Refresh in this hot spring village with secluded outdoor hot baths that even include a mixed-gender bath.
🌟 This location is in Niigata Prefecture — GaijinPot Travel’s No. 1 place to visit in 2018! 🥇
Naturally steaming in the middle of a forest and enclosed by local landmark Mount Myoko, Tsubame Onsen is an ultimate Japanese onsen (hot spring) experience. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that there are even spring baths that require no charge to bathe in mineral-rich waters.
In which prefecture do the monkeys famously bathe?
The walk is made up of several family-owned hot spring inns, and gets quite steep, which might be expected of the trailhead of the highest mountain in the Hokushin area. This popular area has tons of nature and culture spots. One of the most popular is Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, where monkeys are famously seen bathing in spring baths.
About the baths
There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there are free hot springs in Japan! Tsubame Onsen doesn’t charge an entry fee, but visitors are encouraged to make a donation at the entrance. The baths — each sized for about five people — are naturally off-white, some might even say milky, in color from the healing minerals contained.
At Ogon-no-yu, the onsen has designated areas for male and female. However, the two zones are right next to each other, divided only by thin bamboo mats. Those who are shy beware of this! Not much separates you from the opposite sex. The other bath, Kawara-no-yu, is a mixed gender one.
Bring a bath towel for this one. Unlike other hot spring facilities, there are no pre-bath showers available at Tsubame, but there is a small changing hut next to each bath.
Know before you go
You can visit the 43.5-degree Celsius bath in summer and fall, but it is recommended to visit Tsubame Onsen in winter when snow is flurrying. The path leading to the Tsubame baths is closed from December to June due to heavy snowfall. Good footwear is recommended as the path gets narrow and wet at times.
The spring waters are rich in sulfur, sulfate, and chloride, which contain great healing properties for rheumatism, neuralgia, and various skin ailments. It may take a while for the body to adjust to the high temperature of the onsen, but once the temperature becomes manageable, remember to take breaks every 5-10 minutes to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion.
The heat of the onsen certainly warms up your blood and relaxes the body, but the peaceful ambience makes it an otherworldly spot off the beaten track.
Read more on the art of onsen and other recommended spots for fall and winter.