This blog post is long overdue… it has been sitting in my drafts folder for many months, so here it goes. It seems foreigners are interested in trying out onsen while in Okinawa, so here is a continuation of my Okinawa onsen posts.
Yuinchi Hotel and Spa ユインチホテル in Nanjo is home to Enjin-no-yu 猿人の湯, a.k.a. “Bathing Ape” spa (or “Ape-man” hotspring). The adult entrance fee to the onsen is 1,650yen (elementary age is 750yen, 6 and under is free). Overall, it is a fairly nice facility, with sauna, jacuzzi bath, ocean onsen bath, waterfall bath, etc (but no outdoor bath!). Since the hotel and spa is perched atop a hill, you also have some nice views as you bathe. While it may not be my personal favorite onsen or sento in Okinawa, it is certainly a worthwhile experience and a very nice facility.
This onsen does not allow tattoo in the public area, however, you can reserve private baths (you may enter these as a couple or a family!) for guests with tattoo. I have never reserved a private bath here since I do not have any tattoo, but I have heard others do so with good experiences. **Private bath prices PER PERSON (depends on size of group): alone 5,000円, 2 people 4,000円 each, 3 people 3,000円 each, 4 people 2,500円 each.
After your bath, be sure to make you way over to Restaurant Sunpeer サンピア, undoubtedly one of the top hotel buffets on island– with plenty of healthy EM options and top-notch cheese from the island’s only real cheesemaker. Everything is superb, and I was totally impressed as it exceeded my expectations. It is a little bit more cost than other buffet restaurants, but well worth it.
Located in the middle of Naha, at the Naha Central Hotel, is a charming sento (“onsen“) called “Rikka Rikka Yu” りっかりっか湯. It does not have quite the same atmosphere as a natural outdoor Japanese onsen, but it does have a quaint feel of a community bathhouse. It is not quite as “retro” as some of the public bathhouses I have seen on the mainland, and some people may think the features are a bit out-dated (or perhaps some people may think slightly run-down), but I didn’t mind it.
The full name of this place is “Yuntaku ashibi onsen Rikka Rikka Yu” ゆんたくあしび温泉りっかりっか湯; “yuntaku ashibi” means “fun while talking” and “rikka-rikka” means “let’s go together” (these come from Okinawan language).
*Signs indicate very clearly no tattoo of any kind are allowed– they are plastered all over, with English, so there is no misunderstandings.
Anyway, first things first: the parking… well, it is in the middle of Naha, but there are several pay parking lots right next to the building. It is also nearby to a monorail stop (Miebashi station).
Approaching the building, it has a cute little whale graphic on the wall. At the entrance are shoe lockers, so go ahead and stow your shoes (by the way, the desk attendant will not take your shoe locker key, so just hold on to it). Through the next door, there is a cafeteria, a vending machine, and the front desk. Go to the vending machine and purchase your ticket; it is all in Japanese so be prepared in advance. For the type of facility, perhaps the fees seemed a bit high (at least compared to the mainland), but as Okinawa does not have many of these type of sento or onsen, I was willing to give it try anyway.
Just entrance fee to bath and sauna, no towels (adults/elementary/ages 3-6)
weekdays: ￥1,000 /￥500 /￥300
weekends and holidays: ￥1,250 /￥650 /￥400
Entrance fee to bath and sauna + 1 small towel, 1 large towel
weekdays: ￥1,400 /￥800 /￥600
weekends and holidays: ￥1,550 /￥950 /￥700
Once you purchase your ticket from the vending machine, hand it to the attendant at the desk. If you chose to borrow towels, they will hand them to you, otherwise they will just point you up the stairs to the bathes. I chose just the bath and sauna entrance, no bedrock bath but maybe I will try it next time. You could also purchase other small bath amenities at the front desk as needed.
There are 2 baths, one side for women and one side for men; they rotate on a daily basis so you may have the opportunity to try both at some point. Today the men’s side was “shiunsen” 紫雲泉 and the women’s side was “tougensen” 桃源泉. I think for the most part they are fairly similar, with various jetted baths, an onsen-like bath, and 3 types of saunas (dry, salt, and steam).
Inside, there was a small vanity area with mirrors, hairdryers, and hairbrushes (UV box), but no amenities. Next were rows of lockers; these require a 100yen coin in the slot to release the key, but it is refunded in full when you put the key in and unlock it, so it doesn’t actually cost anything. I changed out of my clothes, and headed to the baths. All over they had these types of signs showing “proper bath use,” I suppose to assist foreigners…
The cleaning stations were abundant, so there was no waiting around to find a free station. There was only shampoo and body wash, so if you have long hair like me, be sure to bring conditioner or treatment. As promised, there were many different types of baths to dip into, and the 3 different saunas to sweat in. I rotated through until I felt thoroughly cleansed, massaged, sweated, etc. Overall the cleanliness was okay, though as I mentioned, maybe a tad out-dated. It was clearly a popular place despite this, with many locals and even a few tourists.
Once I finished up and changed back into my clothes, I went back down the stairs and purchased a cold milk from the vending machine to refresh myself (when you finish the bottle, be sure to open the drawer at the bottom of the machine and deposit the bottle inside). I settled into one of the massage chairs, 10 minutes for only 100yen. After this I was finally ready to call it a day and head home.
Overall? My impression was decent: though the facilities were a bit old and there was not much in the way of amenities, there was a decent selection of baths and saunas, with lots of room for many people. The price tag seemed a bit high considering I think the Aroma onsen in Ginowan is much nicer for basically the same price (and has free parking). I probably won’t be in much hurry to return, but if you happen to be staying in Naha, it might be a nice diversion to check out after a long day touristing.
While on a trip to Kusatsu onsen, I encountered quite a few tasty foods, so here is a look below at a few of the things I ate, in no particular order.
ぬれおかき nureokaki: The best way to describe this is a grilled rice cracker skewer, with some seasonings/toppings. My husband got the spicy one and I got one with black pepper and mayo. They were really good, but the spicy one was way too spicy. My husband likes spicy food but even he said the spice was too overpowering.
饅頭 manjuu: like any good onsen town, there is a ton of manjuu around. I enjoyed the karintou manjuu (crunchy manjuu) the best, but there are a few types to try out here. The outside of the manjuu is a little crispy and the inside is smooth bean paste.
揚げまんじゅう age-manjuu: so this is manjuu… deep-fried. Oh my. The taste was good, but definitely felt a bit unhealthy! I would limit how many of these you eat, but definitely try at least one.
温泉卵 onsen tamago: eggs soft-boiled in onsen water. When you crack it open into a bowl, the are soft and creamy, cooked to perfection. Usually they have a little shoyu or sauce to add to it, and you just eat it with a spoon. My husband is addicted to these.
温泉卵ソフト onsen egg soft-serve ice cream: okay, so this sounds kinda gross… egg flavored ice cream? But it really means like a creamy egg-y custard-pudding flavor, not boiled eggs flavor. It was really tasty, and I was really surprised at how good it was. I was initially a little apprehensive of the flavor name.
蕎麦 soba: When in mainland Japan, I pretty much always eat soba. Especially whenever I am in mountainous or onsen areas. Soba here was pretty good, so I was not disappointed. We specifically ate at Mikuni-ya 三國家, which had a long line, but it was worth it. So if you want to eat here during the busy season, be sure to arrive early! They had a special plate of soba for 2-3 servings, then you can order your dipping soup and tempura separately. This is probably good for families or very hungry couples, but we each ended up ordering our own individual servings since we knew we would not be able to finish that much food. Plus for 2 people it is probably a bit cheaper to just order individually anyway.
舞茸天ぷら maitake tenpura: maitake is a type of mushroom, the name actual means “dancing mushroom” and is supposed to be pretty healthy for you. Made into tempura it is delicious (but probably not as healthy). I ate it with my soba.
