Traditionally, visitors with tattoos aren’t allowed in Japan’s onsen (natural hot springs) because of an age-old association with organized crime. However, times are changing, and more and more onsen have relaxed their policies—in some cases to accommodate tattooed foreign tourists.
Located in the suburbs of Sapporo in the onsen town of Jozankei, this onsen is especially serene in the winter when you can bathe under the falling snow. Its rotenburo (open-air bath) is one of the largest in Japan and can fit around 200 people. Fill up on curry after your bath at the adjacent Indian restaurant.
A popular destination for skiers and outdoorsy people, this onsen town not only offers cheap lodging but lovely bathing as well! What better way to end a long day of snow sports than with a long bath with friends or a partner in this mixed-gender onsen? Swimwear is required for mixed bathing, which is great for shy bathers. It’s only ¥600 for day-trippers or you can stay overnight for about ¥2,600 a night.
This is a beautiful handmade rotenburo with a sulfuric smell that’s supported by the locals. Be sure to drop the ¥200 bathing fee into the wooden box before hopping in, as this onsen is unattended.
Onogawa Onsen resort town, where Komachi no Yu is located, is known for its winter snow hut villa, Kamakura Village. It’s just across the street from Komachi no Yu! Visit these chilly igloos and keep warm with a steaming bowl of ramen after your bath. If you’re not into snow, head there from mid-June to mid-July to catch the firefly festival instead.
The Zao area in Yamagata is an absolute hotbed of onsen, and this tattoo-friendly spot allows inked tourists to experience its beauty. The turquoise hue of the onsen water in the middle of a lush forest is magical and this natural hot spring boasts a giant rotenburo that fits up to 200 people. The strongly acidic nature of the water is perfect for skin rejuvenation after skiing in the winter or hiking in the warmer months.
Located in scenic Nikko, this ryokan (traditional inn) makes for a perfect weekend getaway from Tokyo. The indoor and outdoor baths offer grand views of the Nikko mountain range and the Kinugawa River. The healing waters do wonders for a stiff neck and shoulders.
This onsen has a serene garden with a stone-lined rotenburo. It is one of the public baths in the ryokan-filled hot spring town of Kinugawa, known for its alkaline water which relieves stress and exhaustion. Be right back, we’re on our way there right now.
Come here if you crave some R&R in a scenic yet convenient location before you leave Tokyo—it’s only about 40 minutes from Narita Airport. The wood-paneled interior and soft lighting give it the atmosphere of an expensive spa. The complex includes indoor and outdoor baths, as well as a sauna and a naturally heated “radiant bath.”
Located in Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park, this onsen was founded 140 years ago and is a nationally registered “cultural property.” The baths here are especially beautiful and include a rotenburo, a cypress bath, and even baths for mixed-gender bathing!
Ishidan no Yu is located in one of Japan’s most renowned hot spring resorts, Ikaho Onsen. The reddish-brown, iron-rich water helps with fatigue and poor circulation so it’s great for a relaxing soak. This onsen can get crowded with just one bath for each of the sexes, but the location is prime if you want to explore the resort town. It’s also relatively inexpensive at ¥400. Be sure to bring your own toiletries as they don’t have shampoo or soap available.
This is Japan’s oldest hot spring hotel, built in 1691, and is located in the historic onsen town of Shima. The quality of the water is so high that it’s known as “the cure for 40,000 illnesses.” Shima means 40,000 in Japanese. It’s not the most glamorous bath, but it’s definitely a must-visit for any Studio Ghibli fan—the bridge leading to the bathhouse was used as a model for the movie Spirited Away!
This Japanese inn and hot spring is perfect for a day trip if you’re going to the phenomenal Hitachi Seaside Park which is nearby. You’ll find this ryokan tucked away in the less-traversed Ibaraki Prefecture. Tattoos of any size are allowed in this simple alkaline spring that’s great for your skin. Inside and outside baths are available from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. for guests not staying overnight.
This awesome public bath is not only tattoo-friendly with mixed-gender bathing, but it’s also totally free! It’s located on the slightly remote Izu Islands, which are technically a part of Tokyo despite being offshore. You’ll have to take a ferry or plane to reach this paradise overlooking a jungle waterfall, but it’s more than worth it. Make sure you bring your own soap and bathing suit as you’re required to cover up.
Tenzan is a ryokan established in 1966 that welcomes daytime guests in Hakone, one of Japan’s most famous onsen towns. Its many baths form a waterfall you can bathe in and you can actually feel the temperature rise as you climb to the higher baths. If you’re feeling extra fancy, try renting a luxurious room with a private bath.
This outdoor bath offers impressive views of Mt. Fuji and the city of Yamanashi stretching below. Opening times change throughout the year according to when the sun rises so you can see the stunning sight while bathing. You can also bathe after dark under a sky full of stars.
This is a secluded forest onsen known for its milky, mineral-filled waters. Tsubame Onsen is comprised of two outdoor baths at the base of Mt. Myoko. Both are free which is truly rare in Japan. Ougon no Yu is made up of two pools divided by a rock wall and opens in early spring, but it may take a bit of a hike through the snow to get there.
The other, Kawara no Yu, is a mixed-gender bath only open from June to December on account of the heavy snowfall. There are local shops to buy a towel, drink or snack, and ryokan nearby if you want to spend the night (note that the onsen at your chosen ryokan may not be tattoo-friendly, however).
