Kyoto's best onsen

"In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans." Khalil Gibran

An onsen is the perfect place to escape the hubbub of life and immerse yourself in the profound calm these earthly paradises have to offer. Listed below are our top five recommendations around Kyoto; but first, a little etiquette to observe on your visit.

Kyoto Onsen.jpg

1/ Getting in

Make sure you pay at the door or buy a ticket from a vending machine. Take a hand towel, or if you find yourself without one, rent one from the counter. Store your shoes in a locker, then enter the correct changing room (generally there are male and female dedicated rooms). Take a basket and put your clothes inside, then place it in a locker. You can wear the key around your wrist or ankle with a provided elastic strap.

2/ Hygiene etiquette

Enter the bathing area naked, taking your hand towel and toiletries with you. Taking a stool and bucket, clean yourself in the washing area. If there isn’t a dedicated area, wash next to the tubs. It’s important to wash yourself thoroughly, particularly your armpits, feet and private areas. The tubs are for soaking, not for washing, and its considered very bad form to clean yourself in the tubs. Once you’ve washed, pick a tub and soak to your hearts content. When finished, towel off at the sinks and go back to the changing room to dress. 

3/ Cultural considerations

Note that if you have tattoos you will find it difficult to enter many onsen. Historically they have been connected to gangs and criminal organisations in Japan, so they are generally not welcomed. If unsure, contact the onsen first or visit an onsen with private bathing rooms, or kashikiri-buro. As long as tattoos are covered when around other patrons, you will be able to bathe in peace.

Our top five picks

4/ Kyoto katsura onsen nizaemon
1,000 yen
Katsura Station

5/ Kyoto arashiyama onsen ryokan togetsutei
4,200 yen (bathing and lunch package)
54-4 Midoroshita-cho Arashiyama-shi, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto-shi 616-0004
Saga Arashiyama Station

1/ Karuma onsen
1,000/2,500 yen 
Natural sulphur hot spring and open-air bath
520 Kuramahonmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 601-1111
Kurama Station—1 hour away from Kyoto

2/ Tenzan-no-yu onsen
1,550 yen
55−4−7 Miyanomoto-cho, Sagano, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 616-8315
Katabiranotsui station

3/ Sumiya kiho-an
8,000 yen (bathing and lunch package)
Secret open air onsen
Yunohana onsen, Kameoka city, Kyoto Pref, Japan
JR Kameoka Station—35mins from Kyoto

Sumiya Kiho-an

Sumiya Kiho-an

Kurama Onsen

Kurama Onsen

Katsura Onsen Nizaemon  Photography by @looseleaf

Katsura Onsen Nizaemon
Photography by @looseleaf

Thinking of taking a trip to Japan? For more wonderful places to explore in Kyoto and Tokyo check out our Japan duet here, including Kyoto—Nakagyo-ku and Tokyo—Nakameguro.

Keaton Fletcher