せんべい senbei: some fancy rice crackers were sold; this one was shoyu-negi flavor (soy sauce and green onion). It was a large cracker with a rather sweet chewy outside.
甘納豆 Amanatto: a kind of sweetened beans, which does not bear fruit below 700 meters above sea level. First the beans are dried, then put into water and finally they are cooked in sugar.
Let’s not forget the beer and drinks.
Cider, two types: 湯けむりサイダー Yu-kemuri (not pictured) and 大滝乃湯サイダー Otaki-no-yu (pictured): Awful. Also remember cider in Japan refers to soda pop, not apples or alcohol. I do not recommend unless you really like sweet sugary drinks. It is made with natural water form the onsen area or something.
軽井沢ビール Karuizawa beer: Turns out this area is close to Kusatsu, so many of the beers were available. I have seen 1 or 2 of these in Okinawa, but here I saw so many different types.
草津温泉物語 Kusatsu onsen monogatari beer: We saw 3 different types with this label. We tried them all and enjoyed each one. The price for them was also not too unreasonable, ~500yen.
Special mention: While in Ueno, I could not resist getting a donut from Shiretoko donuts. It is a “wasshoi” festival panda. “Wasshoi” ワッショイ is chant used in Japanese festivals.
Kusatsu onsen 草津温泉 in Gunma prefecture 群馬県 is one of the three famous ancient hot springs in Japan (called 三名泉 “sanmeisen,” in addition to Arima Onsen in Hyogo and Gero onsen in Gifu). These hot springs are renown for healing properties, supposedly to cure a wide array of ailments.
Because I am an onsen junkie, I decided to head to Kusatsu onsen for the long weekend (Mountain Day public holiday, 山の日). In retrospect, this was not the most brilliant idea as: a) Japanese schools are on summer vacation, b) Japanese holiday weekend, and c) Obon in parts of the mainland began the same weekend. So… travel was busy. Very, very busy. I don’t really recommend traveling in Japan during this time if you can avoid it.
Anyway I did make it to my destination with almost no issues, and ended up having a fantastic time even though it was a little crowded everywhere.
We flew from Okinawa into Haneda airport on Friday afternoon; we stayed the night in Hamamatsu-cho 浜松町 with plans to leave for Kusatsu early the next morning. In Hamamatsu-cho, we returned to the restaurant we discovered last time, DevilCraft (this time with reservations!) and enjoyed Chicago-style pizza with craft brews.
There are a few ways to make your way to Kusatsu onsen; we chose to take the limited express from Ueno Station to Naganohara- kusatsuguchi station (~2.5 hours) followed by the JR bus to Kusatsu onsen (~20 minutes). Since we also got a reserved seat on the green car (it has more room), the total travel cost was about 6500yen one-way, from Hamamatsu-cho all the way to Kusatsu onsen. If you are willing to forgo the green car, your costs will probably be about 4500yen one-way.
On Saturday morning we hustled from the hotel to the train station for the 9am train. We arrived early enough to get tickets and breakfast, as well as some snacks and drinks for the train. The train ride itself was rather uneventful, and passed peacefully enough. Arriving at Naganohara-kusatsuguchi station, though, was a bit crazy. Luckily JR had prepared extra buses for the crowd this weekend. The bus went direct to Kusatsu onsen bus terminal so overall the trip out there was very easy.
It was only noon, so though it was too early for check-in, the hotel held our luggage for us so we could go explore the area. Our hotel for Saturday night was right outside the famous Yubatake 湯畑 (steamy hot water fields, provides the main source of hot spring water for the town), called Yubatake Souan 湯畑草菴. We wandered the touristy streets and shops, while enjoying the foot baths and the scenery. Not only this, but the weather was quite pleasant and not too hot or muggy since it is located in the mountains. Some people may complain about the smell of these hot spring towns, but personally I don’t mind it.
As it neared dinner time, we went to the hotel and soaked in the hotel onsen for a bit before changing into yukata for a night-time stroll around the town. The hotel provided basic bathing yukata but I had decided to bring my own (cuter) yukata for strolling. As a note, if you do not own a yukata, you can either use the hotel bathing yukata for walking around or you can even rent a cute yukata at one of the shops in town. One of the reasons I chose this onsen was because it was listed as one of the top onsen towns to walk around in while wearing yukata. I have been to many onsen towns before, and sometimes you may see people strolling wearing yukata in the town, but it is not always very common. Kusatsu is a well-known for being a beautiful location (especially at night) to relax and enjoy wearing yukata.
Anyway, so as we strolled around at night, the Yubatake was lit up and the steaming field created quite a nice atmosphere. We walked around in our yukata, ate some snacks and drank some local beers (Karuizawa 軽井沢 is nearby, as well as some other beer branded for Kusatsu onsen). There was some sort of candle light up near the Kosenji (temple) 光泉寺 and a live music show. Overall, the evenings in Kusatsu were pretty magical!
The next morning, we woke up fairly early, this time changing into our bathing yukata provided by the hotel to walk around the town in. Surprisingly, many people were up and about, even though it was about 6am or so. My husband and I went to the 7-11 to get iced cafe lattes to enjoy while using the foot bath. Since the hotel breakfast was not until 8am (so late!), we decided to wander around for a bit. **As a side note: surprisingly, the Souan hotel provided yukata that was actually big enough for my husband (194cm)!
First, I tried out the Shirahata onsen 白旗の湯, which is one of the FREE public onsen that the town keeps up. Warning: it is hot! But I was able to tolerate it for a short time anyway, so I think it is very much worth a visit. Also I should note, at many of the free bath houses in town, you do not use soap to rinse off because the water is so acidic! Simply undress, splash some water on you using the bucket or ladle and rinse all over your body, then enter the bath. Just look around you when you enter– if there is no shower station, then don’t worry about soap just rinse with the onsen water, but if there are shower stations with soap then be sure to clean your body well before entering the bath.
Next we wandered down to Jizo-no-yu onsen 地蔵の湯, another free public onsen, though it was not open for the day yet; but there is a foot bath there that is always open. What was interesting was that we heard them performing the traditional singing and paddling to cool the water inside! So while we did not get to watch, we got to hear it.
Finally, it was time for the yumomi show 湯もみ at Netsu-no-yu 熱乃湯, one of the things Kusatsu is famous for. Yumomi is the traditional way of cooling down water with large wooden paddles; the town character, named Yumomi-chan, is bathhouse lady dressed in yukata with one of the large wooden paddles. The water needs to be cooled down since it comes out between 50-70 degrees Celsius, much too hot to bathe in.
I got in line to get tickets for the earliest show; it is 600 yen, but discounted to 550yen if you just show the coupon on your phone or print it out from the webpage. We sat in the front row on the side. There is a second level which may have some better photo-ops, it depends on what you prefer. It started with some dance, then the emcee and ladies with paddles came out to perform. Partway through you can try experience for yourself; it is surprisingly difficult to maneuver those paddles. Then they finish the show with a final dance and lots of impressive splashes. It was quite fun.
From here, I made my way to Sainokawara onsen 西の河原 in the park. Again, I received discount ticket, this time from the lady in the visitors center, so stop by there first! This onsen is a large outdoor bath. It was very relaxing… bathing in nature is the best.
While I was finishing my bath at the park, my husband got in line at a popular soba restaurant, Mikuni-ya 三國家. It opens at 10:30 for lunch. Luckily, we were seated around 11:15. I ordered the Maitake (mushroom) tenpura soba 舞茸天蕎麦 and my husband ordered the regular tenpura soba 天ぷら蕎麦. It was indeed very delicious and worth the wait.
