Photo:C.K. Tse on Flickr

Autumn Onsen

As we move into the Autumn, the final few months of the year, many people in Japan will be reflecting on all the hard work they have done, and the targets they have met this year. With this reflection will also come a certain degree of fatigue, tiredness and a desire to recharge one’s batteries.

As anyone who has ever visited one will tell you, in Japan there is no better way to recharge your batteries than by visiting one of the hundreds of onsen resorts, dotted around the country. What most people don’t know however, is that certain regions and certain particular onsens are especially enjoyable during the autumn season.

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, summer being what it is in Japan, some areas are just too hot and humid to enjoy an outdoor onsen at that time of year. Also, with autumn in Japan comes one of the most beautiful phenomena in nature, the changing of colour and eventual falling out of the autumn leaves. In Japan, such is the biodiversity that this process produces a multitude of colours of various hues and shades. What better place to enjoy watching the seasons change right before your eyes, than from the comfort of a warm, luxurious outdoor hot spring bath?

So, with this in mind, where can one go to enjoy a great autumn hot spring bath in Japan?
Let’s find out.

When I ask my friends in and around the Kansai area where I can find the best autumn hot spring resort, there are two names that seem to come up repeatedly. The first is Arima Onsen.

Photo : Chanin M on Flickr

Located about 1 hour outside of Kobe City, in Hyogo Prefecture, Arima is world famous as one of the world’s most renowned hot spring resorts.

Not so much a resort as it is a village encapsulating a series of onsen resorts, Arima has something for everyone. Whether you just want to come for an afternoon and enjoy the baths before you go home or you want to stay for several days in fully-pampered luxury, Arima has something to suit all tastes and budgets.

So, “why is it especially good in autumn?” I hear you ask. Here is the answer:

Photo : Not Quite a Photographr on Flickr

Given its location right in the very centre of Japan’s main Honshu Island, Arima is perfectly positioned to enjoy the very best of Japan’s autumn leaves changing colour. In the Kansai region, which incorporates Hyogo, Osaka, Kyoto and the surrounding prefectures, the period in which one can enjoy the changing of leaves colour seems to last just that little bit longer.

To get the best effect, I would recommend that, if possible, you reserve a room that has a “rotenburo”. For those unfamiliar with the term, a rotenburo is a small, private bath, situated on the balcony of your hotel room, so you and your partner can enjoy an outdoor onsen together whilst still maintaining your privacy.

Private bath with a view of Ise Bay (and a statue of Ganesha for
Photo : Big Ben in Japan on Flickr (this is not a picture taken at Arima)

As far as romantic scenarios in Japan go, very few things can beat a watching an Autumn sunset amidst the golden leave, as you relax in the rotenburo, with your loved one by your side.

As I said, there are two great autumn onsens in Kansai that my local friends speak fondly of. The first was Arima, the second is Kinosaki.

Photo : John Weiss on Flickr

Also located in Hyogo Prefecture, though at the opposite end from Arima, Kinosaki has its own unique, though no less prestigious charms when compared to Arima.

Also something of a hot spring village rather than just a single resort, Kinosaki has several hotels and bathhouses to choose from. They all share one common theme though. When you visit, you’ll be treated to some of the best seafood you’ve ever had.

If there’s one thing Kinosaki does better than anywhere else, it is fresh seafood. Most famous of all the delicious ocean delights one can sample at Kinosaki is the world famous Kinosaki crab, and whilst Autumn is towards the tail-end of the prime crab season, you can still be sure of a great feed when you visit.

Being slightly more rural and a little more mountainous than Arima also affords Kinosaki a different kind of floral display. The leaves you’ll see here take on a totally different hue come autumn time than those you will find in Arima, come autumn time.

Photo : William Cho on Flickr

But then again perhaps you want to go somewhere a bit more off the beaten path.

Somewhere that will be the envy of your Japanese friends, somewhere that oozes class, sophistication and a respect for Japan’s historical traditions.

So, if this kind of thing is your cup of tea then why not head down to Oita Prefecture, to Beppu specifically. There, you will find the only onsen in all of Japan that is so classy it has been awarded 3 Michelin starts, according to every social aspirant’s favourite guide, the Michelin Guidebook.

The name of this legendary place is Hyotan Onsen.

Photo : Everjean on Flickr

Whilst perhaps not as well known amongst the Japanese as its bigger, more popular neighbor, Beppu’s other major tourist draw: Yufuin, Hyotan is fast emerging as one of the region’s trendiest autumn retreats. In an unprecedentedly meteoric rise in stature, Hyotan was awarded by Michelin 4 times in as many years. Of course the locals will tell you it’s always been a great place to go, ever since it opened in 1922.

There are 16 different communal baths on site, each offering its own different blend of minerals and salts. There are also private onsens for families and couples available at an hourly rate.

But that’s not the best part. The best part is the price. Only 750 yen per person for entry to the resort. If you live locally and fancy heading down after work, it will only cost you 560 yen after 6pm.

Being further south, the leaves aren’t quite as beautiful or as long lasting as they would be in Kansai, however, the benefit is that, given Kyushu’s more temperate climate, you can continue visiting the onsen and enjoying the various outdoor activities on site right into November.

Wherever you decide to go for your next onsen trip in Japan, I’m sure you’ll have a great time.

With such relaxing luxury, not to mention the obvious knock-on benefits to health, you have to ask yourself: “Is there ever a bad time to go to the onsen?”

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