Snow-capped mountains and world-famous ski-resorts are a few things that come to mind when talking about Niseko. However, there is much more to this humble Japanese village than meets the eye.
Amidst miles of spectacular skiing trails and helicopter tours, there are more than a dozen local onsens that form the Niseko Onsenkyo as listed by the official Niseko Tourism website. Today, we put the spotlight on these winter land wonders to help you relish the best onsen experience in Niseko.
So, what is an onsen?
Onsens, as they are called in Japan, are naturally occurring volcanic hot springs that have become part of the country’s rich culture. In Niseko, they offer a welcome relief to strained muscles after a long day of hiking or skiing and is something you should definitely not miss during your visit.
Not every onsen is the same as the water varies widely in terms of mineral composition based on its location, and the path through which it traverses. Besides providing a sense of relaxation, the mineral-rich water also offers a plethora of health benefits for its fortunate bathers.
Onsens in Japan can be private, public, gender-exclusive, or mixed. Regardless of which one you choose, the basic principle remains the same. You remove clothing, wash your body, and get into the hot water to let your body soak. The onsen culture in Japan fosters the egalitarian principle that says ‘once you strip of all material possessions, every individual is equal’.
Health benefits of bathing in an onsen
Interestingly, the Japanese categorize and associate the onsens with different health benefits based on the minerals found in water. For example, if the water contains sodium bicarbonate saline, the onsen is good for the skin; if it contains high amounts of sulfur, it is good for treating high blood pressure and joint pain. Here are some of the common minerals found in the hot spring water and their benefits:
Sodium Bicarbonate saline makes your skin smooth and radiant
Sulfur reduces high blood pressure and joint pain
Chloride maintains body heat
Sulfate heals cuts and bruises
Ferruginous improves iron level in the body
Carbon Dioxide controls conditions like high blood pressure and rheumatism
Japanese scientists have been studying the impact of hot springs on human health since the 18th century. Decades of research and documentation have shown that soaking in onsens can help people recover from different health conditions such as neuralgia, rheumatism, hypertension, and skin diseases.
Hot springs have a physiological mechanism that maintains the body temperature at a certain level, which is not achievable with plain tap water. No wonder, a large number of international tourists visits an onsen in Japan every year.
Top 5 onsen bath facilities in Niseko
If the thought of bathing naked in a public onsen intimidates you, opt for a private experience. Situated outside of the Annupuri ski area, the Kanronomori beckons tired travelers to spend a few moments amidst the Niseko forest to heal the senses. They have two large public bathing areas located at the edge of the National Park. There are also two private onsens that can be hired for 50 minutes.
The hot spring water is rich in nitrates and sulfur that help in relieving muscle tension caused by treading the mountain all day. You can also enjoy the spa facilities with an aromatherapy session or Ashifumi massage.
The Iroha Onsen sits like a gem tucked inside the newly renovated Hotel Niseko Ikoi-no-Yuyado. The refurbished interiors and contemporary design offer a welcoming atmosphere for the guests. It is located next to the Annupuri Forest Park and a must-stop onsen for anyone embarking on a Niseko ski holiday.
At Iroha, there are outdoor and indoor baths for guests to choose based on their personal preference. The specialty of this place is that the spring water contains high levels of sodium and hydrogen carbonate, which is a rarity in Japan. The sodium carbonated spring water aids in healing joint pain and neuralgia. As you enter the water, you can smell a faint metallic odor that wraps your mind in a comforting sensation. Another amazing mineral found in Iroha onsen is meta-silicic acid that beautifies the skin. The refreshing experience combined with spectacular views of the Annupuri forest has made Iroho popular among locals and tourists.
#3. Hilton Niseko Village
The onsen facility at the Hilton Niseko Village is considered as one of the most popular in the area thanks to its close proximity to favored skiing spots of Mt. Niseko Annupuri. There two baths available, an indoor onsen on the upper level, and a more spacious outdoor onsen surrounded by pine trees. Aside from the relaxing hot spring waters, you can also enjoy a good pampering the spa. There is also a fitness center and play area where kids can have fun too.
If you are seeking an experience of intimate outdoor onsen, Yugokorotei perfectly caters to your needs. This bathhouse is a part of a boutique inn in Annupuri, just a 10-minute drive from Hirafu. Situated amidst tranquil settings, this intimate onsen lets you soak in the mineral-rich water.
Take in the beauty of the natural surroundings and let the breeze caress your hair as you soak the benefits of the hot spring. The pool at Yugokorotei is fed by springs from Niseko Nanly and the water temperature stays about 56.4°. The onsite restaurant serves delicious Japanese cuisines and it is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Arguably the most luxurious onsen facility in the Niseko area, Zaborin offers complete seclusion amidst the untouched wilderness Kutchan-cho. The ryokan features 15 private onsens each with an indoor and outdoor setting. The waters that feed the baths are classified as ‘gensen kaikenagashi’, the highest form of hot spring water in Japan.
In addition to all these commendations, Zaborin is also known for its unique culinary offerings. Their signature, the award-winning ‘Kita kaiseki’ is a multi-course dining experience showcasing nature’s bounty in the locality throughout the seasons. The atmosphere of the place is designed with faithfulness to Japanese traditions, welcoming you into a cultural immersion surrounded by the beauty of the mountain woodland scenery.
Etiquettes to observe when bathing in an onsen
Communal onsen bathing is weaved into Japan’s way of living for centuries and the practice comes with a closely observed set of customs. To experience these gifts of nature, we should all know how to share it with respect for one another and for nature itself.
Read our article about Japanese Etiquettes You Should Know Before Going on a Trip to Niseko.
First of all, is cleanliness. Everyone is expected to wash thoroughly before entering the water; that is what the shower areas are for.
Normally, male and female are segregated into different bathing areas or by different bathing schedule. So make sure that you know where and when you belong. For women, onsen during menstrual periods is highly discouraged.
Next, you have to be ready to remove all your clothing – no exception. You will be provided with a small towel which you could use in covering your privates when walking to and from the changing room, but it is important not to allow any linen to touch the water.
Once you are in the water, find a comfortable position and refrain from moving about. Just stay still and savor the experience at peace. Feel free to submerge your body all the way to your neck, but please do not dip your head into the water especially your hair. Tie your hair neatly before entering the water.
Many onsens also do not allow people with tattoos to bathe, but you can try to ask for a private bath or a private session. You may be tempted to take a selfie to share your experience with everyone at home. But for obvious reasons, you have to resist the thought – except perhaps if you are enjoying a private bath.
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If you are planning to visit the Aspen of the East, our premium collection of luxury chalets in Niseko offers the perfect respite and complete exclusivity. The best part? Our Guest Experience service will gladly make arrangements for you so you can have a relaxing and hassle-free onsen experience during your stay.
Featured image courtsey of Hilton Niseko Village