After lunch we got on a bus for Mt Shirane 白根山 (active volcano) and Yugama lake 湯釜. We took the bus straight to the trail area and visitor center; to see the beautiful emerald lake in the crater you will need to walk up a rather steep path of about 800m. Also, it is chilly up here, so you may want a long-sleeve even in summer. To return to Kusatsu, we decided to walk down to the top of the ropeway, ride the gondola down to the bottom station, and catch the bus. This was not a fantastic idea. Why? Well, first the pathway down to the ropeway is not really great for walking, though it is only 800m. Not only this, the buses do not frequent the ropeway station… we ended up missing the bus by 2 minutes and then waiting an hour for the next one. Which might not have been too bad, but there is really NOTHING at the ropeway station. It looked like the restaurant may be open for ski season but not during summer, so we couldn’t sit and enjoy a coffee or anything. We spent a rather boring hour waiting around for the bus to arrive. By the time we reached town again, we decided to head to the hotel, relax, and change.
Due to not booking early enough for the crazy holiday weekend, we ended up staying at a different hotel on Sunday night. Futabaya was not quite as nice or close as Souan, but it was a fine room and we did not really have any complaints.
After changing into my own yukata, it was time to hit the town again for some evening strolling. First we tried Jizo-no-yu onsen (where we heard the paddling and singing in the morning) as it was free… it was truly scalding hot! Be careful. I did not last long. Next we went to Goza-no-yu onsen 御座之湯, which had an entry fee. It was a much more reasonable temperature, so I took my time and enjoyed it.
Finally refreshed, we walked around town, just taking in the atmosphere. Again, we had beer and snacks until we decided to crash for the evening. Kusatsu really is a romantic and relaxing place.
On the last day, we checked out and stored all of our luggage in a locker at the bus station (500yen), then walked through the zoo, which had a baby capybara (it was so adorable) and then tried out the Otaki-no-yu 大滝乃湯, famous for its increasingly hot bathing. Otaki-no-yu has a fee, which I found a little steep (900yen) but since it is quite well-known I wanted to try. Now, if I was smarter, I would have purchased the discount pass for 1600yen that included all 3 of the famous onsen (Sainokawara, Goza-no-yu, and Otaki-noyu) instead of paying the individual fees (600yen/600yen/900yen, though with other discount tickets you can get 50 or 100yen off). I guess I didn’t know if I was going to go to all 3, so I didn’t want to buy the ticket in case it went to waste, especially since there were quite a few free ones maintained by the community. My husband only went to 2 of the 3, so he wouldn’t have saved any money. So my advice… plan wisely!
Otaki-no-yu was very nice: there were some indoor baths, a waterfall bath, an outside bath, and then on course, the 4-tiers (5-tiers on the men’s side) of increasing temperature baths called 合わせ湯. Challenge time! I started at the bottom, a mild 41 degrees C; the lady came in to measure and record temps on the white board while I was there. Next I moved up a tier to 42.5 degrees C; again, not too bad. Tier 3 was 45 degrees C… this was hot. I cold tolerate it, but it was very, very hot. I started to dread what the 4th tier, 47 degrees C, would be like. I watched as 2 or 3 other ladies tried the water and immediately jumped out. I carefully tested the water with my hand, then foot. Holy s***. Well, time to buck up. So I reluctantly lowered all the way in… only to jump right back out. I think I lasted about 2 seconds. Out of everyone, I only saw one lady who seemed to be capable of challenging this 4th tier bath. So I guess I did pretty well. After my challenging bath, I drank a cold coffee milk from a glass bottle, and it felt so refreshing.
Finally it was time to purchase omiyage before heading to the bus station. The bus to the train station left at 12pm, and the train back to Tokyo was scheduled for 1pm, with our return flight to Okinawa scheduled at 5:20pm. Just as a word of warning: both the bus station in Kusatsu and the train station in Naganohara-kusatsuguchi had almost nothing for snacks and bento… I definitely recommend getting something at one of the shops in town or even just from 7-11 before walking up the hill to the station to catch the bus! If you don’t happen to stock up before leaving town, there is a snack/drink trolley on the train, though. After all, I think it is almost impossible to go on a long train ride without snacks, bento, or even a beer.
Overall, Kusatsu onsen is a great destination to hit up while in Japan, with good food, beer, hot spring baths, culture, and atmosphere. Pictures coming soon!
I will make a separate post specific to the food of Kusatsu onsen next!
In a continuation of a series of posts about onsen in Okinawa, this describes my experience at the onsen on the premises of the Loisir Hotel in Naha, Miegusuku onsen 三重城温泉.
Since today was a public holiday, I decided to relax a bit by visiting one of the few onsen you can find in Okinawa. Now, I had been putting off visiting the Loisir hotel onsen due to its very high entrance fee, and being in Naha near the Tomari port, it is not exactly close to me either. So, since I had time to spare today, why not check it out?
Okay, well first, remember this is in Naha. So parking is not free. I parked at one of the fee parking lots just a few meters from the hotel (don’t park at the hotel, I think it is 1500yen). I walked through the front doors; on the first floor is the regular hotel reception, walk by this and go up the escalator to the second floor.
From here, you have a decision to make: the cheaper priced onsen (2500yen for visitors) or the more expensive onsen (3500yen for visitors). The cheaper onsen is straight ahead when you arrive on the second floor, easy to find. The more expensive one, you need to turn and head towards the Spa Tower hotel check-in (but do not go to these counters), looking for the corridor that leads to the Spa Tower where the onsen is located.
The cheaper onsen is called the Shimanchu-no-yu 島人の湯 (Islander’s bath); it appeared to have more baths, like jacuzzi and waterfall, in addition to the outdoor and indoor bath. I did not visit this one, so I can’t really speak for the details. It appeared to be “less fancy.” In retrospect, I probably should have just gone to this one.
However, I went to the more “luxury” of the two, the Uminchu-no-yu 海人の湯 (Fisherman’s bath). I followed the narrow corridor down to where there was a split; I was now on the 3rd floor of the Spa Tower. To get to the onsen, descend the stairs to the 2nd level of the Spa Tower and there is the spa treatment area and the onsen. I paid the fee, which is 3x what I would normally pay here in Okinawa (normal onsen entrance fees in Okinawa are between 1000-1600 yen).
Anyway, I was given a locker key and towels, then entered the ladies onsen. I left my shoes in the shoe locker at the entrance of the ladies onsen. Inside was the standard set-up with rows of clothing lockers, a water jug, and counter area for getting ready afterwards.
While the onsen was nicely decorated, I did not feel like it was much better than any of the others I have visited in Okinawa. Since the fee was higher than the other bath, it was much quieter, only 2 other people while I was there. There were 3 baths: indoor, cold water, and outdoor. The outdoor bath did not have a great view since it was covered with privacy shades (probably because we were in the city). There was also a steam/mist sauna.
After bathing, they had the usual amenities (lotion, etc), but nothing particularly special. Some places have really nice products (that they also sell at the front desks), but here was just standard Kose brand. I didn’t book any of the spa treatments since I went to a different one recently for my birthday. So I cannot really comment on these, but they looked more expensive than the other places I have gone to in Okinawa.
Overall, it was nice… but not worth the pricey entrance fee. So unless you are staying at this hotel (which gives you a discounted entrance fee), I probably would not recommend to come here over the other places I have been. And even then, I would recommend trying out the cheaper one since it looked like it had a few more baths anyway. As far as I could tell, the only bonus to the Uminchu-no-yu over the Shimanchu-no-yu was 1) more privacy/quieter and 2) fancier decor/atmosphere. Otherwise the Shimanchu-no-yu was 1) cheaper (but still expensive at 2500yen for visitors) and 2) more variety in baths.
If you want to try an onsen in Naha, Okinawa, I would say try the Ryukyu Onsen on Senaga-jima (just south of the airport); it is luxurious, has beautiful ocean views you can enjoy from the outdoor baths, and the entrance fee is a half the cost. Plus you are by the trendy Umikaji Terrace where you can enjoy a variety of good cafes.
