Where the snow is heavy and the hot springs are extra hot.
Matsunoyama Onsen is a tiny onsen village tucked away in snowy Niigata Prefecture. In the vicinity of the snow mecca of Echigo-Yuzawa, which skiers and snowboarders flock to each winter, Matsunoyama has a different claim to fame. Its spring waters are some of Japan’s top medicinal and most pure to bathe in, and the scenery is beyond picturesque come winter when meters of snow blanket the ryokan and hilly narrow streets in Japan’s “snow country.”
Matsunoyama hot springs
At the source, the hot spring is 92 degrees Celsius (nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit) and is said to be a “fossilized seawater hot spring” formed from 120-million-year-old seawater trapped deep underground. Part of what makes Matsunoyama Onsen one of the Top 3 great medicinal hot springs in Japan is the water has 15 times more minerals than your typical medicinal spa, plus the skin is quick to absorb the water, which is rich in metasilicic acid and helps keep skin beautiful.
Not only will your skin thank you for a visit to this onsen, but the waters are also said to help with healing wounds like cuts and burns and preventing ailments like hemorrhoids and nerve damage. Many of the baths here only use direct hot spring water instead of recirculating it into the bath — yet another sign of a top-notch onsen.
It is wise to choose accommodation here based on the spa experience you want. Stay at one of the quaint ryokan (Japanese inns) such as Izumiya, a lovely local inn with public and private baths. If it is the yukimi–buro experience, roughly described as the act of watching the snow gently fall to the ground while soaking in an outdoor bath, you seek and a more pampered visit, try the Hinanoyado Chitose ryokan in the heart of Matsunoyama Onsen. It offers a gorgeous rotenburo (outdoor bath) called the “Moon Bath” (that is pictured below), as well as indoor and private baths, and the option for day trippers to use the baths.
Things to do and see in Matsunoyama
During your time, stroll around the to local omiyage shops, that include local Niigata craft beer, wine and other goods, plus plenty of onsen beauty products like lotions and facemasks that include the essence of the youthful onsen water.
Top 15 Hot Spring Destinations for Winter in Japan
In winter, ski and snowboarding lessons are available nearby, making Matsunoyama a little-known but extremely cozy spot for a winter excursion. The town is part of Tokmachi City, which in the early 2000s incorporated the towns of Matsudai, Matsunoyama and a few others. If snow is a no-go, the Tokamachi area holds several other spots to woo your heart. The Bijin Forest, offering a somber hike amongst the towering beech trees, is a beautiful hiking area just less than a 10-minute drive from Matsunoyama Onsen.
Every three years, the surrounding districts hold a massive art installation festival. While the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale is going on, you can see more than 100 works of art from a variety of artists. Still, there remain many permanent art installations littering the countryside even if the festival isn’t in full swing.
There’s also the magical art complex called Matsudai Nohbutai that houses modern art, as well as outdoor permanent installations. That includes a piece entitled “Tsumari in Bloom” from none other than world-renowned pop art creator Yayoi Kusama. Inside, art covers practically every inch of the complex (even the bathrooms!) and the aqua blue in-house cafe called the Echigo-Matsudai Satoyama Shokudo is perfect for a coffee and to get an exceptional view of the terraced rice fields — those even have art in them, too!