusiasts believe the mineral-rich pools can heal virtually any ailment.

With all this in mind, I began taking the waters at Sierra Resort, home to Hakuba’s largest onsen. Sitting in its picture-perfect outdoor pools, I absorbed the natural beauty of the snow-capped Northern Alps. Trust me – being immersed in hot water up to your neck while snowflakes fall gently onto your exposed head is an experience worthy of any bucket list.

From the resort, I made a post-ski pit stop at the Hakuba Genryu no Yu onsen. Here, giant copper baths function as receptacles for the hot alkaline water.

The indulgent Happo-One Resort in Hakuba has an excellent massage parlour for a post-slopes relax. (Image: JNTO)

However, for the ultimate bathing high, you must visit Yari Onsen. At approximately 2,100m above sea level, it’s the highest open-air bath, or rotenburo, in the country. Though I had to hike for a good four hours to reach it, Yari’s heavenly 360-degree views across the surrounding mountain ranges made the trek more than worthwhile.

Back on earth at the Hakuba Happo-one Resort, I headed straight to Hakuba Massage in the village, whose therapists provided me with an expert pummelling to eliminate my residual post-skiing aches and pains.

Even the snow monkeys know the draw of the hot spring onsens. (Image: Getty)

Interestingly, humans aren’t the only animals who want a piece of the onsen action. After the two-hour drive from Hakuba to Jigokudani Monkey Park, I learned that the famous Japanese ‘snow monkeys’ seek respite from the harsh temperatures in their very own onsen. And who can blame them? 

This story first appeared in Travel Ideas magazine.

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Paul Ewart

Originally from the UK, Paul has lived and worked in three different continents: from the heady metropolis of Dubai, to North America and - as of six years ago - Sydney, Australia, a place he now calls home. His travel career spans 13 years across various print and digital outlets. Until recently, he worked as a senior TV producer for Channel 7. Now, he's back doing what he does best: travelling.