It’s easy to get caught up in the neon lights, pachinko parlours and lively shopping scenes of Dōtonbori and Shinsekai. However, to experience Osaka as it once was, visit one of the city’s ancient onsen.
People have been talking about Osaka’s onsen since AD 700 when the city’s Arima Onsen was immortalised in one of Japan’s classical tomes. If you are visiting Osaka, what better way to complete your travels than by engaging in onsen bathing, one of the oldest-recorded Osakan rituals? Onsen bathing has long been a purifying ritual in Shintoism (Japan’s indigenous religion), as well as a health-giving practice. Due to Osaka’s high concentration of hot springs, many Shinto priests and even royalty have passed through to soak in the geothermal baths.
Whether you’re looking for ‘gold water’ dips, saltwater soaks or rubber duck baths, Osaka has onsen to match – Culture Trip has picked the best.
This onsen is an hour outside downtown Osaka, in the small town of Arima, an Edo-period settlement that feels like a time capsule from early Japan. Located in the heart of verdant mountains and hot springs, its baths have a history spanning more than 1,000 years. Arima Onsen is one of the oldest bathing sites in all of Japan and is mentioned in historical texts such as the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), which dates back to AD 720 and is the second-oldest book in the Japanese language. It offers travellers two kinds of bathing: the ‘silver water’ bath (ginsen) and ‘gold water’ bath (kinsen). The former contains radium and carbonate (good for muscle and joint ailments), while the latter is rich in iron deposits (helpful for muscle tightness). For the ultimate onsen experience, visit Arima Onsen in the spring (cherry blossom season) or autumn when the hillsides surrounding it explode into fiery shades of red and amber.
The seven-storey Spa World Osaka draws inspiration from bathing culture around the globe and incorporates it into one facility. Spend all day at this luxurious spa, alternating between the Italian-inspired Blue Grotto baths, Nordic saunas, Persian pools and, of course, traditional Japanese onsen baths. The milk and honey bath in Spa World’s Blue Grotto room is especially popular and will leave your skin feeling soft and fresh. You can also go for a dip in a mineral-rich mud bath, steam yourself in the Islamic stone bath or Israeli salt sauna, and finish your day off with a few minutes in the Icelandic freezing wind sauna.
Poseidon himself couldn’t have built a better onsen than Saki-no-Yu. Rumoured to be the oldest onsen in Japan, Saki-no-Yu offers open-air bathing (rotenburo) overlooking the grandeur of the Pacific Ocean. People come from towns far and wide to soak in the traditional baths, breathe in the salty air and feel the light spray of the ocean kiss their faces as wave after wave breaks against the side of the baths. Saki-no-Yu is a day trip from Osaka and offers a somewhat poetic hot spring experience cusped on the edge of the sea – fitting for the country’s oldest onsen.
Niji no Yu is a luxurious, modern onsen that features ornate stone walls, marbled floors, rich wood panelling and open-air bathing. One of the onsen’s top features is the rooftop, carbonated baths, where you can soak while enjoying views of Niji no Yu’s very own waterfall. Take a dip in the hot spring or the salt mist stone sauna (women only), and then head up to the egg-shaped rotenburo baths for some fresh air and mineral-rich water.
If you’re looking for an onsen in the heart of Osaka, Nobeha no Yu Tsuruhashi is the perfect bathhouse for you. Enjoy Japanese- and Korean-style hot springs, massages and saunas, along with multiple floors of hot and cold baths and salt scrubs at your disposal. Switch between the open-air and indoor baths before exploring the selection of saunas that range from steam and stone to salt and herbal. An advantage of this onsen is that once you’ve finished your bathing rituals, you can exit to find yourself within walking distance of Dōtonbori and Osaka’s Koreatown.
The rejuvenating water that flows through this onsen is pumped from more than 650 metres (2,133 feet) underground – creating a carbonated potion of mineral-rich water. With six open-air baths encased in a peaceful rooftop garden, this is one of Osaka’s finest onsen for a relaxing evening under the stars. It also has a unique infrared sauna, indoor jet baths and micro-bubble bath. If you work up a post-soak appetite, consider dining at one of the three different restaurants within the same building as the onsen. You can choose between delicacies such as sushi, grilled beef or Osaka’s famous takoyaki.
Kutsurogi-no-Sato Yuraku offers a bathing experience that is likely to leave every visitor smiling. Experience the magic of childhood bathtime all over again by taking a dip in the onsen’s rubber duck tub (a large bath filled with hundreds of yellow rubber ducks) or going for a float in the Dead Sea bath – a pool with such a high concentration of salt that you’ll find yourself floating. This onsen is perfect for playful adults or families with children. And if you or the kids become hungry, its restaurant offers a wide selection of Japanese, European and Chinese food.
The Minoh Onsen Spa Garden is part of Minoh Kanko Hotel but is open to everyone (not just hotel guests). This first-class spa offers open-air bathing in its Sky Bath, which is surrounded by a lush rooftop garden, complete with expansive city views spreading out below. Appropriately nicknamed ‘beauty spring’ (bijin-no-yu), it has naturally carbonated waters that will leave your skin feeling revitalised and vibrant. For the best bathing experience, visit the spa in the evening when you can watch Osaka’s city lights turn on while enjoying your soak. Before you leave, stop by the hotel and enjoy the live jazz performance that’s put on every evening.