Japanese onsen within reach by bullet train!
As the temperatures begin to drop in Japan, visiting a Japanese onsen, or hot spring, can provide a soothing and relaxing experience.
Unfortunately many onsen towns are located deep in the mountains, far from the reach of Japan’s extensive rail network. More often than not, you will need to take a long bus ride from the station or rent a car to reach these hot springs. In the winter, access to some of these areas may even be suspended due to heavy snow.
But did you know in the Tohoku Region of Northeastern Japan, there are a number of hot spring towns that are easily accessible by rail? In this guide we will visit three cities in Fukushima Prefecture which can easily be reached by Shinkansen (bullet train)
We will visit three cities:
- KORIYAMA – about 70 minutes north of Tokyo on the Tohoku Shinkansen
- FUKUSHIMA – about 90 minutes north of Tokyo on the Tohoku Shinkansen
- NIHOMMATSU – located in-between Koriyama and Fukushima cities. Add an additional 20 minutes from either Koriyama or Fukushima by local train on the JR Tohoku line.
KORIYAMA: Bandai-Atami Onsen
Koriyama is the largest city in Fukushima Prefecture, and serves as a major transport junction to many of Fukushima’s cities such as Aizu-Wakamatsu and Iwaki. The most well known hot spring area of Koriyama is Bandai-Atami Onsen! To reach here, first take the Tohoku Shinkansen. If you are going north from Tokyo it will take roughly 70 minutes on the fastest train. If you are coming from the north, it will take around 40 minutes from Sendai.
From Koriyama Station, transfer to the JR Ban-Etsu West Line that is bound for Aizu-Wakamatsu (usually it is on platform 1). It will take roughly 15 minutes to Bandai-Atami Station. When arriving, you will immediately be greeted by a free public foot hot spring right in front of the station. Most of the onsen in this area are within walking distance of the station! If you are using the JR Rail Pass, both the Tohoku Shinkansen and Ban-Etsu West Line will be covered. If you are using the Seishun 18 ticket, the Ban-Etsu West segment will be covered. Some hotels also offer free shuttle service from the station.
A day-trip to ‘Kirakuya’, Bandai-Atami Onsen!
There are 23 hot spring inns in Bandai-Atami, however, for this trip we visited Kirakuya (which translates as relaxation house) whose logo is a sleepy cat (official site). As expected, the owner keeps a very chubby and sleepy cat on the premises, as well as a shiba-inu dog! There are both public and private onsen available, but keep in mind that public onsen are gender separated. Smaller private ones can also be rented for 30 to 50 minutes depending on availability. If you would like to enjoy with the hot springs with a family member or some one of the opposite gender, a private room should be considered.
FUKUSHIMA: Iizaka Onsen
Fukushima City is the second largest city in Fukushima Prefecture. Continuing on the same Tohoku Shinkansen as Koriyama, simply continue northwards to the next stop. From Tokyo it will take roughly 90 minutes on the fastest train. If you are coming from Sendai, it will take 20 minutes by Shinkansen or 70 minutes by local train.
From Fukushima Station, you will need to exit the East exit of the station and head northwards to find the entrance to the Iizaka Line. From Fukushima Station to Iizaka Onsen Station will take roughly 20 minutes. Please keep in mind that the Iizaka Line is NOT run by JR East, thus your JR Rail Pass or Seishun 18 ticket cannot be used.
As with Bandai-Atami, you will be greeted by onsen inns immediately exiting the station! North of the station, you can find a free public hand and foot hot spring. Compared to Bandai-Atami where the hot springs are located in a beautiful valley, Iizaka Onsen is located on the slope of a hill (hence the name Iizaka which translates as slope of food). Secondly, Iizaka Onsen is far more urban than the other two resort areas listed here. There are over 33 hot spring inns, and many more guest houses.
Onsen and Gyoza at Iizaka Onsen
During this trip we visited Horieya, one of the oldest inns in Iizaka, established in 1882 (official site). The owner is very friendly and can speak some English. Horieya’s atmosphere resembles more of a traditional Japanese bath house than the fancy outdoor hot springs, although Iizaka also has these. However Horieya is also incredibly cheap, at 400 yen per person (or less than 5 USD) for 30 minute private room!
Compared to Bandai-Atami, Iizaka’s waters are HOT! There are many signs in the hot springs and the city cautioning people of how hot the waters can be. Please take precaution and slowly enter the waters to allow your body to become accustomed to the temperature.
NIHOMMATSU: Dake Onsen
Between Koriyama and Fukushima City is Nihommatsu City, which is home to Dake Onsen. Unfortunately the Shinkansen does not stop at this city (although it does pass through it). To reach Nihommatsu, you will need to take the JR Tohoku Main Line for 20 minutes, either from Fukushima Station (head south) or Koriyama Station (head north). Unfortunately the hot springs are not located in front of the station and will require a 15 minute taxi ride, however some hotels offer free shuttle service from the station if you are a staying guest.
The hot spring area of Dake Onsen is located on a slope, as with Iizaka, but is much more rural and quiet. During late March and Early April, the town is famous for its cherry blossom lined streets. During the winter, the area becomes a ski-resort due to its proximity to Mount Adatara. There you can find the Adatara Resort which also contains a beautiful outdoor hot spring (official site here). Nearby the resort you can find some fresh ice cream and gelato made with local milk, in flavors unique to Japan such as chestnut, Japanese beans, among many others (official site).
A quick dip at ‘Odayu Hana-Kanzashi’, Dake Onsen
There are 11 hot spring inns and for this trip we visited Odayu Hana-Kanzashi (official site here). This is one of the more expensive hot springs, with both private and public hot springs. The private hot springs are part of the rooms guests can reserve. The public hot springs are also nice with both indoor and outdoor segments. The outdoor segments also offer the option of drinking some Japanese rice wine, allowing you to relax while drinking.
*** ONSEN ETIQUETTE ***
There are a number of common rules that one should follow when entering an onsen.
- No tattoos! Many onsens prohibit entry to customers who have tattoos. Although this is slowly changing, it is likely that the onsens you will visit will have signs asking those with tattoos to leave. This is due to its connotation to the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia). Some places may allow those with tattoos to enter if you can cover them up with a bandage.
- Wash before you enter! Most onsens contain a shower area next to the bathing area. This is where you are expected to wash yourself before entering. This is to maintain the cleanliness of the hot spring.
- Tie-up your hair! If you have long hair, it is expected for you to tie your hair up
- Take off your towel! Do not enter a hot spring while wearing a towel around your body. However you may carry a smaller (usually hand sized) towel, which is placed on your head.
- Do not be loud! The hot spring environment is usually quiet, so please take care of having conversations in a public hot spring.
- Do not run around the hot spring area! Not only is it annoying, but dangerous due to how slippery the area can be
- No Cameras! Unless you have permission from the owners, cameras of any kind are forbidden. Do not take pictures or videos!
- Do not relieve yourself in the hot spring! Many onsens have restrooms right next to the hot spring entrance, you have no excuse!
- In general, use common sense!
Bandai Atami Tourism Information – Find information about the hot springs of Bandai-Atami!
Iizaka Onsen Tourism Information – More info on the hot springs of Iizaka!
Dake Onsen Tourism Information – Information on Dake Onsen
Hyperdia – need help with your train schedule? need to look up routes? go here!
Japanican – a great, easy to use site, managed by JTB for reserving hotels in Japan.
GoGoTohoku – We also have many other articles on Fukushima! Check them out to add more to your trip!