When traveling to Japan in winter visiting an onsen in the snow is one of the most unique experiences you can have. Luckily, some of these hot springs are closer and easier to access than you may think. Even near Tokyo, you can find quite a few snow onsens.
In case you are looking for a snow onsen you can visit as a day trip from Tokyo, your choices are limited, though. Manza Onsen and Hakuba Onsen are probably the best options you have if you want fully gender-separated hot springs. But the good news is that these 2 onsen towns feature some of the most beautiful snow onsens in Japan and they can be accessed in just a few hours from Tokyo.
If you are willing to stay overnight, you have plenty of options for beautiful hot springs in the snow. However, in this article, I want to focus on the snow onsens you can visit as a day trip from Tokyo. I have included detailed information about each hot spring resort and their best snow onsen in town. You will also learn how to get there from Tokyo and how long it will take.
One more thing before we start: To get to the snow onsens near Tokyo, you will have to ride the Shinkansen. This is quite expensive if you don’t have a JR Pass, so I highly recommend you get one before your trip.
Beautiful Snow Onsen For a Day Trip From Tokyo
1. Manza Onsen – Nisshin Kan (4 hours from Tokyo)
Location: Manza Onsen, Gunma Prefecture
General Information: Manza Onsen (万座温泉) is a hot spring resort about 4 hours north-west of Tokyo, located in Gunma Prefecture. It has Japan’s most sulfuric hot springs and is renowned for the high quality and numerous health benefits of its springs. In winter you will definitely have snow here, so it is one your best options if you want to soak in a rotemburo with snow around you near Tokyo. Skiing and snowboarding are also possible in Manza Onsen’s small ski resort.
The Snow Onsen: Nisshin Kan (日進舘) is one of the best hot spring facilities you will find in this onsen resort. It features 8 different outdoor and indoor baths plus 1 private onsen that can be rented. The open-air bath Gokuraku no Yu is arguably the most beautiful outdoor bath you can visit in Japan in winter. With snow all around you and a panoramic view of the mountains 1,800 meters above sea level, you will have the perfect onsen experience. Nisshin Kan’s indoor bathing area with its wooden interior is also very pretty.
Best Time For Snow: From early December until early April is the skiing season, but snow can come as early as October. January is usually the snowiest month.
Access From Tokyo: Take a train to Takasaki Station and transfer to the Agatsuma Line for Manza-Kazawaguchi (about 3 – 3.5 hours). Sometimes there is a Limited Express so you can save some time. From Manza-Kazawaguchi take one of the frequent buses to the hot spring resort (45 minutes). If you would leave Tokyo at 7:27 you could be in Manza Onsen at around 11:30. Another a little bit faster way is via Karuizawa and a bus from there. The bus ride is longer, though, and not covered by the JR Pass and therefore probably more expensive.
Private Onsen: 2,000円 (about $20 or 18€) per 45 minutes
Price: 1,000円 (about $10 or 8€)
2. Hakuba Highland Hotel (3 hours from Tokyo)
Location: Hakuba Happo Onsen, Nagano, Nagano Prefecture
General Information: Hakuba Happo Onsen (白馬八方温泉) is a winter resort about 3 hours north of Tokyo in Nagano Prefecture. It is located at the base of the Hakuba Happo Ski Resort, which is a part of the popular and large Hakuba Valley ski area. In 1998 the village was the main venue for the Winter Olympics held in Japan and some of its Olympic facilities, such as the Ski Jump Arena, are still in use.
The Snow Onsen: There are a few hot spring baths here. One of them is the Hakuba Highland Hotel (白馬 ハイランド ホテル). It is a beautiful mountain onsen located at an altitude of 700 meters with stunning views of Japan’s Northern Alps. In winter you can enjoy the snow-covered mountains in the back and the snow right next to you when taking a bath in the 10 meters wide outdoor bath. Another special feature about this onsen is that you can see the reflection of the white mountains on the surface of the blue water. It looks so beautiful!
Best Time For Snow: Late December until late February is the high season for skiing, so there should be plenty of snow. March is still good with plenty of sunny days.
Access From Tokyo: Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station (about 1.5 hours), walk over to the bus stop in front of the east exit, and ride the bus to Hakuba Station. The bus ride will take about 1 hour. From Hakuba Station, you can walk to the onsen in 14 minutes. If you leave at 9:15, for example, you will be at the hot spring at 12:24. In order to catch the last Shinkansen back to Tokyo, you should heat back at around 17:30.
