If you find yourself on Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu, you will come upon delicacies that are not offered abundantly in other parts of the country. However, what the island is the most well known for are its onsen, or hot springs. Dipping into the thermal waters of Kyushu is a must, especially if you can do it with all of your friends or significant other.
These days, the konyoku onsen, or mixed gendered bath, is a rare and dying breed. Every year, more facilities are closing their doors or changing their policies so that men and women bathe separately. Traditionally, onsen were meant for men and women to bathe together, so many advocates are pushing to preserve the old ways.
Keeping this in mind, there are rules for bathing in a konyoku onsen. Depending on the ryokan Japanese inn) or bath, some establishments require patrons to wear towels when bathing. This gives all parties the experience of a mixed-gendered bath without worrying about the initial “nude shock” when other onsen-goers are present. Other locations, however, have a strict “no cover-up” policy where bathing suits and towels are forbidden. Either way, when visiting any of these locations, the staff will inform you about their policies as well. Be sure to respect and follow the establishment’s rules to help continue this longstanding tradition.
Finding public baths that allow men and women to bathe together in every prefecture of Kyushu is difficult. Below, you will see a list of public baths in three of Kyushu’s prefectures: Kagoshima, Kumamoto and Oita. Though not all of these locations require a reservation, some are in a ryokan, or Japanese inn, and only allow guests who are staying at their facilities to use them. Some have designated times for mixed bathing, in which case, we have made note in the descriptions. Here, then, are nine onsen in Kyushu where you can soak up the experience of mixed gender bathing.
1. Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen, Kagoshima
Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen (also seen in the lead photo of this article) is where the adventurous soul will have an unforgettable dip. Watch the sun sink into the sea surrounded by salty, sulfuric water and jagged black rock. The best part: it only costs ¥100 to enter. This bath is only open during low tide so a little planning is necessary when visiting. Keep in mind that patrons are not allowed to wear any bathing suits in the facility.
- Admission: ¥100 yen
- Access: About a 60-minute drive from Miyanoura Port (40 kilometers).
- Address: Hirauchi, Yakushima, Kumage District, Kagoshima Prefecture 891-4406
2. Myoken Ishiharaso, Kagoshima
Looking for a luxurious experience without having to reserve a private bath? Myoken Ishiharaso offers just that. The outdoor bath named Muku no Ki is a river side onsen with moss covered rock surrounding it. This picturesque setting is the perfect place to unwind in style while enjoying the beautiful outdoors. To make things even better, their site is very English-friendly! This bath is mixed between 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to midnight, so a little planning is required.
- Admission: ¥1,200 (day pass)
- Access: 15-minute drive from Kagoshima Airport
- Address: Kagoshima Prefecture Kirishima-shi quasi-town Kashiwagawa 4376
3. Myokimi Onsen’s Kawara no Yu, Kagoshima
This onsen is as natural as it gets. With no shower facilities or dedicated changing area, Kawara no Yu is a great place for adventurous nature lovers. Be aware that because this is an onsen inside of a river, water temperatures can change due to weather and rainfall.
- Admission: Free, open 24-hours
- Access: 20-minute drive from Kagoshima Airport
- Address: 31.821500, 130.764722 (This location does not have a formal address because it is a natural spring)
4. Hozantei, Kumamoto
Hozantei is a ryokan located in the small onsen town of Minamioguni. This town is famous for preserving its “small onsen town” charm without tainting the traditional landscape with neon lights and dull, modern buildings. The cozy inn has one mixed gender outdoor bath that is perfect for getting in touch with nature. Views of the nearby river and pond provide a beautiful panorama for those who seek a more quiet bathing experience.
Tip: When making a reservation with a ryokan, be sure to mention what train station you will be arriving from. Most offer shuttle services and will provide you with transportation to and from its facilities.
- Admission: Day pass unavailable, ryokan stay only
- Access: 75-minute drive from Higo-Ozu station
- Address: 6346 Manganji, Minamioguni-machi, Aso-gun, Kumamoto-ken 869-2402
5. Oku no yu, Kumamoto
This ryokan is also located in the charming town of Minamioguni. The indoor baths are segregated, but the outdoor baths are mixed. With three stoned baths settled along the river offering a beautiful view of the outdoors, it’s easy to pass time with friends or a lover in this relaxing setting.
- Admission: Day pass unavailable, ryokan stay only
- Access: 70-minute drive from Higo-Ozu Station
- Address: Kumamoto-ken, Aso-gun, Minamioguni-machi, Manganji, Kurogawa 6567
6. Ryokan Yamaze Hage no Yu, Kumamoto
Urban legend has boasted for many years that hage no yu, which literally translates to “baldness water,” cures hair thinning. Though there is no proof that it actually does this, Ryokan Yamaze is worth a visit for those who want to experience an older, traditional Japan. This mountainside location is fantastic, for it offers a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding area all while soaking in high-quality spring water. The mixed gender bath is closest to the hot spring’s source, so patrons of this bath will enjoy the freshest — and warmest — water.
- Admission: ¥500, day pass
- Access: 55-minute drive from Aso Station
- Address: Kumamoto-ken, Aso-gun, Oguni-machi, Nishizato 3044
7. Fukumotoya Kabeyu, Oita
With a history dating back 300 years, this onsen is a little taste of old Japan. Fukumotoya Ryokan’s Kabeyu has a beautiful riverside mixed onsen that is inside a small cave. Everything from the interior of the ryokan to the old stoney baths transport you to a natural, untouched Japan that can only be found in the countryside.
- Admission: ¥300, day pass
- Access: 5-minute drive from Hikiji station
- Address: 〒874-4723 Oita Prefecture Kusu-gun Kuju-cho Oishi Machida Hot spring
8. Hoyoland, Oita
This hot spring offers a Kyushu onsen delicacy: muddy water. This mineral-rich silt is a milky color due to the heavy presence of clay, which can be spread onto your skin for an additional skin treatment. The opaque water also works as a screen for shy bathers.
- Admission: ¥1,050 day pass
- Access: 12-minute drive from Beppudaigaku station
- Address: 5 Myōban, Beppu-shi, Oita-ken 874-0843
9. Kaihin Sunaka, Oita
Kaihin Sunaka is located in Beppu, a famous onsen town where endless plumes of steam spout from ancient underground sources. Some argue that the best spring water can be found in this town. However, what makes this particular destination special is that it is technically not an onsen because it doesn’t use water. Instead of soaking in pools of warm water, you are buried in heated sand. This experience is great for those who are leery about being naked around others because the facilities require you to wear a provided yukata for “bathing”.
- Admission: ¥1,030 day pass
- Access: 7-minute walk from Beppudaigaku station
- Address: 〒874-0023 Ōita-ken, Beppu-shi, Shoningahamacho, 9
Do you know of any mixed-bathing onsen in Japan outside the Kyushu region? Let us know in the comments!