In Japan, the start of spring and the oncoming warm weather means it’s time for one last soak in an open-air onsen. This also coincides with the start of sakura season, when the cherry blossom trees bloom for a short, tenuous time. As a result, combining the two makes for an exceedingly relaxing and picturesque opportunity. Imagine soaking in an outdoor bath hugged by cotton-candy-pink mountains, it’s not a view to be missed. That’s why we’ve rounded up seven places, including rustic onsens and luxury hotels, where you can rent a yukata and wander old cobblestone alleys lined with cherry blossoms, hopping from one hot spring to the next.
1. Kinosaki Onsen Town
With wide canals and traditional three-storey inns, this little onsen town in Hyogo Prefecture has been a favourite amongst the Japanese since the eighth century. Rent a yukata from one of the many shops and stroll the cherry blossom-lined streets, keeping an eye out for the onsen sign affixed to several ryokans. There are seven public hot springs here, all with amazing views of pink and white cherry blossoms, but if you prefer your own tub, check into Nishimuraya Honkan Onsen, where rooms resemble dainty tea houses, or Goshono-yu Onsen, which takes design inspiration from the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
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2. Yugawara Fukiya
Just a two-hour drive south of Tokyo, this onsen hotel in the historic small town of Yugawara in the mountains of Kanagawa Prefecture is the perfect minimalist rustic retreat. Fukiya has seven baths including outdoor baths made of hinoki cypress and surrounded by stunning light pink cherry blossom trees. The men’s and women’s onsens are swapped throughout the day, so guests can enjoy different views of the surrounding mountains lined with cherry blossoms.
3. Shima Onsen Town
Established in the 10th century in Joshin’etsu-kogen National Park in Gunma Prefecture, Shima Onsen is one of Japan’s oldest onsen towns and also one of the most underrated places to see cherry blossom trees. The lack of crowds means that you can enjoy over 40 hot springs, including foot baths with the locals, who enjoy a good onsen hop. Try out different resorts and public baths, all of which have magnificent views of the blooming pink trees. The onsens here are renowned for their medicinal qualities, and in fact, the name “shima” means “40,000”, to cure 40,000 types of illnesses.
4. Fuga no Yado Chouseikan
Located at the foot of Gozusan in Niigata Prefecture, the outdoor hot springs at Fuga no Yado Chouseikan are known for their high radium concentration, something which is believed to help clear skin. Guests have been enjoying these inspirational views for over 150 years and it’s said that poets and writers frequented the onsen during the Meiji Era (1869-1912).
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Nestled in the mountains of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, Awanoyu’s milky white onsens hugged by snow-white cherry blossoms paints quite the idyllic storybook setting. This gorgeous ryokan, which opened over a hundred years ago, remains relatively unchanged with its traditional tatami-floored rooms and outdoor mixed gender bath – women can wrap a towel around themselves. The water temperature here is cooler than most hot springs in the region, which means that guests can soak longer.
6. Hoshino Resorts KAI Kinugawa
This hot spring resort by the Kinugawa River in Tochigi Prefecture has all the makings of a luxe getaway. Guest rooms are decorated with wood pieces made by local craftsmen and women, and come with balconies and tubs that look out into cherry blossom thickets. You’ll also want to soak in the shared indoor onsen, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that look out into the river, and the outdoor onsen, where cherry blossom trees cast magical reflections at night.
7. Yumoto Hounoya
One of the best places to view cherry blossoms in Nara Prefecture, Yoshino Mountain – which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 – turns into a fluffy mound of cotton candy during the spring. Soak in these views from Yumoto Hounoya’s open-air baths or from the privacy of your own ryokan. Rooms here come with cedar wood furnishings and attached onsens with large windows for cherry blossom gazing.
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