Private Onsen: Yes, but only for guests staying overnight
Price: 700円 (about $7 or 6€), each month on the 26th just 400円
Website: www.hakuba-highland.net (Japanese)
3. Minakami Onsen – Ryuudou (2.5 hours from Tokyo)
Location: Minakami Onsen, Near Minakami Kogen Ski Resort, Gunma Prefecture
General Information: Minakami Onsen (水上温泉) is a popular hot spring town about 2.5 hours north of Tokyo in Gunma Prefecture. It consists of several smaller hot spring resorts that run along a mountain stream. This area has some of the world’s heaviest snowfalls and quite a few of its outdoor baths are pretty famous. Many onsen enthusiasts love the old hot spring town because of the atmosphere and its perfect harmony with the surrounding nature.
The Snow Onsen: In the onsen resort you can take a bath at some of the onsen ryokans that open their bathing facilities to non-staying guests plus a few Sento (public bathhouses). The one I want to recommend you is Ryuudou (龍洞). It is called a large Onsen Hopping Theme Park, but it is a natural onsen with 18 different outdoor baths. It is located in the mountains and in winter you can soak being surrounded by about 1 meter of snow. If you participate in their Onsen Hopping stamp really and manage to find and visit all of the 18 secret hot springs you can win a prize.
Best Time For Snow: The earliest you will have snow at the end of December and the longest you will have snow until early April. In January and February, you will have the highest snow walls around your outdoor onsen bath.
Access From Tokyo: This is one of the onsens in the snow that are closer to Tokyo and easier to access. Take the Joetsu Shinkansen and get off at Jomokogen Station (about 1 hour). From the bus stop in front of the station, you can then take the bus that will bring you to Minakami Onsen (30 minutes). To Ryuudou Onsen it will be another bus ride of 40 minutes.
Private Onsen: Staying guests can reserve any of the 18 baths for free, so some of the baths may be occupied during your visit
Price: 2,200円円 (about $20 or 18€)
Website: www.ryuudou.com (Japanese)
4. Zao Onsen – Yunohana Chaya Shinzaemon no Yu (3 – 4 hours from Tokyo)
Location: Zao Onsen, Near Yamagata, Yamagata Prefecture
General Information: Zao Onsen (蔵王温泉) is a famous onsen and ski resort near Yamagata city about 3.5 hours north of Tokyo. This traditional hot spring village has a history of about 2000 years and is one of Japan’s most renowned mountain destinations in summer and winter. Here you have the opportunity to witness a very rare winter phenomenon: “Snow Monsters”. These are frozen trees entirely covered in ice and snow turning them into bizarre shapes.
The Snow Onsen: Zao Onsen’s natural spring water comes from a highly acidic sulfur spring that is also called the “Spring of Beauty”. There are 5 different day spas. In 4 of them, you can bathe outside surrounded by snow in winter. The picture shows Yunohana Chaya Shinzaemon no Yu (湯の花茶屋 新左衛門の湯), but I recommend you to visit Zao Dai-Rotemburo (蔵王温泉 大露天風呂). This onsen has one of the most beautiful outdoor baths in all of Japan (but I don’t have a picture of it with snow…).
Best Time For Snow: The ski and snow season is usually from early December until early May. I recommend you to visit around mid-February because the Snow Monsters will look the most spectacular.
Access From Tokyo: Ride the Yamagata Shinkansen all the way to Yamagata Station (about 3 hours). Then transfer to one of the frequent busses towards Zao Onsen (40 minutes). As an example: When you leave Tokyo at 8:08 you can be in the onsen town at 11:57.
Price: 750円 (about $7 or 7€)
5. Kita Onsen Ryokan (3 hours from Tokyo)
Location: Kita Onsen, Near Nasu-Shiobara, Tochigi Prefecture
General Information: Kita Onsen (北温泉) is a secret onsen located in Tochigi Prefecture about 3 hours north of Tokyo. You can’t find a lot of information about this hot spring resort even in Japanese, so there are only 3 things I can tell you about it. Kita Onsen is part of the Nasu Hot Spring Villages, also known as Nasu Onsen and Shiobara Onsen, it is located deep in the valley of the Yosasa River, and it was a filming location for the movie “Thermae Romae”.
The Snow Onsen: The secret hot spring resort consists of 6 onsens that welcome day-trip visitors. Kita Onsen’s most famous and one of the oldest hot springs is Kita Onsen Ryokan (北温泉旅館). This onsen bath that has been around since the Edo period is also known as “Tengu Onsen” because there are Tengu (*) faces all over the hot spring. Another special feature of this snow onsen is that the large outdoor bath is more like a pool with a water slide. Besides these kinda untraditional features, you will also find your usual indoor and outdoor baths. There are 7 tubs in total. While some of them are gender-separated, others aren’t.
(*) If you don’t know Tengu (lit. “Heavenly Dog”), they are legendary creatures with a long nose. I personally think they look kinda creepy (I’m sorry Tengu-san ♡).
Best Time For Snow: In January and February you should be able to soak in the outdoor bath with snow around you.
Access From Tokyo: Take the Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nasushiobara Station (1 hour) and then take the bus bound for Nasu Ropeway. After getting off at Kyukamura Nasu it will be a 30 minute walk to the onsen.
Price: 700円 (about $7 or 6€)
Bonus Snow Onsen: Shirahone Onsen – Awanoyu (4.5 hours from Tokyo)
Location: Shirahone Onsen, Nagano Prefecture
General Information: Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉) is a small onsen town about 4.5 hours away from Tokyo. It is located in the western part of Nagano Prefecture in the Northern Alps near Matsumoto. The milky water is what makes this onsen town so special. Usually milky white hot springs are strongly acidic, but Shirahone Hot Spring is special. Its milky water is smooth as silk and very gentle on the skin. There are even 2 places set up where you can drink the hot spring water.
The Snow Onsen: There are 7 onsen ryokans where you can take a bath as a non-staying guest. The most iconic one is Awanoyu (泡の湯旅館). Its milky outdoor bath has been featured in countless onsen magazines. While the bathing area is generally gender-separated with a male and a female rotemburo, the famous outdoor bath is mixed. The inn allows female visitors to wrap themselves in a towel, though. Another important thing to know is that day trip visitors can only enter the bath from 10:30 – 14:00 o’clock.
Best Time For Snow: You can have snow from the middle of November until the end of April. For the best snow conditions, I would recommend coming here in February or March.
Access From Tokyo: The fastest way is to take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano and then a train towards Matsumoto Station. In Matsumoto hop on the Matsumoto Dentetsu Kamikochi Line to Shin-Shimashima. Total train travel time: 3.5 hours. From Shin-Shimashima Station a bus will bring you to the Onsen resort in 70 minutes. There are only 3 – 4 busses per day.
Because 4.5 hours is really, really long and there are only a few busses per day, I wouldn’t really recommend to visit this onsen as a day trip from Tokyo, but it is possible.
Price: 1,000円 (about $10 or 8€)
More Beautiful Snow Onsen Near Tokyo
There are actually a few more beautiful snow onsens that could be visited as a day trip from Tokyo. But I haven’t been to all of them and I don’t have any snow pictures of their onsen baths, so I didn’t want to include them in the list above. I still want to introduce them to you briefly:
Ginzan Onsen – One of the prettiest onsen towns in Japan. It is located in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. From Tokyo, you can get there in about 4 – 5 hours by train and bus. If you find a good connection, this could also be a very nice day trip from Tokyo, because the Shinkansen ride is about 3 hours and the bus ride is about half an hour. But I haven’t been there yet and so I am not sure about outdoor baths. This onsen is on the top of my bucket list for this year!
Kusatsu Onsen – This famous onsen resort is located in Gunma Prefecture and famous for its abundance of spring water and its high quality. From Ueno Station in Tokyo city, you can get there in about 3 – 4 hours by limited express train and bus. There are only 3 round trips per day, though. Alternatively, you can take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Karuizawa and take a bus from there. However, the bus isn’t covered by the JR Pass and therefore it will be more expensive.
Shima Onsen – Another hot spring town in the northwest of Gunma Prefecture. It is one of the top 4 onsen towns in Gunma alongside Kusatsu Onsen, Minakami Onsen, and Ikaho Onsen. This hot spring has over 40 different springs and it is said to be Japan’s oldest onsen town. From Tokyo, you can take the JR Kusatsu Limited Express to Nakanojo Station and transfer to a local bus. Like this, the whole trip will take about 3 hours.
Hakone Onsen and Karuizawa are actually the nearest hot spring resorts where you can soak in an outdoor bath surrounded by snow. Both are just about 1 hour away with easy and frequent access from Tokyo. The only problem is that snow isn’t guaranteed. In January and February, it can snow, and you can have a nice winter onsen experience. But you never know and so it is really hard to plan. However, keep these 2 options in mind if you visit Tokyo around that time. If you check the weather forecast and if you are lucky you can save a lot of travel time and experience a nice soak in a beautiful snow onsen really close to Tokyo.