Japan is reputable for its relaxing onsens, or hot spring baths. Both locals and foreigners look forward to a therapeutic soak in the onsen. There are more than 3,000 hot spring resorts in the country where you can enjoy yourself for the day.
However, if you would like to enjoy the onsen at a more leisurely pace, why not stay overnight in an open-air onsen ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style inn for a memorable holiday? Open-air onsen ryokans are not as expensive as you think.
We have prepared the top 5 affordable open-air onsen ryokans you can stay within 3 hours from Tokyo. Staying near Tokyo means that you can easily head in and explore Tokyo or even become a Samurai for the day!
Open-air onsen ryokans in Hakone
Located in the south-western part of Kanagawa Prefecture, Hakone is one of the most well-known hot spring resort towns in Japan. It is also close to Mount Fuji, which makes it a popular destination to view Japan’s iconic mountain from a distance. Who knows, you may be one of the lucky ones to enjoy clear views of Mount Fuji while soaking in one of the wonderful onsens in Hakone!
Getting to Hakone is quick and convenient, because it is about two hours away by train from Tokyo. From Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, the fastest and most comfortable way is by the “Romance Car” limited express on Odakyu Railway, which takes about 85 minutes and costs 2,080 JPY (18 USD). If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, the slower express train takes about two hours, because of one transfer at Odawara Station, costs only 1,190 JPY (10.30 USD). For both options, you will arrive at Hakone-Yumoto Station, the gateway to the relaxing hot spring resort. This section will introduce three lovely open-air onsen ryokans in Hakone that will not burn a hole in your wallet.
Hotel Mizunoto is located in a quiet garden in Hakone’s Kowakudani Onsen area, so guests can enjoy a relaxing holiday surrounded by beautiful nature. There is a large public open-air hot spring bath that guests can enjoy daily from 3pm to 1am, and 2am to 11am, as well as a large public indoor hot spring bath open daily from 3pm to 1am, and 5am to 11am. If you wish, you can also choose a room with an open-air bath for private use. Alternatively, you can also reserve the public open-air bath for private use or relax with a massage treatment at additional charge.
After the rejuvenating soak in the spring water, tuck into a hearty traditional Japanese dinner carefully prepared with beef, seafood and seasonal ingredients at the on-site restaurant. The hotel is also conveniently located to sightseeing spots such as Hakone Open Air Museum and Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, so you can explore the charming onsen town easily.
Address: 492-23 Kowakudani, Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
Price: from 130 USD per night per person
Access: Free hotel shuttle service from Kowakudani Station, contact hotel prior to arrival; otherwise it is a 10 to 15-minute walk to the hotel.
Contact: +81 460-82-6011
2. Hotel Nanpuso near Hakone-Yumoto Station
Located near Hakone-Yumoto Station, Hotel Nanpuso is a great choice for a convenient onsen getaway for visitors arriving from Tokyo. Choose from Japanese-style rooms or Japanese-Western style rooms for your stay as well as rooms attached with private open-air baths. There are two large open-air hot spring baths and public hot spring baths for you to enjoy the alkaline natural spring water. The onsen water here is said to cure muscle and joint pains, shoulder aches and fatigue. Look forward to your meal times in this ryokan accommodation, as they serve Japanese-style kaiseki cuisine featuring seasonal dishes. It is certainly a great retreat for a stay nestled within the mountains of Hakone.
Address: 179 Yumotochaya, Ashigarashimo District, Hakone,Kanagawa Prefecture
Price: from 100 USD per night per person
Access: 7-minute hotel shuttle bus ride from Hakone-Yumoto Station. 100 JPY (0.90 USD) per one-way trip per person. Frequency: 15-20 minute interval between 8.30am – 11am and 15-25 minute interval between 10.45am – 6.45pm.
Contact: +81 460-85-5505
Newly renovated in 2011, Hotel Ashinoko Ichinoyu is a boutique onsen ryokan accommodation with 3 Japanese-style rooms and 18 Western-style rooms. Located within a 5-minute walk is the beautiful Lake Ashinoko and Togendai Ropeway Station about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Enjoy the rustic open-air bath on the first floor from 6.30am to 10am every morning. You can also reserve it for private use from 4pm to 1am if you prefer. There is also the public bath on second floor, renovated in 2012, featuring high quality Ubako onsen water which you can enjoy when the open-air bath is closed.
After a refreshing soak in the open-air bath in the morning, perk yourself up further with the complimentary Japanese breakfast set menu served at the dining room. For dinner, relish in a sumptuous traditional meal featuring local specialties at the dining room. In between your onsen time, you can explore Hakone Shrine, a spiritual power spot just 20 minutes’ drive from the hotel, or take the scenic Hakone Ropeway ride to Owakudani Valley.
