Outdoor Onsen and Autumn Colours in November
Onsen, or hot springs, are extremely popular in Japan. They range from a mere small tub inside a steamy room, to enormous facilities with indoor and outdoor baths and all sorts of "special baths", like red wine, or yuzu lemon water. Autumn in Japan is one of the best times for enjoying these thermal baths, as many outdoor onsens offer dazzling outdoor scenery. Who wouldn't want to take a relaxing bath surrounded by colourful maple trees, with their leaves slowly drifting to the ground, creating rainbow carpet to contemplate as you soak.
In preparation for the upcoming Autumn season in Tokyo, I will recommend several of the best places to enjoy hot springs combined with Autumn colours. This article will focus on places that are at their koyo (fall colours) peak in November, as many of the more Northern places in Japan are already over by now. Of course there are plenty more to find, including many in Kyoto if you're willing to pay for them and you booked last month.
Hotel Iya Onsen, Tokushima
One of the most picturesque hot springs in Japan is Hotel Iya Onsen in Shikoku. It is reached by a five minute cable car journey down into the scenic Iya Valley. The outdoor bath juts out over the Iya River, which happens to be in a stunning setting, with the blue water and fiery Fall trees. You can even reserve the "Yamagiri no Yu", a private outdoor bath next to the river.
Access: Contact them in advance to arrange pickup from JR Oboke Station at 3:10pm, or drive. (Google Maps)
Ryokan Fujimoto, Kurokawa Onsen
Kurokawa Onsen in Kyushu is one of the nicest hot spring towns in Japan. It is small and traditional and really full of atmosphere. It is located in a forested valley, so wherever you go you will see the autumn colours all around you. You can stay stroll around in your yukata and visit the hot springs of other facilities too. The Ryokan Fujimoto has outdoor baths running alongside the river, as well as four private baths you can reserve.
Access: From JR Aso Station take the Kyushu Sanko Bus bound for Beppu and get off at "Kurokawa Onsen". Walk to the hotel, or take a Marutakara taxi (0967-44-0453). (Google Maps)
Seikanso Ichikawa Bekkan, Ikaho Onsen
Situated on a hilltop surrounded by lush forests that in Autumn flame vermillion. The ryokan boasts several outdoor baths with mountain views, and one that can be rented privately. They also offer bicycle rental if you want to explore the onsen town. Although Ikaho Onsen is on a hillside with many steep stairs, so bikes may not be the best idea.
Access: Contact them in advance to arrange a pickup service from the bus terminal in Ikaho Town, or drive. (Google Maps)
Syoubun in Minakami Tanigawa Onsen
This traditional Japanese inn is designed to enhance the natural landscape and surroundings, and the interior features the design of local artisans. Even the food is served on locally made pottery. The onsen itself consists of three spacious private baths and rooms with the most wonderful maple tree views.
Access: Contact them in advance to arrange pickup from Minakami Station at 3pm, or drive. (Google Maps)
Mikawaya Ryokan, Hakone
Founded in 1883, Mikawaya Ryokan sits on the hillside of Mt. Hakone and overlooks breathtaking scenery, especially famous in Autumn for its koyo (fall leaves). Hakone itself is one of the most well-known destinations for expats in Japan, being home to many hot springs and in such close proximity to Tokyo. The ryokan is a luxury hotel, with private villas each with their own hot spring. Those on a smaller budget can still rent a room in the main building with a private bath, with views.
Access: Take a local Izu-hakone bus from Hakone Yumoto Station for 20 minutes and get off at "Horaien". (Google Maps)
Kurokawa-so, Kurokawa Onsen
Kurokawaso is located in the mountains of Kumamoto, near Mt. Aso. They will serve you Autumn inspired food using ingredients from the local area. The highlight of course are their baths. They have many, most small, but there is one very large open air bath with a surrounding canopy of momiji trees. The milky white water is said to make your skin soft and healthy.
Access: Take the Kyushu Crossing Sightseeing Bus from Aso Station to Kurokawa Onsen, or the same bus from Beppu/Yufuin. Or drive. (Google Maps)
Kuju Hosshou Hotel, Oita
Another one located in the Aso-Kuju National Park, you can Refresh yourself with a hot spring bath while viewing the lush scenery of the Kuju Mountain Range. They have four different types of spring water, each with different chemical properties, and of course a stunning autumn foliage view. There are also many hiking trails nearby to places like Tadewara Marsh.
Arima Onsen Gekkoen Korokan, Hyogo
Close to Osaka, Arima Onsen is one of the most popular hot spring areas in Japan. The Gekkoen Korokan Hotel faces Mt. Ochibayama and the Takikawa River and houses both public and private onsen. For the gorgeous bath pictured, you'll need to book it as it is private.
Access: From Shin-Osaka take an express bus for 50 minutes to Arima Onsen, then walk 10 minutes. Or take an express bus from Shin-Kobe for 35 minutes. (Google Maps)