The ritual is revitalising and for those who like to indulge, it can be supremely luxurious with every single drop of mineral-rich water. We take a look at the most glamorous onsen experiences in the capital, from exclusive baths and resorts, to five-star hot spring ryokans and luxury hotel spas.
The onsen resort
When it comes to onsen resorts, the grandest and most fabulous of them all is Odaiba Tokyo Odeo-Onsen Monogatari (below). Found in southern Tokyo on the large man-made island of Odaiba, it is a popular go-to for locals on romantic dates due to its picturesque location.
It is often described as a theme park and judging from its size and the abundance of water-themed activities available, it’s easy to see why. The resort has 13 kinds of baths, including indoor ones with water gushing up from natural hot springs underground. There are outdoor open-air baths which are gorgeous all year round (in the winter the steaming vapour feels like you’re in a chalet hot tub) and beautiful Japanese saunas. For downtime out of the water, the relaxation rooms and spa services are exquisite. Options offered include everything from quick foot massages to full-body aesthetic treatments and Thai massage. If you’re feeling a little bit daring then check out the onsen’s fish therapy treatment, where little fish nibble on your feet to clear off dead skin cells. The feeling is somewhat strange but the soles of your feet will feel fantastically soft.
Other fun activities at Odaiba Tokyo Odeo-Onsen Monogatari include fortune telling (in Japanese only), ninja-training (you can learn how to throw a traditional ninja star) and of course, shopping. The lush Japanese-style garden is a great place to take a long walk, and when you get hungry there is a range of Japanese restaurants on site, including those serving ramen and sushi.
Our pick of the baths is the Kinu no Yu, a bath of silky water with tiny bubbles that works quickly to soothe your muscles. We also love the rock salt sauna, using Himalayan rock salt that is said to help reduce stress when in contact with steam. It certainly smells divine.
The onsen also has rooms available for overnight stays. Although popular with tourists, usual onsen etiquette applies, so tattoos are forbidden.
Hoshinoya Tokyo (below) is a luxury ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in the heart of the business district. The location saw a hot spring unearthed in 2014, and now these waters are pumped into the ryokan’s sumptuous outdoor onsen on the top floor of the hotel. Lying back and floating here is absolute bliss. Hoshinoya Tokyo also offers a range of treatments to complement your onsen dip, including massage and oil treatments.
Luxury hotels also offer some impressive onsen-style baths. On the 33rd floor of the Aman Tokyo sits the ofuro (a traditional short and steep-sided bathtub) public bath, with a dazzling view over the city. The water temperature is wonderfully hot at 41 deg C and the steam rises over the tub like a soft cloud. Guests can also get to experience misogi, the traditional practice of water purification, as a prelude to any treatment.
Thermae-yu is one of the largest spas in the greater Tokyo area, in the heart of buzzing entertainment district Shinjuku. It opened in August 2015, so the facility is modern and very up-to-date. Water is transported daily from Nakaizu’s Jindai no Yu hot spring – known as the “waters of beauty” because of their purported benefits to the skin – to the city just for their huge outdoor onsen tub. The indoor area features baths of high-concentration carbon dioxide water which have healing properties, and there is also a lovely sauna that uses steam vapour to promote perspiration. The women-only section has an extra aroma sauna too. Make sure your visit runs over either lunch or dinner as the restaurants serve delicious Japanese cuisine; alternatively, you can detox at the juice bar.
Over at Niwa no Yu (above) in Nerima, you’ll find an onsen housed in a Japanese garden that was designed by famous landscape architect Kenzo Kosugi. Niwa no Yu has a central pool, outdoor Jacuzzis and even a Finnish-style sauna which requires swimwear, so that couples can relax together. Children are not allowed, but good news – the venue is next to Toshimaen amusement park, so you can leave the kids with a more energetic aunt or uncle while you relax just metres away.
Luxury onsen tips
- With five-star onsen experiences, everything is usually provided, including slippers, towels, toiletries and robes, so there is no need to pack a bag.
- Make sure you cleanse yourself before entering the public tubs – this is basic etiquette.
- While theft in Japan is very rare, there are always lockers available for your valuables.
- Some of these onsens are so beautiful you’ll want to take snaps for Instagram as soon as you enter. Photo-taking is not permitted in onsens.
- Even in the swankiest foreigner-friendly onsen, tattoos are not allowed. If they are, then waterproof bandages to cover up may be required. Call ahead and check.
PHOTOS: FLICKR USER BUCK82 (ODAIBA TOKYO ODEO-ONSEN MONOGATARI), INSTAGRAM, AMAN TOKYO
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.