While onsens are enjoyable year-round, they are delightful in wintertime. The hot springs provide a lovely respite from the cold weather. They are also a common activity for those traveling in Japan during winter.
However, many visitors have had trouble with visiting onsens due to long-standing rules regarding tattoos. Traditionally, customers with tattoos were banned from most onsens due to an association with organized crime within Japan. It was commonly known that many members of organized crime had tattoos, and while it was hard to ban these groups outright, banning tattoos achieved the same result.
While this rule is still common, in recent years, with an influx of travelers from countries where tattoos are much more accepted and sometimes even culturally significant, some onsens have started opening up to customers with tattoos. Here we have some of the best tattoo-friendly onsen available in Japan so you can enjoy winter onsens, regardless of tattoos. For those of you who plan to visit one of the onsens, we recommend checking the article about "Onsen Etiquette in Japan."
Dogo is an onsen area, with Dogo Onsen Honkan being the most famous in the area. Dogo Onsen is one of the most famous onsens in Japan and is considered one of the three ancient onsens. It is also known as the inspiration for the famous onsen in the Ghibli classic Spirited Away. All three main onsen in the area are tattoo-friendly.
Kinosaki is one of the most famous onsen towns in the Kansai area. With a history dating back 1300 years and a beautiful traditional atmosphere, Kinosaki is a great area to experience the magic of onsen towns. As a bonus, all seven significant onsens in the village of Kinosaki are tattoo-friendly.
Saki no yu is another of the three ancient hot springs of Japan and is located in the beautiful beachside town of Shirahama in Wakayama. It is said that Saki no Yu was once frequented by emperors and other nobility. It is an outdoor onsen, located in the rockpools right next to the ocean. This allows for beautiful ocean views, and even some ocean spray as the sea crashes on the rocks.
Beppu is one of the most famous onsen towns in Japan and is sometimes even called the onsen capital of Japan. This makes it a prime destination for onsen-lovers. It is also the onsen town with the highest number of tattoo-friendly onsen. Just one of these is the simple yet famous Shibaseki Onsen. Shibaseki is an excellent onsen for beginners as they offer a range of temperature options, as well as a steam room and outdoor bath.
Hakone is one of the most famous onsen towns in Japan. Its proximity to Tokyo is a popular and convenient weekend trip for those living and working in Tokyo. Tenzan Tohji-kyo is one of the most beautiful onsens in the area, with a range of baths forming a waterfall. The higher you climb, the hotter the baths become. The surrounding scenery adds to the fantastic atmosphere.
It is tattoo-friendly but requires tattooed visitors to come alone. This is to reduce the likelihood of organized crime groups taking advantage of looser tattoo restrictions.
Yamato no Yu is ideally located for Tokyo getaways or travelers looking to relax before a flight, at just 40 minutes from Narita Airport. The large, modern onsen offers a range of bath types, including private rooms and public hot springs. The onsen uses authentic materials with a modern approach to creating a unique and relaxing experience.
In the far north of Japan, Hokkaido is one of the most popular locations for winter travel. This makes Hoheikyo onsen a perfect stop along the way. It is known as one of the most oversized outdoor hot spring baths in the country. It is surrounded by a beautifully maintained garden. There are also two indoor baths for those who prefer a different atmosphere.
Arima is a traditional onsen town near Mt Rokko in Hyogo. It is the third of the three ancient onsens of Japan. It is a convenient trip for those living in or visiting the Kansai region. Kin no Yu is one of the oldest onsens in the town and is unique with its dark orange water. This comes from Arima's 'gold water,' rich in iron and other minerals and has a range of health benefits.
Zao Onsen is in the northern prefecture of Yamagata and is a perfect winter onsen location. The waters of the onsen are surrounded by nature and mountains, some of which become ski resorts in winter. The water of the hot springs has a beautiful turquoise color and contrasts nicely with the fantastic outdoors.
Sekizenkan Onsen in Gunma prefecture is the oldest hot spring hotel in Japan, dating back to 1691. The bridge leading to the bathhouse is also considered one of Spirited Away's inspirations, making it a cultural icon. The waters of Sekizenkan are supposed to be some of the highest quality onsen water in Japan, historically known as the cure for 40,000 illnesses.
Hottarakashi Onsen in Yamanashi is well-renowned for its two outdoor baths offering fantastic views of Mt. Fuji and the surrounding landscape. The opening times of the baths change throughout the year, so they are always open for sunrise, and the baths stay open at night so visitors can enjoy hot springs under the stars.
Tsubame Onsen is a group of two small hot springs located at the base of Mt Myoko in Niigata. They are both free, which is rare in Japan, but they aren't crowded due to their secluded location. The beautiful blue/white milky water is good for joint pain, rheumatism, and various skin issues. One of the two baths is often closed during winter months, but the larger of the two, Kogane no Yu (or Ougon no Yu), is usually open.
Sansui Onsen is a beautiful yet straightforward onsen located in the southern prefecture of Saga. It is known as one of the top 3 onsens in Japan for skin-beautifying properties due to the mineral makeup of the water. The baths of Sansui are surrounded by colorful murals, intended to create a 'relaxation space,' rather than just a bathing space.
Takegawara is also located in the famous onsen town of Beppu in the prefecture of Oita. It is known for its sand onsen. This involves lying in hot sand and being buried up to the neck. This is said to be beneficial for soothing sore joints and muscles, as well as general relaxation. The onsen also has a standard hot springs bath and a beautiful traditional atmosphere.
Funaoka Onsen is located in the north of Kyoto. It has a vintage atmosphere with its traditional tiling and wood carvings. It is notable as the first onsen to offer a Denki Buro or electric bath. This is a hot spring bath with a low current of electricity running through it. It is supposed to be good for sore muscles, and at the very least, is a unique experience.
Visiting onsens is a perfect winter activity in Japan – both from a cultural and practical perspective. However, the standard "no tattoos" rule has long been an issue for foreigners from countries where tattoos are more accepted and normalized. Luckily, some onsen businesses have changed to become more open to tattooed visitors in recent years. We have looked into some of the best tattoo-friendly onsens in Japan for all visitors to enjoy during the cold winter months. While bathing in hot springs is a wonderful experience, there are many other activities you can enjoy in Japan during the winter, such as visiting Fukui Prefecture or ski resorts near Tokyo, etc. If you would like to stay in a hotel when traveling, please check our list of "hotel booking websites."
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