October 15, 2020

Tokyo’s Top Onsen

Unbeknownst to overseas visitors, Japan's capital of Tokyo actually has a wide variety of natural hot springs within the confines of the city.

Onsen water flows into a hot spring bath in Tokyo

I write this during mid-October in what has been one of the worst years in recent history (a.k.a. 2020). Right now, I should be trying to forget the fact that the entirety of our world has been upended by immersing myself in some rural region. Instead, I am sitting at my neighborhood Starbucks while the untimely Typhoon Chan-hom pelters the concrete jungle with relentless downpours. While the typhoon’s effect on Tokyo has turned out to be rather minor in comparison to previous storms, traveling during a typhoon is generally not a smart move. Oftentimes, bullet train service can be suddenly halted meaning you can easily get stuck out in the boonies.

Seeing I won’t be going anywhere this weekend, I want to take advantage of the down time and highlight several of my favorite onsen in central Tokyo. Now, Japan’s capital and onsen are two constructs typically unparalleled in thought. When one conjures up mental imagery of Japan’s numerous hot spring towns, folks often think of locations such as Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture or Ginzan Onsen up north. Tokyo, on the other hand, is a megalopolis of epic proportions and doesn’t exactly jive well with the notion of rustic onsen baths nestled amongst lush natural scenery.

Alas, while it’s true that Tokyo lacks the gorgeous mountain vistas of many famous hot spring towns, it is indeed home to a number of great onsen. As a bit of an aficionado, I regularly seek out new hot springs whenever I can to wash away my worries (anyone who has ever worked in Japan knows what I mean). In my experience, there’s nothing that a good soak can’t remedy and this is especially true of onsen offering a cold bath for post-sauna dips. There’s just something restorative about alternating between hot and cold that quells the woes of the day.

Tokyo’s large Oedo Onsen Monogatari hot spring facility

Below, you’ll find a list of my favorite onsen that are located in Tokyo. While the exteriors of these venues appear to be sento (mere bathhouses not actually located on a hot spring source), they are in fact the real deal. From what I can gather, all of these onsen draw their waters from reserves deep below the surface level. Note that this list is by no means exhaustive and consists only of the establishments that I have experienced first hand.

By the way, if you’re intimidated by the prospect of bathing with others, be sure to check out my ultimate guide on how to hot spring. It’s one of my most read pieces of all time and will answer any questions you may have…

  • Oedo Onsen Monogatari
    No list of Tokyo’s myriad hot springs would be complete without mentioning this amazing facility. Located out in the seaside area of Odaiba, Oedo Onsen Monogatari is something of a bathing theme park and is best enjoyed with a group of friends. The entire complex has been designed to appear as if it has been lifted directly from the Edo period (1603–1868). Inside, you’ll find all sorts of options for food and drink as well as multiple communal baths. What’s more, the facility is basically open all night meaning you can easily spend the night here.
Note: Oedo Onsen Monogatari sadly closed down in 2021...

—Donny Kimball
  • Take-no-yu
    When I was living in Azabu Juban, this onsen used to be a weekly ritual for me. The establishment has been around for nearly one-hundred years and boasts waters that are as dark as black coffee. Allegedly, all of the dissolved sediment in the liquid is said to be great for your skin. From the outside facade, Take-no-yu appears to be little more than just another average neighborhood bathhouse. The onsen’s amazing waters are what keep the locals coming back for more.
  • Heiwajima Onsen
    This facility is a gift from above for those with early morning or late night flights from Haneda. Located only a stone’s throw away from the airport, Heiwajima Onsen is a great place to freshen up prior to boarding your flight. Like with Oedo Onsen, this property is basically open throughout the night. You’ll need to either make use of their shuttle service or a taxi to get there after the last train; nevertheless, it’s a great way to kick back before continuing your journey.
  • Shimizu-yu
    Just like Take-no-Yu was my spot when I was living in Azabu Juban, this onsen is my new local jam. Found near Musashi Koyama Station, this facility also sports the dark waters found at a number of Tokyo’s hot springs. What’s more, unlike Take-no-yu, Shimizu-yu also features a handful of outdoor baths. Especially during the colder months of the year, a deep soak under the cool winter sky is just what the doctor ordered.
  • Togoshi Ginza Onsen
    This rather modern looking hot spring is actually a recent reincarnation of a former facility that closed in 2006. Similar to Shimizu-yu, the onsen is located in my neck of the woods and combines well with a visit to the Togoshi Ginza shopping area. Of the two, I am partial to Shimizu-yu but have found that it tends to be more crowded than Togoshi Ginza Onsen. Now that the coronavirus pandemic is a thing, I routinely find myself at Togoshi Ginza Onsen if only for the sake of social distancing.
A man watches the sunset a Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport

Lastly, in addition to the locations noted above, there are numerous onsen within the Kamata region of Tokyo. Like Heiwajima Onsen, these venues are located near Haneda meaning they combine well with an evening flight. For more information check out my guide to Haneda where I oddly simulated what’s possible given a day-long layover.

And with that, I think I am going to go find myself a good outdoor bath to relax in while the drenching rain falls from above…