The best winter rotenburo   冬の露天風呂

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Manza Onsen

Shikaribetsu Lake

A rotenburo on Shikaribetsu Lake

Nyuto Onsen

Manza Onsen

Takaragawa Onsen

Outdoor baths in a snowy landscape

What's better than sinking into a hot bath after a day of sightseeing and discovery? Onsen are Japanese baths where the water comes from volcanic hot springs. When they are outdoors, they are called rotenburo. Japan Experience has found a selection of the best rotenburo to try in winter, to enjoy this ancestral tradition, surrounded by nature!

One of the great pleasures of winter for the Japanese is to immerse yourself in a rotenburo, an outdoor onsen bath with naturally heated water, with the view of an open landscape in the middle of nature, to feel the fresh air while surrounded by ice and snow. The Japanese place a great deal of importance on being in harmony with nature, just as the Shinto religion requires. Relaxing in a real hot spring from the depths of the earth is part of Japanese culture, with added health benefits coming from the mineral-rich regional waters.

Be careful, however, not to leap eagerly into the water all at once, firstly because it's not how it's done, but mostly because the large difference in temperature between air and water can shock your system. There may be up to 60°c difference between outside air in winter in Hokkaido (-20°c) and the onsen water at 40°c. So in preparation, it's first recommended to drink a large glass of water before going to the bath. Then, take a shower to get clean and start to raise your skin temperature, and then splash your body with water from a small basin available at the entrance of the bath - this process is called "kake-yu". Then, start with an indoor bath that will prepare you further by getting you used to the high water temperature. The little towel you're provided with always stays outside the bath, on the rim, or folded over the head in true Japanese style. Now you're ready to try "yukimi-buro", that is to say, to soak in the hot water of an outside bath while admiring the surrounding snow, the ultimate pleasure!

Shikaribetsu-ko

Located in Hokkaido, 800 meters above sea level in Daisetsuzan National Park on Shikaribetsu Lake. During winter, it gets so cold that the waters of the lake freeze. An ephemeral village is set up on the layer of ice, which is more than a meter thick.

A snow festival has been held on the lake since 1980, welcoming 40,000 visitors each year.

Igloos, a chapel, an ice bar and of course, a rotenburo are all available, as well as an ashiyu to soak your feet. Relaxing in the warm water, you're surrounded by ice-cold snow on the lake. Even the locker room is made of ice! The difference here between the air and water temperature is around 60°c.

Accessible from the end of January to the end of March, open from 6.30am to 10pm, mixed bath (6pm to 8pm for men, 8pm to 10pm for women)

Shikaribetsu Lake

A rotenburo on Shikaribetsu Lake

Shikaribetsu Lake

Shikaribetsu Kotan

Nyuto Onsen

Located in Hachimantai National Park in Akita Prefecture, not far from Lake Tazawa. At the foot of Mount Nyuto, the village of Nyuto Onsen is above all beautiful, a secret and enchanting place composed of seven onsen and seven ryokan, traditional Japanese inns, with water coming from seven different hot springs. These springs all have waters with purported health benefits for the body.

The spring of Tsuruno-yu is particularly remarkable and especially historical, known since the Edo period (1603-1868). It provides a great moment of relaxation in the silence of the mountain covered with a thick layer of snow each winter.

Manza Onsen

Located in the Joshinestu Kogen National Park in Gunma Prefecture, the area is known for winter sports and has a ski resort and plenty of good quality snow.

Manza Onsen is 1800 meters above sea level, so it's said to be the onsen closest to the stars! The sulphurous white waters are some of the strongest in Japan, and are believed to heal all your ills. Enjoy views of the snowy mountains by day, or get lost in the heavenly immensity of the sky by night. You won't leave Manza Onsen in the same state as you arrived.

Nishiyugawa Onsen

Located in Nikko National Park in Tochigi, this onsen is the closest on our list to Tokyo. On the banks of the Nishiyugawa River, this onsen is historic because the Taira clan warlord would have come here to heal his wounds after the battle of Dan-no-ura in the Seto Inland Sea.

Several ryokan here have rotenburo directly on the river, which are beautifully snowy throughout the winter. From the end of January to the middle of March, the Kamakura festival offers charming igloos to hide or curl up for two in, during the nocturnal illuminations.

Takaragawa Onsen

Located in Gumma, along the Takara River, four baths with a total surface of 700m2 are available here, with three mixed-sex baths and one exclusively for women. They also offer a special bathing dress for women to wear, should they feel shy.

Here, nature is magnificent, the rushing river, the ice cascades and the abundant snow that covers the entire forest until early April, all provide a wonderful atmosphere. The baths here are accessible 24 hours a day, so you can enjoy them night and day, alone or as a group.

Shirahone Onsen

Located in Chubu Sangaku National Park in Nagano Prefecture, you have to go to Awano-yu, in the heart of the snowy mountains, to enjoy the naturally white and sparkling waters here. The magnesium and calcium-rich milky waters are the symbol of Shirahone Onsen, and have made it famous for a long time.

The bath there is mixed but the entry times are different for each sex, and bath robes are available for the ladies.

These whitish waters have a temperature of 38°c, so are warm rather than very hot - nurui in Japanese, and ideal for those who can't cope with the very hot baths. You can soak for half an hour safely; it's so relaxing that it might put you to sleep! Good thing the winter cold keeps you awake.

There's a saying that goes if you spend three days at Shirahone Onsen, you won't get sick for three years!

Shirahone onsen in the snow

NOTE: All the onsen listed here have a "higaeri" option, meaning that you can pay to have access to the baths for a day, but if you stay and sleep at the nearby ryokan as a guest you can have unlimited access for the duration of your stay.

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