Vintage tiles on the walls and wood carvings on the ceilings give this bathhouse a distinctly retro vibe. It has many types of baths, including what’s considered the country’s first denki buro, or electric bath. A low-level electric current runs through the water, supposedly soothing sore muscles and making for a unique experience. You’re in for a (slight) shock, if you try it!
This is the oldest of the many onsen in Arima, one of the earliest onsen towns in Japan. This quaint town has cobblestone streets and even a free foot bath. It’s located in the Rokko Mountains near Kobe, making for a convenient day trip or a lovely overnight one. The water at Kin-no-Yu is a dark orange color thanks to its regenerating minerals.
This onsen town dates back 1,300 years and has retained the charming atmosphere of traditional Japan. Walk the willow-lined streets of Kinosaki in a yukata (light robe) and geta (wooden sandals) to visit the seven public onsen, all of which allow tattoos. Keep in mind, however, while all the public baths are tattoo-friendly, some individual ryokans may not be. You may want to check with them beforehand if you are planning on staying overnight.
One of Japan’s oldest and most famous onsen, Dogo Onsen, was one of Studio Ghibli’s inspirations for the bathhouse in Spirited Away. Its traditional wooden exterior is impressive and grand. The area around the onsen retains a traditional vibe, where visitors walk the streets in yukata.
This inn’s Ureshino Onsen has both private and public baths, each decorated with colorful murals. It even made the list of Japan’s Top Three onsen thanks to its skin-beautifying properties.
Come here to try the unique indoor sand bath in which you lie (wrapped in a yukata) in a bed of thermally warmed sand while an attendant shovels more sand on top of you, covering you all the way to your neck. This iconic spot in Beppu Onsen town attracts lots of overseas visitors. Of course, they have regular hot springs baths (with actual water) in addition to the sand treatment as well.
What Kitahama Onsen Termas lacks in history (it opened in 1998), it makes up for in the variety of baths and relaxing seaside views. Kitahama is unusual in that it allows bathers to wear swimsuits in their mixed-gender outdoor bath, which affords a sweeping vista of Beppu Bay. They also have a selection of different indoor baths, including a steam mist bath and a waterfall shower. This is a popular New Year’s spot to watch the first sunrise of the year while soaking.
This public bath belonging to Ebisuya Ryokan is perched on a hill giving grand views of Beppu Bay. Two baths offer a different experience—a sulfur spring that helps exfoliate the skin and a simple spring which will leave you feeling moisturized and supple. For a true detox, try the rock bath which helps release impurities and reduce fatigue. Lie on the warm pebbles and close your eyes under the dim lighting, forgetting your day-to-day stress.
This onsen has the most popular steam room in all of Beppu. The floor is covered in Japanese rush leaves which boast medicinal properties that encourage sweating. No other steam room in the country uses these plants, which are collected weekly by city employees. The room is set at 75 degrees and just 10 minutes inside will give you a detox equivalent to 30 minutes in a regular sauna.
This Michelin three-star onsen in the heart of Beppu is blessed with a chloride spring, which promotes moisture and heat retention leaving your skin baby smooth. The “onsen leisure” facility has 16 baths, some of which are private (for those who don’t want to bare their privates). It’s open until 1 a.m. making it perfect for you late-night bathers and weary travelers. A dip in the public baths will cost you ¥750 while the private baths start at around ¥2,100.
This onsen offers one of Beppu’s most relaxing and secluded baths, surrounded by rustling trees on the nearby mountainside. Legend has it that Japanese royalty soaked in these healing waters as far back as 1044. There are two hot springs with different temperatures, an outdoor bath, a steam bath, and special baths that families can reserve.
The visible minerals floating around in this popular sulfur bath may leave you feeling like you’re in “egg soup.” It’ll be awfully refreshing though! This is one of the cheaper onsen at just ¥210 per person, but you do need to bring your own soap. Both indoor and outdoor baths are available.
This warm sand bath on Shoningahama beach is described by visitors as “a trip to heaven.” Lie in naturally hot sand while gazing across the ocean with an umbrella shading your face. This is the most memorable fun on the beach you can have in Oita. Wash off your sandy cocoon at one of the traditional onsen nearby.
This is the perfect spot for travelers who want to try onsen while sightseeing in Beppu City. There’s both a hot bath and a lukewarm one so you can enjoy the onsen experience for longer without overheating. Soak your tired muscles after exploring Beppu at an unbelievably cheap price—the baths only cost ¥100!
This one doubles as a modest inn and onsen. Extremely close to Beppu Station, Ekimae Koto Onsen is the perfect backpacker hub to refresh after enjoying the nightlife in Beppu City. The century-old onsen has two bath temperatures—one that’s extremely hot at 48 Celsius, and one that’s still pretty hot at 44 Celsius.
At the time of publication (January 2020), these onsen have been verified as tattoo-friendly. However, since there is yet to be regulation against private establishments discriminating against those with tattoos in Japan, technically, the final word is up to the onsen on a case-by-case basis. If you want to be 100 percent sure, please contact the individual facility to confirm.
If you make it out to one of these locations, tag us on social media with #GaijinPot Travel!