South of the airport is the small island of Senaga-jima which is connected the main island by bridge. A very luxurious hotel with an onsen, Ryujin no Yu 龍神の湯 (translation: dragon-king bath; Ryujin is the dragon god believed to lived under the sea near Okinawa), is situated there. The rooms to stay overnight are very expensive (so I have never stayed there), but luckily the onsen and spa is open to the public. The entrance fee for the onsen is also reasonable (middle school and older, weekdays: 1,330円, weekends and holidays: 1,540円, elementary school: 720円, preschool and under free). There is even a foot hot spring for free next to the resort hotel, if you just want to relax your feet for a bit.
Like other onsen in Okinawa, you go to the spa desk to check-in and receive your towels and spa clothes. The onsen has indoor baths as well as some very lovely outdoor baths. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the indoor baths or sauna; mostly I cleaned myself at the shower stations and went almost directly to outside. Outside you have some different choices; there are a few individual rotenburo 露天風呂 and then some large baths (1 is a standing bath, so you stand up in it but it is quite comfortable) that overlook the ocean. I enjoyed all of these and the view was really quite nice, it made it all the more relaxing. The water is a bit salty– it is a unique seaside hot spring for sure! If you stay overnight, half of the hotel rooms even have private outdoor baths…!
The spa treatments offered here are quite nice for some pampering. When I went for my birthday, I got a body scrub, a seaweed-mud wrap, some sort of facial, and a massage… it was not cheap, but it was a birthday present from my husband. I felt amazing afterwards… maybe one day I can return.
As far as food, I have only eaten at the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant inside the resort, which was so-so. Some people really like it, and it was okay, but I probably recommend just going over to Umikaji Terrace うみかじテラス (the small shopping/cafe area on the island) and checking out the food there. There are several options from happy pancakes to food you can eat while sitting in hammocks, each of them with just as nice a view as the resort.
Since onsen in Okinawa is a popular topic, I have decided to make some individual posts for each onsen. Check this post for some general information on Okinawa onsen: Okinawa Onsen (Hot Springs): 温泉
In Okinawa city, there is a wellness resort with an onsen: the Costa Vista resort and Spa Corazon. I have visited her a few times before, but this time I went for special spa treatments for my birthday. My husband made reservations in advance for me; this is important since they fill up fast, especially on weekends and holidays. If you are only going for the onsen, then you do not need reservations.
As for the onsen, no tattoo are allowed. However, recently, they have a sign stating that if you cover your tattoo with a skin “patch” (or called seal, sticker, tape), then you may now enter the onsen. They sell these patches at the reception desk for 200yen, but if you go over to DonQ you can find them for a better value. This is perfect if you only have some small tattoo and would like to try an onsen in Okinawa.
I was signed up for the anti-aging package (yeah, I am not that old, really, but gotta take care of yourself). I showed up early to use the onsen prior to my spa pampering. When I arrived, I stowed my shoes in the little locker, handed the clerk at the counter the key, and let them know I had a spa reservation for later. They handed me towels (1 big, 1 small), spa clothes (pajamas, really, called samue 作務衣), and a locker key for inside the onsen. They also had some free amenities at the counter if you needed any.
There are different areas to this wellness resort– reflexology area, spa treatment area, relaxation area, bedrock bath, a.k.a. ganbanyoku 岩盤浴 (separate entrance ticket required!), and the onsen itself. I went inside the ladies’ onsen area and followed the standard procedure described in my previous post. I enjoyed the onsen for a bit, dipping in both hot and cold pools, as well as the jetted tubs. This onsen does not have an outdoor bath, but it does have a mist sauna and a dry sauna, as well as some sort of “silky” bath. There are views out to the ocean and towards the Aeon Rycom Mall. Once it was time, I got out and changed into my spa clothes.
There are 2 treatment areas; one is inside the onsen (a little less fancy) and one is in a separate area (much more fancy). I was booked for the fancy package. When I went to the desk, I was immediately given tea and told to choose from a basket of oils (I went with lemongrass). From here I was shuffled into a private room and given 紙パンツ kami-pantsu (paper “shorts”) to change into. I had an EM salt scrub, then a fancy smelling private bath, a full body massage, and a facial. It was all very relaxing, and my skin felt fantastic. Plus all the stress melted away and I felt completely refreshed.
The big draw to the onsen resort is the EM products. I guess it is kinda like organic. Anyway, when my spa treatments were over, I was given more tea and some snacks, as well as a little bag with some of the products used (lemongrass oil, bath salts, face pack, and some face cream).
Another bonus to this onsen resort is the EM healthy lunch viking (buffet). It is fantastic and reasonably priced. I highly recommend trying it out, the food is quite delicious. There are also some EM products shops scattered within the wellness resort, in case you want to pick up some beauty products or produce, eggs, or other EM goods. Overall, this is a great place for trying an onsen, spa treatments, and a healthy lunch.
entrance fees to onsen: 13 years and older: 1,500円, 4-12 years: 1,000円, 3 and under free.
the bedrock bath is an additional fee of 500円.
(as photos are prohibited inside the onsen and treatment areas, this is all have to show)
A new onsen opened at Aj Resort on Ikei-jima in Uruma (connected to main island by bridge) this past spring! The bath facility is called 黒潮の湯 Kuroshio-no-yu. It is not huge, but it is nice, with an indoor and outdoor bath, as well as a family bath! So while those with tattoo cannot use the public onsen (unless their policies have changed), there are really nice looking private family/couple baths that can be booked for 90 minutes for only 3000yen (they request booking in advance for the private baths since they only have 2 available private baths!). Green tea is added to the Okinawa deep-sea water, and the outdoor bath has jets.
The entrance fee is 1,200円 for adult non-overnight guests.
The only downside is it does not look like they offer any extra spa services. It is also quite a ways to get there as you have to cross the bridges from Uruma to Henza, Miyagi, and then finally all the way to the tip of Ikei-jima! So the journey is quite long to get out there… but it is quiet and remote, so you can have a peaceful, relaxing experience.
Since I was completely by myself when I went, I was able to snap some photos (a rare occasion for onsen!).
湯布院 or 由布院 Yufuin has 2 versions of its name, one is for the district and one for the town, but I have the impression that no one differentiates between the two anymore.
On the third day of our trip, we rented a car. First thing in the morning after breakfast, we went to see plum blossoms (ume 梅) at Minami tateishi park 南立石公園. It was a gorgeous day, and they were flowering quite nicely.
Next, we drove to Yufuin. Warning: Yufuin is NOT as rural or quiet as you may be led to believe! We were a bit surprised how busy it was (not in the least bit rural like many people claimed), but rather a bit touristy… but again, it was still fun, and it was nice to see it so lively. We walked around for a bit and then went to Cafe Duo, where your coffee drinks come with latte art– so cute! I got a Hello Kitty, my husband a bear. They even give you the design tool so you can add your own bit at the end.
We continued walking the tourist streets and around to the lake, Kinrin 金鱗湖. Along the street I got some sort of crunchy manjuu, which was wonderfully tasty. For lunch we decided to try the soba restaurant by the lake, where we split a soba, tsukemono (Japanese pickles) assortment plate and some yuzu inari. Very good, indeed. While Yufuin town was nice albeit not what I was expecting, I did not want to deal with an overly crowded onsen, so we decided to head out of town a bit and see what we could find. After all, we are in a famous onsen area, I want to try something a bit more local.
We came to Tsukahara onsen 塚原温泉, a highly acidic (pH 1.4!) onsen in the mountains, supposed to be good for skin disease. The onsen itself is called kako-no-izumi. Now this was a quiet and secluded place, for local-type tourists. My husband was asked by a gentleman who happened to speak English in the bath how we came to find the place, as it is well-known to Japanese, but not necessarily most foreigners. Honestly, we just noticed it on GoogleMaps as we were leaving Yufuin and as I remembered hearing the name before (probably in the Japanese magazine about Oita), we decided to give it a go.
