The Tohoku region is known for its beautiful mountains, delicious rice, snowfall, and hot springs. What better way to enjoy all of the above than at a ryokan (Japanese inn) that can provide access to these Tohoku treasures?
Among onsen (hot spring), there is a rare and dying breed of bath called konyoku. Konyoku onsen, or mixed-gender baths, have been around for centuries. As time went on and cultures mixed in Japan, new laws and taboos have made it harder for these establishments to continue to stay open.
Whether you visit to soak in hot, mineral waters surrounded by the region’s heavy snows or escape the city heat for a more secluded, quiet summer getaway, be sure to stop by one of these konyoku onsen before they slip away into the pages of history.
1. Aoni Onsen (Aomori)
Are you longing for a magical, off the grid getaway? Aoni Onsen, also known as Lamp no Yado, is the place for you. This ryokan (Japanese Inn) uses oil lamps to light up the building and kerosene to keep the rooms cozy during the chilly seasons. Very little electricity is used at all. The mixed-gender outdoor bath is cozy and rejuvenating, while the tranquil woods surrounding it have their own mentally clarifying properties.
2. Numajiri Onsen (Fukushima)
After a four-kilometer hike through the mountains in Fukushima, you will stumble upon a natural onsen in its purest form. There is no establishment, and the bath itself is just a river with hot water spouting from the activity of the earth’s geothermal insides. Visitors must be careful, for part of the river is sometimes closed due to high levels of toxic gases produced from the hot springs. Although bathing suits are allowed, going fully nude is recommended due to the high acidic levels. The pH level of the water at Numajiri Onsen is 1.9, which is the same as lemon juice.
3. Semi Onsen (Iwate)
Semi Onsen provides visitors with a luxurious ryokan experience filled with beautiful food, rooms, and an outdoor mixed bath. Just under three hours away by Shinkansen, Semi Onsen is a perfect getaway from the busy neon lights of Tokyo.
4. Sukayu (Aomori)
A ryokan with over 300 years of history, Sukayu is the snowiest inhabited place on earth and a must-visit destination for those who want to experience the Japan of old. Sukayu is also known for its all beech wood, indoor mixed-gender bath. It draws travelers and adventurers from all over the world. Named the senjin buro, or bath of a thousand bathers, this unisex hot spring is huge and iconic in the realm of konyoku onsen.
5. Tae no Yu (Akita)
Taenoyu is a rustic ryokan located in Nyuto Onsen, where a cluster of Japanese inns is nestled in the mountains of Akita Prefecture. The outdoor mixed bath has a milky caramel appearance that leaves your skin feeling cleansed and refreshed. Enjoy the beautiful view of the river that flows right beside you as soak with your friends or partner.
6. Todoroki Ryokan (Miyagi)
With a large bath that can fit close to 20 people, Todoroki Ryokan is excellent for a romantic getaway or groups of friends. The mixed outdoor onsen has crystal clear water with a view of a large garden sprawled before you. Todoroki Ryokan has only seven rooms, which creates a cozy, intimate atmosphere.
7. Saiunsou (Iwate)
What’s better than one konyoku bath? Five of them! Saiunsou is located in Towada-Hachimantai National Park, which is famous for its diverse ecosystems and volcanic activity. Due to this, Saiunsou has many baths— 11 in all—with beautiful views all year long. A unique characteristic of the park is that some of the baths have silky mud floors with bubbles floating up caused by the volcanic activity.
8. Tsuru no Yu (Akita)
Legend says that a wounded crane healed itself with the water from Tsuru no Yu thousands of years ago. Today, Tsuru no Yu has a beautiful ryokan that attracts visitors from all over the world to soak in its waters. This famous ryokan is in high demand, making it imperative to make ryokan reservation months in advance during the busy holiday seasons. However, day passes are available if you only want to get a taste of the mixed bathing.
9. Ubayu Onsen (Yamagata)
Ubayu Onsen is a family business that has been around for 450 years and 17 generations. With history and tradition seeping through its walls, floating in its light turquoise water is the final touch for a feel of “old Japan.” The water in this bath isn’t very hot, which makes it easy to soak for hours.
Do you know of any mixed-bathing onsen in Japan outside the Tohoku region? Let us know in the comments!