Hotel Ashinoko Ichinoyu
Address: 160-51 Motohakone, Hakone,Kanagawa Prefecture
Price: from 135 USD per night per person
Access: 5-minute walk from Kojiri Bus Stop, which is a 30-minute public bus ride from Hakone-Yumoto Station.
Contact: +81 460-84-5331
Shima Onsen in Gunma Prefecture
Shima Onsen (四万温泉), which literally means Forty-thousand Hot Spring, is among the top four hot spring towns in Gunma Prefecture, alongside Kusatsu, Minakami and Ikaho. As one of the oldest hot spring towns in Japan, it is so named because of the belief that bathing in its abundant spring waters could heal as many ailments as its name implies. Despite being blessed with many natural hot springs, Shima Onsen retains its small-town charm nestled in a mountain valley boasting picturesque scenery. This is a perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
From Tokyo’s Ueno Station, take the direct JR Kusatsu limited express train that will bring you to JR Nakanojo Station in around two hours for about 4,500 JPY (39 USD). However, there are only two to three trains per day from Ueno Station, so make sure you check the train timings prior to the trip. Alternatively, you can take the JR Joetsu Shinkansen or Hokuriku Shinkansen to Takasaki Station (about one hour, 4,500-5,500 JPY / 39-47.70 USD) and transfer to the JR Agatsuma Line to Nakanojo Station (about one hour, 760 JPY/ 6.60 USD). Thereafter, you can take a 50-minute local bus ride to Shima Onsen from JR Nakanojo Station (930 JPY/ 8 USD).
Nestled within the mountain valley of Shima Onsen, Ayameya Ryokan is a lovely traditional Japanese inn featuring all Japanese-style rooms. There are four public baths on premises and all rooms boast the scenic mountain view. You can choose to enjoy the daily breakfast set and traditional multi-course Japanese dinner in the comfort of your own room or in the dining room.
Besides the awesome scenery surrounding Ayameya Ryokan, you would be delighted to know that there are massage chairs, as well as toys to keep the kids entertained in the public bath. Such thoughtful gestures and warm hospitality from the inn management is definitely wonderful for guests to have a memorable getaway at Ayameya.
Address: 4238-45 Shima, Nakanojo, Gunma Prefecture
Price: from 121 USD per night per person
Access: 40-minute bus ride from JR Nakanojo Station.
Nakagawa Onsen in Yamakita, Kanagawa Prefecture
Located in Ashigarakami District, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yamakita is a small mountainous town west of the prefecture. The secluded town may not be as famous as Hakone or Shima Onsen, but it is precisely because of this reason, that it will be an attractive destination for visitors looking for onsens off the beaten path.
While Nakagawa Onsen in Yamakita is not mentioned often in tourist guides, it is only about two hours away from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, with 2 transfers. Take the limited express 55-minute Sagami train ride on Odakyu Line to Hadano Station. Transfer to the Odakyu express train for a 10-minute ride to Shin-Matsuda Station. Thereafter, transfer to the Fujikyu Shonan Bus and get off at the Nakagawa Onsen Iriguchi bus stop after about 55 minutes.
5. Shingenkan Ryokan in the Nakagawa Onsen area
Located by the clear streams of Nakagawa Onsen, Shingenkan Ryokan is a very traditional hot spring resort in the remote and tranquil town. There are three types of hot spring baths at the inn, featuring alkaline onsen water that has curative benefits for dermatitis and eczema, rheumatism and neurosis, as well as beautifying skin. Note that there are no convenience stores, or other dining options around the hotel. However, do not worry too much about your meals because breakfast and dinner served at the inn are really amazingly delicious and traditional. Relish in the gorgeous scenery surrounding the traditional inn while you unwind from the stressful city life and relax in the therapeutic onsens here.
Nakagawa Onsen Shingenkan
Address: 577-6 Nakagawa, Yamakita-machi, Ashigarakami-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture
Price: from 65.71 USD per night per person
Access: Free hotel shuttle service between Shingenkan and JR Yaga Station. Reservation required at least 1 day prior to your stay. Alternatively, ryokan is a 4-minute walk from Nakagawa Onsen Iriguchi bus stop.
An invigorating holiday that won’t burn a hole in your wallet
As you can see, a stay in one of the delightful onsen ryokans need not be an expensive affair. Instead of staying in a typical hotel or guest house when travelling in Japan, and squeezing a few hours out from your tight itinerary to make time for soaking in a public onsen, take the opportunity to book a stay in one of the above-mentioned onsen ryokans. You will be able to enjoy the uniquely Japanese experience at a leisurely pace and unwind from the hectic life. I am certain such a unique stay will leave you refreshed with great holiday memories to remember for a long time!