You could choose the inside or outside bath; the fee 600yen for the outside (you could get a combo ticket for both). No soaping/etc allowed here, just rinse and get in. This is because of the high acidity. Again, the changing area was small and had a few baskets to hold your clothes and personal effects. The view surrounding the bath was amazing, and more of what I expected to see.
Tsukahara onsen was discovered by Minamoto no Tametomo in the Heian period while he was hunting deer. They steam eggs here as well, so definitely try them. You can also visit crater for an additional 200 yen.
After feeling refreshed, we visited the last 2 hells in Beppu. Since we already had paid for our pass, it was quick to go through.
It was time to return the rental car, which was luckily right next to our hotel as well. From here it was dinner time so we checked out an izakaya down the street from the station. This one had a nomihoudai 飲み放題 (all you can drink) plan for a reasonable price. The food was actually really good, much better than the night before, so we left very happy.
Sadly, on the 4th day, it was time to return to Fukuoka and catch our flight back home. We bought some omiyage お土産 at the Beppu train station before the 2-hour ride. Back at Hakata station, we had some time for shopping and a lunch at an Italian restaurant on the 9th floor called Esse Due, which turned out to be very good. Overall, we have had some really good food in Fukuoka (and Kyushu for that matter)!
Another trip to Kyushu! This time we headed to Beppu 別府 in Oita prefecture 大分県, famous for its onsen. Again, Fukuoka is the biggest airport (also with direct flights from Okinawa) so once again we touched down in Fukuoka, with a 15 minute train ride to Hakata Station. From Hakata station the train goes direct to Beppu, taking about 2 hours.
Before boarding the train to Beppu, we decided to pick up an ekiben 駅弁 (eki bento 駅弁当), a train station packed lunch (駅 eki means train, 弁当 is bento), and some beers for the 2 hour ride. I noticed a place called Evah Dining selling macrobiotic vegan bento, and they all looked really good. It was hard to choose but in the end I went with the one labeled “ladies bento.” After all, I am a lady. My husband picked up some sort of pork katsu bento, but in the end was jealous of mine because it was so tasty.
We arrived at Beppu station in the early evening and checked in to the hotel just 1 block away, the Beppu Daiichi hotel (it was very cheap, included breakfast, but no onsen on site). After we dropped our luggage in the room we headed out to the Takegawara onsen 竹瓦温泉.
The outside has a traditional facade. Inside is typical of a small local onsen, so you didn’t get the impression it was just for tourists, but visited by the local population. The entrance fee was very cheap (since there are no amenities). Bring your own soap/etc and towels! You can also purchase a souvenirs towel there (which we eneded up doing even though I brought my own). They also had the sand baths for an extra fee, but we decided not to go for it.
Once we paid, we went to our separate baths. In the ladies, there are no lockers, just baskets, and the area is very small. I undressed and grabbed my soap and towel, heading down the stairs. I admit I was a bit surprised to not see the usual (more modern) shower stations… there was simply the bath itself, a cold tap, some wash buckets and a stool. So this means you go old school: to rinse yourself off before entering the bath, take one basin, fill with some cold tap water, take it over to the small area, fill another basin with warm onsen water, mix them together (outside the bath). Clean yourself using this water and your soap. Once you are clean and rinsed, time to soak. Despite the simplicity, this was a really nice place for an authentic onsen bathhouse experience, plus it was a very cheap entrance fee (200yen I think).
After a nice soak, we walked about the area and through the shopping arcade, though it seemed most things closed pretty early. We saw the Yayoi tengu やよい天狗, I bought a retro-design towel at one of the souvenir shops and then headed back to the hotel.
The second day, we toured the Beppu hells (jigoku 地獄) in Kannawa. Touristy but fun, there were lots of interesting sites to see. The combo ticket for the 7 main hells was 2000yen per person, and there were a few smaller ones with separate fees, if you so choose. We only did one of the smaller ones since otherwise the fees add up very quickly. Most of the hells have foot baths and snacks for purchase, so plenty of opportunity to take a break and relax. There is also a stamp rally!
After touring the 5 main hells in Kannawa 鉄輪 (we went to the other 2 on our combo ticket the next day since you needed a car to reach them), we headed to Myoban 明礬. This was quite a walk, ALL up hill…. but the bus was inconvenient and we were feeling genki 元気. Of course, one of the number one stops… Okamotoya 岡本屋 for jigoku mushi purin 地獄蒸しプリン– pudding/flan steamed by onsen! It was so delicious, we ended up getting a second later. My husband also got toriten とり天 (chicken tempura, famous in Oita) and onsen tamago 温泉卵 (egg boiled by onsen steam). After this we headed to the hut bathes, where we rented (literally) a family onsen bath in an outdoor hut for an hour; it was awesome! Since it was a private family bath, my husband and I bathed together. A rather interesting area, with good food and views and a unique chance to experience a hut bath.
On way back towards Beppu, we also stopped at Hyotan onsen ひょうたん温泉. This onsen was busy and much more touristy. So the good news is, yes, foreigner friendly, but… crowded, so I don’t particularly recommend it as a must-see. The baths were okay, overall, and there were minimum amenities, but again, bring your own towel. There was a mixed “sand bath” area (which also came with yukata rental), but probably was not worth the extra 300yen on top of the 700yen entrance fee. In my opinion the price was a bit high for what it was; I have been to a lot more remarkable onsen for less. That being said, in the common area they did have a steam-cooking area (for eggs and such), a small food stand, as well as an area to sit and have you throat steamed. It was an interesting experience.
Back at Beppu station, I hadn’t had enough onsen purin, so I tried a purin dorayaki– basically 2 pancakes with a frozen purin in the middle. It was pretty good.
Dinner time was a so-so izakaya, Watamin, not too far from the station. The food was okay but the beer prices were a bit steep, so we ended early and had some more beer from the Family Mart in the hotel room.
At the end of the first day, we were lucky enough that there was a Lantern and danjiri (shrine/temple cart) festival scheduled during our visit, held in the park at the foot of the castle. So of course, we go to check out these interesting mainland matsuri called 大神輿総練 Oomikoshisouneri!
灯りの祭典(ランタン祭り): Lantern festival
だんじり danjiri: a cart made to represent a temple or shrine, it has
wheels, but can also be lifted up on the shoulders.
神輿 mikoshi: palanquin carried on the shoulders used by shrines and
temples during festivals.
I have way too many photos to post, but it was certainly a lively and exciting matsuri. First we ate some matsuri food and drank some beer, then watched the taiko performances.
They lit the lanterns (by hand, all candles!) that adorned the danjiri. Next they started with the all-female mikoshi, parading through the crowds. Then the enormous mikoshi/danjiri rolled out with enthusiatic men on each corner whistling, waving towels, and shouting, while several men were carrying the cart and occasionally lifting it high into the air. Once they had their turn, the smaller danjiri got to go all at once– the field was filled with carts jostling about, drumming, chanting, whistling…! It was a site to see, a great way to end the evening.
During our final full day in Matsuyama, it rained quite a bit, so there were less pictures. We still had a fairly eventful day, though.
First we explored a historic tea garden and a folkcrafts/textiles museum, both which happened to be open fairly early.
We then went to the day onsen near the hotel 伊予の湯治場 喜助の湯 (“Kisuke”), while not historical, pretty nice with lots of different types of baths. You had to purchase amenities separately which could add up if you do not bring your own.
Afterwards we headed towards the castle gardens, despite the rain. We paid the admission fee to look around the gardens, as well as the tea set. The garden does not always do tea ceremony, so we were fortunate that it was being held this time of year. We were brought out usuzumi youkan 羊羹 to eat and frothy, bright green matcha to drink.
