Most people travel to Japan with a vision that includes “experiencing the real culture.” Yet, they fail to realize that many true Japanese traditions live and breathe most authentically outside of Japan’s bustling metropolises.
Take onsen (natural hot springs), for example. The best onsen in Japan leave you in awe while you soak in a hot spring river or in the snowy mountains — and are usually out of the way. Japanese people take pride in the culture of relaxing in natural healing waters, just like the generations before them did.
Along with the more than 3,000 onsen destinations in Japan come heaps of bona fide traditions to explore. Like the chance to try shinyoku (forest bathing) while in secluded nature and experiencing ryokan (Japanese inns) that are often run by families who have survived off the land for generations. This is where you can try out futon-and-tatami-mat living and Japanese food at its realest: meals that are expertly prepared by incorporating regional flavors and methods you cannot find elsewhere.
Leaving your world behind to uncover these onsen leaves you with the realization that these aren’t just getaways — they’re places that many Japanese consider to be sacred. Armed with Jeenie, a new language support app on our smartphones, we headed out to some of Japan’s most scenic onsen.
Here are five of our favorites for that authentic secluded onsen experience.
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