Hot Springs

Even away from the more obvious volcanoes, the presence of onsen, or hot springs baths, makes it impossible to forget the geothermic power lying just below the surface of much of Japan.

Onsen are dotted over nearly every part of Japan, from rustic baths dug into the steep faces of the high Alps to luxurious pools set amidst Zen-like gardens or overlooking sweeping views, or huge marble tubs reminiscent of the springs at Bath. Though bathing tends to be a communal, and sometimes social, event, men and women now generally bathe separately. Though bathing naked with strangers with only a small towel for cover can be a daunting experience, it is one well worth trying, as any concerns about modesty - and any other worries at all - melt away in the steaming water.

Bathing in an onsen is nearly a ritual: bathers scrub thoroughly at the showers and rinse before stepping gently into the piping hot pool, and the bathing is simultaneously calming, cleansing, and relaxing - an experience that borders on meditation. For travellers preferring more privacy, many of the more luxurious ryokan, or traditional Japanese inns, now offer private rotenburo, or open-air baths just outside each guest room, and nearly all ryokan have onsen baths which can be reserved for private use.

Hakone, Yufuin, Nikko, Matsumoto and Takayama are all famous hot spring towns with histories dating back as early as the eighth century. Into Japan invites you to soak up Japanese culture at a ryokan in one of these onsen towns, and experience bathing at its best.

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