Even though we indulged in a tea set, I was not finished yet… we ended up also walking downtown where I sought out various treats famous to this area, including ichiroku (1-6) tart and shoyu dango. Ichiroku tart is a lovely yuzu citrus castella wrapped around smooth bean paste; you can also buy chesunut and matcha flavors. I also bought Madonna dango (also Botchan themed), which has a really western dango taste: strawberry, vanilla, and cafe ole! It is really good, and I think it must be popular with women.
A gelato shop called SunnyMade also caught our eye, and well, yes… ! Of course we decided to split the “10 small scoops of your choice plate!” We were given a check sheet and decided which of the 18 available flavors to try (the 10 we chose were kabocha/pumpkin, iyokan marmalade, kinako/roasted soy bean, passionfruit, blueberry, strawberry, matcha, salt milk, pear, and another local citrus flavor). There was even a free toppings bar. It was delicious and I would recommend trying it, especially the local flavors!
We shopped for awhile under the covered arcade until dinner time. For dinner, we happened to find this “German” restaurant… well, it was German themed but not really so German at all. It was called Munchen ミュンヘン. We noticed a large number of people getting carry-out right away and wondered what it might be… turns out it was karaage, and this place is super popular spot to get karaage. We ordered some (Japanese) beer in king size mugs, karaage, German sausage plate, and fried gobou (burdock root). It was all actually really good, and not pricey at all. Overall my husband was very happy. Afterwards we crashed at the hotel with a few more beers from the conbini and watched the local news.
During the recent holiday weekend, we visited Matsuyama 松山 in Ehime Prefecture 愛媛県 on Shikoku 四国. While this may not be a “must-see” for most people taking a visit to Japan, it was certainly a lovely place… I am now wishing I had more time and could have seen more of Shikoku. Another trip maybe…
Matsuyama is known for 2 things: it is the setting of the famous Japanese novel “Botchan,” by Natsume Souseki, a tale of a head-strong Tokyoite named Botchan sent to the rural Matsuyama town on Shikoku Island to teach middle school math, set in the Meiji era. It was also recently turned into a J-drama movie starring one of the Arashi members, and is really entertaining! The second thing is the Dogo Onsen, not only famous due to Botchan, but also said to have been 1 of the onsen that inspired the backdrop for Ghibli’s Spirited Away animated film.
Anyway, on to the trip!
First thing to know, there is no train from the Matsuyama airport, you will need to take a bus downtown (which is actually a very short ride, 310 yen to the JR station, or 410 yen to the city station, I think it must have been less than half an hour). Exit the airport, and there will be a ticket machine to buy tickets, then just get on the bus. Easy. Depending on the number in your party, it is not unreasonable to simply take a taxi (fare ~2000yen when we took it on the return trip from our hotel to the airport!).
We got off at the JR station, but realized too late that the tram that goes to our hotel a) runs only 2x per hour, and b) actually runs in a loop which is somewhat reverse and inconvenient. Anyway, at the JR station you can buy 1 day or 2 day passes for the Iyotetsu trams (**PASMO and SUICA do not work… sigh). For a some extra fee, these can include more trains, the Botchan train ride, and Matsuyama castle entrance. For what it is worth… I do not think these passes are worth it, at least it ended up not be for us. The “city” is actually really walkable (or even bike-able), and the trams not so convenient. It turned out to be cheaper for us not to use the day passes, since we sort of enjoy walking most places anyway. Just something to think about.
Anyway, we end up walking to our hotel (next to the castle park area) from the station since it is not a very long walk anyway. We checked into the hotel, admired our “castle view,” which was a bit like, oh yeah, I can see a cute little castle at the top of that hill over there… and headed out to enjoy the evening views. We headed towards Okaido station shopping area, admired some food stuffs in the department store and surrounding shopping arcade. At sunset we took the ferris wheel on top of the department store. FYI: If you show your PASSPORT this is free! We did not do our research… and had to pay the fare. sigh. BRING YOUR PASSPORT for the free ride! Well, it was a nice view, not spectacular but a cute way to wind down a day.
Afterwards, it was time to head towards Dogo Onsen 道後温泉, one of the onsen that is said to have inspired Spirited Away (Japanese title: 千と千尋の神隠し)! I came at night in order to get the night shots of the onsen all lit up and romantic (bathing would happen the next day). A warning: if you really, really want to bathe at Dogo onsen at night, just be aware it might be crowded… nighttime is the most popular time to visit (for very good reason, it is stunning!). We opted just for pictures at night (I dislike crowds overall). So we enjoyed the public foot bath, the strolling the small shops in the area, trying out the famous botchan dango, and taking pictures for the first evening. Really, Dogo Onsen is just fantastic at night; the atmosphere really is amazing, people wandering around in yukata with bath baskets, leisurely heading towards the bath… I was quite jealous now that we had not opted to stay in the immediate area (but the prices were literally 3x that of where we were staying… alas!). We also tried the Dogo Beer Brewery… it was okay… but honestly 600yen per beer was a bit much. The beer was so-so (I thought the Madonna beer was best), and if you were not eating a meal there, you could only do “take-out” which meant drinking the beer in a plastic cup in front of the building. So lessons learned: stay as close to Dogo Onsen as possible in one of the minor onsen hotels (assuming price is not unreasonable) and do not feel pressured into trying Dogo Beer, as it is not that great (not terrible, just, Asahi is better and cheaper).
The next day, we decide to hit up Dogo Onsen for the actual bath around 8ish after taking breakfast at our hotel. This so happened to be a PERFECT time for visiting… not too crowded so enjoying the bath was amazing! We arrived, took a shoe locker, and bought our tickets. Now, there are many levels of tickets, most are for a total of merely 1 hour in the bath… there is the basic, no frills, no nothing just entrance fee for just a few hundred yen. Then you can start looking at the Tama-no-yu bath with senbei (rice cracker)/tea snack on the second floor lounge for a bit more, and then the high rollers of Tama-no-yu bath plus private changing room and botchan dango/tea snack at a whopping 1500yen, but you get 80 minutes in the bath. Well, in coming here, I am going for the whole experience, so I insist to my husband we get the highest tier. Now, I will not kid around, knowing Japanese is a huge advantage here. I am unsure how you could get around here comfortable not knowing it. I am sure it is possible, but I imagine rather difficult.
So we get our tickets, and they direct us to the 3rd floor. On the 3rd floor, we are received by a mama-san, who gives us bath towels, yukata with the special crane design, and shows us to our private 2-person tatami changing room. She explains we have the room for 80 minutes, and can use both the second floor Tama-no-yu bath, as well as the public 1st floor bath. When we are finished and ready for tea, to ring the buzzer on the table. So we change quickly, admire the view from our third floor room, and head down towards bath areas. We are entranced by the beautiful interior of the whole complex, with winding halls, narrow stairs, beautiful rooms with small details, cheerful bathhouse workers… seriously, something out of a Ghibli film.
I enter the 2nd floor baths, and as it turns out, I am the only one using it at this time. It was wonderful, even if a bit simple. Even so, images of Botchan (a Japanese novel set in Matsuyama) and Spirited Away surround me. Perhaps I have a good imagination. After a good soak, I finish up, eager to scope out the rest of the complex, as well.
I looked around at the second tier lounge, just to see what I upgraded from. This floor was also quite lovely; while it was a mixed, open floor plan (changing rooms for the bath segregated), you could enjoy senbei and tea while wearing yukata with the basic design with a nice view from the balcony. I think a majority of visitors choose this option.
From here, I wandered down to the first floor public bath. It was larger and obviously more lively (less private), but that is also a good thing. I like variety. There are no amenities down here, so you need to bring your own towels, robes, soap, shampoo/conditioner (the more upper level bath comes with these), just remember if you choose this option!
Afterwards I went back to our 3rd floor room where my husband was waiting. We buzzed for tea, and moments later it arrived~ green tea and botchan dango. Botchan dango has 3 flavors: red bean, matcha, and local citrus (although very light citrus flavor). Finally our 80 minutes have passed and it is time to leave. My husband liked that we had a room together and he was not just changing with ojiisans, even if our baths were separate.
