There are numerous wonderful Onsen or hot springs in Japan, but also many issues and problems regarding the different types that consumers are not aware of. One type of hot spring has water flowing directly from a source, and many people probably believe it to be the most common type. This is not the case; it accounts for only about 10% of all hot springs in Japan. Rather, most hot spring facilities are re-using the water after filtering it and heating it again. Due to the filtering, the components of the natural hot spring water are reduced, while other substances such as shampoo residues often remain. During our investigation, Japan Offspring Fund found that such types of hot springs also can be called “natural hot springs” even though that is a rather fake description.

Shirakawago Onsen: Photo Copyright Shuichi Kikuchi

Shirakawago Onsen: Photo Copyright Shuichi Kikuchi

Mistakes during the re-circulation and reuse of the hot spring water can lead to the propagation of harmful bacteria such as Legionella. Macrophages or amoebas that can spread Legionella have been found in 60% of hot springs. Incidents and deaths from this severe bacterial infection have occurred, traced to hot spring bathing. In order to prevent further accidents, many hot springs are adding chlorine in large quantities. Of course this changes the smell and also the feeling in a negative way.

Large bathing establishments, as part of the hot spring boom, have been developed together with inns that are depleting natural headsprings of hot water. This is becoming a serious problem. The sense of healing that comes with visiting a natural hot spring will be diminished when we destruct natural environment.

JOF had many opportunities to discuss hot springs and bathing culture with Mr Etsuo Noguchi, who spent 40 years as a journalist investigating some 3000 different hot springs. Just before he passed away, we started the Association of Hot Spring Culture and Safety in January 2009. The plan is to recommend only such hot springs and inns that have a history of protecting the environment and applying appropriate safety measures, so that bathers can truly relax.

Photos Copyright Shuichi Kikuchi

Photos Copyright Shuichi Kikuchi

Following is the list of Hot springs that we can recommend.

Name of Hot Spring/Name of Inn (location)
1. Niseko Konbu Onsen/ Koikawa Onsen Inn (Hokkaido)
2. Ginkonyu (Hokkaido)
3. Nyuto Onsen/Tsurunoyu (Akita)
4. Natsuse Onsen/Miyakowasure (Akita)
5. Doroyu Onsen/ Okuyama Inn (Akita)
6. Akinomiya Onsenkyo/Takanoyu onsen (Akita)
7. Kunimi Onsen/Ishizuka Inn (Iwate)
8. Onogawa Onsen/Asahiya Inn (Yamagata)
9. Azuma Takayu Onsen/Azumaya (Fukushima)
10. Fudoyu Onsen (Fukushima)
11. Okutuchiyu Onsen/Kawakami Onsen (Fukushima)
12. Futamata Onsen/Daimaru Asunaro Sou (Fukushima)
13. Nigatatakanosu Onsen/Shikino Sato Kikuya (Nigata)
14. Muikamachi Onsen/Kawarazaki Yumotokan (Nigata)
15. Kaikake Onsen/Kaikake Onsen Kan (Nigata)
16. Hoshi Onsen/Chojukan (Gumma)
17. Tange Onsen/Misato Kan (Gumma)
18. Kawanaka Onsen/Kadohan ryokan (Gumma)
19. Sawatari Onsen/Maruhon Ryokan (Gumma)
20. Kusatsu Onsen/Tenoji ya (Gumma)
21. Sagasawa Onsen/Yuyado Sagasawa Kan (Sizuoka)
22. Simobe Onsen/Koyubougensen Kan (Yamanashi)
23. KoshuNishiyama Onsen/Keiunkan (Yamanashi)
24. Narata Onsen/Shirane Kan (Yamanashi)
25. Yamada Onsen/Fukei Kan (Nagano)
26. Shibu Onsen/Rekishino Yado Kanaguya (Nagano)
27. Kasenan Seni Onsen/Iwano yu (Nagano)
28. Hotaka Onsen Kyo/ Yunoyado Jonenbo (Nagano)
29. Fukuji Onsen/Yumoto Choza (Gifu)
30. Shinhotaka Onsen/Tani Onsen (Gifu)
31. Shinhotaka Onsen/Suimei Kan Karukaya Sanso (Gifu)
32. Shinhotaka Onsen/Yarimi Kan (Gifu)
33. Shirakawago Hiarase Onsen/Tosuke no yu Fujiya (Gifu)
34. Nagasaki Obama Onsen/Ryokan Kunisaki (Nagasaki)
35. Kurokawa Onsen/Yamanoyado Shinmeikan (Kumamoto)
36. Myoken Onsen/Wasureno sato Gajoen (Kagoshima)

(From Shokuhin to Kurashi no Anzen Issue No. 238)

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