Most associate onsen with rural Japan and the famous onsen regions such as Hakone and Kusatsu. In Tokyo, Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba and LaQua near Tokyo Dome are probably the most well-known onsen, but in fact there are many excellent and traditional onsen hidden in the backstreets or tucked away in residential areas. These onsen are not always well publicized and information on them—even in Japanese—is often lacking. But for visitors to Tokyo who do not have enough time to visit the onsen regions, these day spas present a superb opportunity to experience the true onsen culture. Below are three of the most traditional and unique onsen in and around the Tokyo region.
Yumori no Sato
Hidden in the backstreets a 10-minute walk from Jindai-ji, Yumori no Sato doesn’t look like much from the outside. Indeed, it could easily be dismissed as some sort of shack. But step inside and you’ll be greeted by a traditional and homely interior with hot stone and massage services, rest areas, and a small gift shop.
The natural water at Yumori no Sato is the coffee-coloured variety that is common in the Tokyo region. This light brown water in the palm of your hand turns a pitch espresso black in the bathtubs, which can seem very unusual at first. But this is pure natural stuff with no colouring or other additives for effect. There are four open-air baths, as well as a one-man “Goemon Pot”—named after Ishikawa Goemon, a villain of the Edo era who was boiled alive in one after being caught for his crimes! The sauna is also a unique shiogama-type sauna—the intense heat rising from a salt hearth in the room that gives off a scent that certainly clears the airways.
Located a short distance from the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan where the Tokyo honbasho sumo events take place three time each year, Edoyu is not actually a natural onsen. But despite the this it is one of the best examples of the Japanese bathing refinement in the capital. The baths are not cheap by onsen standards (¥2,380—almost double the price of other natural onsen), but perhaps because of this facility is a little more peaceful with fewer bathers.
Prints by Katsushika Hokusai—Japan’s most famous woodblock printer—hang on the walls in both the male and female baths. With a heavy nod to typical Japanese aesthetics the design of the bathing area is simple—just two types of rock baths and saunas. The entrance fee also includes access to the hot stones.
Ikoi no Yu
At just under an hour on the Keio Line from Shinjuku and a short bus ride from the station, there may be onsen closer to the capital, but the reason to visit Ikoi no Yu is for the spring water specific to the region. It has a high concentration of bicarbonate ion which gives the water a “slippery” touch in the palm of your hand. In Japanese it is called “tsuru-tsuru” (“silky smooth) and onsen with this type of spring water boast of its importance in rejuvenating the skin. The entrance fee ¥720—not much more than your average sento—and the onsen includes jet baths, electric baths (intermittent pulses that produce a frizzling sensation while you bathe), as well as a Korean-style sauna with mixes herbs with the steam.