Before we headed down the stairs, the mama-san showed us the Botchan room. It is all in Japanese, but I could get the basic idea. On the second floor, we were then given a small tour of the imperial baths (where the emperor bathes on his visits). They explained that the 2nd floor mens bath is where the bodyguards bathed; my husband was amused and now brags he bathed where the imperial bodyguards bathe. Anyway, it is an interesting little area.
Feeling refreshed, we look for the next item on the itinerary; the onsen shrine and the Dogo Park area. These are not particularly spectacular, but enjoyable nonetheless. We get tickets for the Botchan train; it is so cute. We also watch the “gizmo” clock, as on the hour, it plays music and little Botchan characters come out and move around.
Onsen are fairly common throughout Japan, but unfortunately there are no really “true” Japanese onsen experiences in Okinawa like you would get in the mainland of Japan. There are some places that qualify as onsen in Okinawa, but to get the real feel of onsen, one must travel to the mainland since onsen are not as large a part of Ryukyuan culture. In Okinawa, while most of the places that qualify as onsen are fairly nice, they are more like sento, “public baths”; none of them have that true Japanese feeling of onsen. That being said, I will introduce some nice places to try if you visit Okinawa and do not have a chance to visit the mainland. Later maybe I will make part II and introduce my favorite spots on the mainland to visit onsen.
温泉 onsen: hot springs
銭湯 sento: public bath
スパ supa: spa
*Special Note: although many onsen and sento are lightening up rules regarding tattoos, some still have strict no tattoo policies, so it is best to check in advance if this will be an issue. In Okinawa, currently NONE of the onsen or sento I have visited allow tattoo in the public bath, however some will allow you to book the private baths (usually used for couples or families), such as Senaga-jima, AJ Resort, and Yuinchi onsens (address listed at the bottom of the page).
Very recently, I noticed that the EM Wellness Resort has a sign saying if you can cover your tattoo with the tape/seal that they sell (you can also buy these at DonQ, or from Amazon), then you can use the onsen. I am not sure if other onsen on island have the same policy if you don’t have large tattoos if you cover them up before you go they probably won’t complain, but it may be worth asking if this is a possible option for you.
All this being said, I have on occasion seen very small “fashion” tattoo in the onsen… while many people may not say anything if they see you with a small tattoo, I cannot however encourage you to try to enter the onsen with a tattoo even if you try to cover it with a bandage. It is very possible there will be that one person who does complain and management will ask you to leave. Or people may notice, give you stink-eye and say nothing, instead giving “foreigners” 外国人 a bad reputation for lack of manners and ignoring the rules (and seriously, most Japanese are not rule-breakers, it simply is not how things are done here). If you have a lot of tattoo and want to try onsen either try booking the private bath at the aforementioned places or better yet, head up to some of the rural areas in the mainland which may allow tattoo. For instance, I know for certain that the Dogo onsen in Matsuyama (Ehime Prefecture), Arima onsen in Kobe, and some places in Hokkaido and Nagano that do allow tattoo. Plus, these places will quite honestly be a more authentic experience than what you will find in Okinawa. Just something to keep in mind.
My favorite place to visit is in Ginowan behind the DonQ, at the Enagic Natural Onsen Aroma エナジック天然温泉アロマ. This is the closest to a mainland Japanese onsen experience that you can get in Okinawa. It has several baths (including 1 outside that overlooks a Japanese-esque garden, hinoki bath, waterfall bath, and some jetted baths), a dry sauna, a salt sauna, relaxation rooms, and a restaurant. It also has many services such as scrubs, facials, and massages; I highly recommend trying the scrub and massage, you will come out feeling like a new person. The best part for me is that there is a significant student discount; if you are not a student, they have point cards and various specials. For instance couples’ day is a discount day if you bring a friend/husband/significant other. It is open from 6 am -midnight. Adult entrance fee (no discounts) is 1500円, high school/university 1000円, while elementary & middle school children are half price, and younger are free.
There are some more upscale type places, such as Senaga-jima Spa (near the Naha airport, indoor/outdoor onsen overlooking the ocean), Yuinchi Hotel Spa (a.k.a. Bathing Ape or Apeman Spa, in Nanjo with only indoor Ryukyu clay onsen), and EM Wellness Costa Vista Resort (Kitanakagusuku, indoor onsen); I list the exact addresses and additional descriptions for these at the bottom of the post should you decide to check them out. These places are a bit more expensive and the baths are overall nice, but I prefer the atmosphere of Onsen Aroma better. The main reason to visit these places is that they offer some upscale treatments which are fabulous (and the prices reflects that!), just not something I can afford so often. These places also offer tasty lunch buffets in their restaurants. Many of the other resorts/hotels on island also offer an onsen (or some just a sento), but the ones listed are the bigger (and nicer) ones that I am familiar with and have reasonably priced entrance fees.
Loisir Hotelin Naha also offers public onsen access, I recently visited, but don’t particularly recommend due to the very expensive entry fee (they have 2 options available, 1 high end, 1 low end). Most entrance fees are between 1000-1500yen here in Okinawa; the Loisir is 3000-4000yen… yikes. Same with Okinawa Spa Resort EXES; a visitor pass (non-overnight guest) for the spa bathes is 3500yen… and it is technically not an onsen, just public bath (sento). Hotel Orion Motobu Resort & Spa has their Jurassic Onsen Churaumi-no-yu ジュラ紀温泉美ら海の湯; a visitor pass is 2150yen, so while still costly it is not outrageous. The Okuma Private Resort in Kunigami has a free onsen for guests, and only about 900yen for outside visitors. Mahaina Wellness Resort Okinawa in Motobu has a free onsen for guests, 1000yen for outside visitors. Rizzan Sea Park Hotel in Onna has a really nice looking indoor/outdoor “spa bath” (don’t think they can call this one an onsen technically), 1500yen for outside guests (hotel guests have reduced fees).
Rikkarikka-yu りっかりっか湯 in the Naha Central Hotel is really a super-sento but has some more affordable entrance fees of varying combinations; you can try the sauna, the bedrock spa (ganbanyoku), and the baths for a fairly reasonable set fee of 2100yen– a pretty good deal.
A NEW onsen has opened at Aj Resort on Ikei-jima in Uruma! It is not huge, but it is nice, with an indoor and outdoor bath, as well as a family bath! There are also really nice looking private family/couple baths that can be booked for 90 minutes for only 3000yen (they request booking in advance for the private baths since they only have 2 available private baths!). Green tea is added to the Okinawa deep-sea water, and the outdoor bath has jets. **Note: I recently heard from someone that they were allowed to enter with tattoo. Please confirm this with the hotel if you decide to visit, as when I went there was a sign (in Japanese) saying no tattoo allowed… it is possible they decided to lighten up on the policy.
As new resorts are being built, many have “onsen” in their facilities, sometimes only for overnight guests. Okinawa has seen a lot of construction recently due to the influx of visitors.
There is also a place in American Village (Chatan) called Terme Villa Chura-yu ちゅらーゆ (also romanized as “Chula-U”), but I do not particularly recommend it. It allows tattoos if you can fully cover them, but only in the outside mixed swimming section. Indoor onsen area, no tattoos per their posted regulations (though I am sure some people ignore this, again making foreigners look poorly). The onsen area was not very good, nor very clean when I visited. Honestly, I would skip it unless it is truly your only option.
In Onna, the Renaissance hotel has an onsen onsite, but only for hotel guests staying on the premium floor. Sadly I have not been able to try it… maybe I will try staying there one day if I can find a good hotel deal. But again same as all of the others listed, the website explicitly states no tattoo, even though this is an exclusive place where you are paying a lot of $$$! Kind of surprising really.
If you make it out to Miyako-jima, there are also 2 onsen locations; Miyako-jima onsen and Shigira Ougon onsen. I believe they state no tattoo, but I don’t know if they are “flexible” on that. Sometimes the more “rural” places are.
These next 2 are not really onsen– Kanna Thalasso in Ginoza and Bade Haus on Kume-jima use deep-sea water, not hot spring water. The Kanna Thalasso website indicates no tattoo allowed (though I think you may wear swimsuits, they can be covered, or so I have heard); Bade Haus may use the pool only if tattoo are covered completely.
In addition to these few onsen facilities, there are several sento (public bath) around the island, often as part of a gym. I have visited a few here in Okinawa, but they usually are much more simple compared to onsen. Sometimes they have jetted pools or whatnot.
NOTE: they can not call them onsen if they do not use natural hot spring water, as per the “regulations.” And again, most if not all places in Okinawa state “no tattoo allowed.” So I re-iterate… it is important to check the rules for each place if you have any tattoo.
Another interesting option for those interested in Japanese bathing culture is the ganban-yoku 岩盤浴, bedrock bath (sort of like a sauna); click on the link to read more about it, as it is tattoo-friendly since you wear sauna clothes for this experience. Some of these are women-only, but some have options for both genders.
So now that you may have decided to visit an onsen, there is a basic procedure for entering the onsen or a sento. These procedures will be what I most commonly observe in mainland Japan and Okinawa, though it can vary widely by place– some places are much more modern or fancier, while others are much more simple and older.
When you first walk into the building, there will be shoe lockers; remove your shoes and take the key to the front desk. At the desk, you will turn in your shoe key and they will give you a locker key for the bath (segregated baths, men and women) with towels (usually 1 large, 1 small) and often a set of clothes that look a little like pjs called samue 作務衣 (some places may even give you a yukata 浴衣 instead). Now this really depends on the place… some will give you nothing (usually the really cheap places) and charge for towels, either “rent” or buy! You pay the entrance fee up front; sometimes the locker key you receive will have a code that they scan if you want to receive scrub or massage services, or even to purchase drinks, which you then pay for at the end when you check out.
Go to the locker room, to the locker number on your key. Get naked. Yup. No swimsuits. Don’t feel self-conscious cuz it is just old ladies (or men depending on your gender) and they do not really judge. I mean, if you are a foreigner, yeah, they are gonna look simply because you are different, but really, no one cares. Anyway, strip down, neatly fold or hang your clothes in your locker, get your towel (and any toiletries you might have brought, for instance I have a scrubby bath towel from the Daiso/100 yen store) and head to the baths. Just put your key band around your wrist or ankle; if you are a lady you can even use it to tie up you hair in a ponytail or bun. And seriously, just use the smaller towel, leave the big towel in your locker, or at least off to the side, otherwise it will get wet and not dry you off when you actually need it. And do not try to wrap the tiny towel all the way around you, you will look silly; just embrace the naked, draping the small towel length-wise in front of your body if you want to cover any bits.
When you enter the bathing room, grab a stool by one of the shower stations and rinse yourself off; there is usually shampoo, body soap, and conditioner all provided at the stations (depending on how fancy the facility is, for some cheaper onsen/sento you need to bring your own shampoo/conditioner or purchase from the front desk). When you feel appropriately clean and rinsed off, time to soak away in the bath and sweat it out in the sauna (remember to make sure all of the soap if off your body). Repeat. If you go into a sauna, remember to rinse your body before you go back into the tubs. I am sure to dip into every bath, even the cold ones. Yes, there are both hot and cold… 湯 is hot water, 冷 is cold. They always display the temperature somewhere, so look along the walls or sides. Every bath has different healing properties with different minerals, which is also listed somewhere in the onsen, though if you do not read Japanese, it might not help you very much.
Etiquette: for anyone with long hair, tie up your hair so it does not get in the water! You will get stink-eye if you let it drape into the water. I use my small towel to wrap around my head and keep the stray long strands from escaping; you will see this is a common technique. Occasionally people will fold it into a neat little rectangle and rest it on their head, but I do not see this very often in Okinawa. Also, it is considered rude to soak your small towel into the bathwater (although I have seen some obaasans do it anyway). As far as noise, it depends on the place– I have been to some that are practically silent, and others that are alive with chattering gossip. Just use your common sense and do as the locals do.
Whenever you finish, change into the clothes they gave you, grab a drink (milk is popular and sold in small glass bottles), sit in a massage chair, watch tv, etc. The locker rooms have hair dryers, face lotion, hairbrushes (these are separated in a clean bin, usually a UV box, and a used bin), cotton swabs, lotion, etc. You usually do not need to bring much of anything, since most places have some amenities for you. I have a small bag of extra toiletries I bring for aftercare. Again, it depends on the place, some of the cheaper places provide very little in the way of amenities.
At the end, toss your towels into the laundry bin in the locker room, then bring your clothes and key back to the front desk (in some cases there may also be a laundry bin for your sauna clothes). Pay your balance, and they will give you the shoe locker key.
Also, as a fun cultural note, watch the Japanese movie “Thermae Romae” (based on a manga). It is hilarious, and gives me better appreciation of the bathing culture.
Addresses for top recommended Okinawa onsen:
Enagic Natural Onsen Aroma: 〒901-2223 沖縄県宜野湾市大山7-7-1 ~My favorite– several nice baths, steam sauna, salt sauna, and even an outdoor bath with a cute Japanese-style garden. Several affordable esthe options, including scrubs and massages. Shokudo restaurant on-site. Recommended for a down-to-earth experience that won’t break the bank. https://goo.gl/maps/dMNDCms3RaA2
Yuinchi Hotel and Spa (Bathing Ape): 〒901-1412 沖縄県南城市佐敷字新里1688 ~Interesting baths, all indoor. These baths contain Ryukyu “healing” clay (mud?), which is a little bit of a unique experience. You have a view over the southern valley. The buffet restaurant in the hotel (different than the small restaurant in the onsen building!) is AMAZING and well worth the price (2300yen for lunch). The baths are so-so, but it has special Ryukyu mud properties or something that sounds fancy. *separate blog post: Yuinchi Hotel: Onsen and Buffet
Senaga-jima Hotel and Onsen Spa: 〒901-0233 沖縄県豊見城市字瀬長174-5 ~Tons of delicious restaurants nearby. Admission to bath is reasonable, treatments are expensive but high quality. Indoor AND outdoor baths looking over the ocean (very beautiful). High end type of place, recommended for a luxury experience. *separate blog post: Ryukyu Onsen Senaga-jima Hotel
EM Wellness Resort Costa Vista: 〒901-2311 沖縄県中頭郡北中城村喜舎場1478番地 ~Awesome healthy buffet at the resort restaurant! The baths are decent (all indoor), and the treatments focus on wellness, so you leave feeling fantastic and refreshed. Pricier than Aroma onsen, but not too unreasonable. For an extra fee you can also try their bedrock bath (ganbanyoku). *separate blog post: EM Wellness Resort: Costa Vista and Spa Corazon
Aj Resort Onsen: 〒904‐2421 沖縄県うるま市与那城伊計1286 ~Newly opened on Ikei-jima (connected to Okinawa main island by bridge). Indoor and open-air bath, plus a private family bath. The only downside is it does not look like they offer any extra spa services. It is also quite a ways to get there as you have to cross the bridges from Uruma to Henza, Miyagi, and then finally all the way to the tip of Ikei-jima! It was nice enough when I visited, but pretty far away from everything. *separate blog post: Ikei-jima AJ Resort and Onsen: 伊計島温泉
**When I went to Aj Resort Onsen it was EMPTY! So… I was able to snap a few very quick pics. Normally you cannot take any pictures in the bath areas (for obvious reasons), so I rarely have pictures of these. Some of the “features” you may see at some of the more modern onsen: