Going to an onsen in Japan is one of the most enjoyable experiences. But is this also a fun thing to do if you are visiting in July or August? Do Japanese go to the onsen in summer?
Japanese people like to go to onsens in winter and summer. The hot spring water makes you feel refreshed and relieved. Even on hot days because after the bath, the summer heat will feel cooler than before. It is very similar to the cooling effects of drinking hot tea or going to the sauna.
If you are still wondering how enjoyable the hot spring experience will be just read on. I will tell you in detail about the pros and cons of visiting an onsen in summer and share some useful tips from my Japanese friends.
Pros of Going to an Onsen in Summer
I know that your typical image of an onsen includes snow and monkeys. But there are actually quite a few Japanese onsen guides that say the best season for going to the hot springs is in summer. And here is why.
In summer you can fully enjoy the beauty of the onsen’s architecture and its natural environment.
An onsen is not just a hot bathtub, it is an experience. Hot springs are designed in such a way that they are in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature.
Of course, the scenery in winter is beautiful, too, but the steam often obscures the view. In summer there is no steam and so you can see the beautiful roofs and enjoy the lush greenery.
Another good example are beach onsens. Spending the whole day at the beach, taking turns cooling you down in the ocean and warming you up in a hot spring. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
There are quite a few secret hot springs that you can only visit in summer because they are closed in winter.
A lot of hot spring spas are located deep in the mountains or on mountaintops. In winter they are closed or have to be closed because of heavy snow.
Those are usually not the most famous hot springs, but some of these mountain onsens are the most beautiful I have ever seen. Sometimes you will have to hike for a bit. But if you are lucky you will be rewarded with a whole hot spring for yourself.
So I highly recommend you check them out in the summer months.
The way to the open-air hot spring bath and back to the dressing room is so much more comfortable when it is warm.
This is a big one for me. For most onsen visitors, the time from when they have taken off their clothes until they are in the onsen is the most unpleasant one.
Even if you don’t mind being undressed, it is just freaking cold in winter. And then when you finally reach the warmth of the rotenburo and put your icy feet and the rest of your body in the water it just…burns. Until you get used to the heat of the hot spring.
In summer this is a totally different experience. The temperature gap is smaller and so the onsen doesn’t feel hotter than usual. Even if you need a minute or two to get used to the heat you can take your time and slowly dip deeper and deeper. No freezing and no worrying about catching a cold.
Another advantage is that you have fewer layers to take off and put on. This is huge when onsen hopping and makes it so much more enjoyable in my opinion.
Cons of Going to an Onsen in Summer
So as you can see there are a lot of good things about visiting an onsen in summer. However, there are also a few cons.
A greater number of mosquitoes will circle around you, especially in mid-summer.
The warm temperatures make mosquitoes pass through their life cycle faster and so more of them are around. This inevitably means more mosquito bites.
Even though they can carry dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis, mosquitoes usually don’t pose a big threat. So you don’t have to worry too much. But still, their bites are really irritating and occasionally they can cause a large area of swelling.
The best recommendation I can give you is to visit an onsen in early summer or late summer. Through this, you can avoid the mosquito high season.
If you are still worried you can bring an insect repellent like Avon SKIN-SO-Soft Bug Guard Plus. It is an effective insect-repelling moisturizer and sunscreen and you can get it for $9.15 on Amazon.
When my friend visited me last year she brought Medella Naturals All Natural Insect Repellent. It smelled so good and had the ideal travel size! We always used it before going hiking. You can also get it on Amazon: 2 bottles for around $19.99.
You can’t take a bath as long as you might want to.
I personally like to take onsen baths for a very long time. Sometimes even longer than the recommended time for staying in an onsen. In summer this is nearly impossible, though.
After just a few minutes, you will usually feel the heat and have to go out of the tub. If you are not good at noticing dehydration, this might be problematic. So please be careful and better take a water bottle with you.
There are usually places where you can sit down or you can just put your feet or your lower body in the water. But if you are shy you might not feel comfortable doing so.
How to Enjoy Onsen in Summer in Japan
I have already shared a few tips along the way such as visiting an onsen in early or late summer to avoid the mosquitoes. Here are a few more I got from my Japanese friends.
Your biggest concern will probably be the following: But aren’t Japanese onsen too hot in summer?
Hot springs are hot, of course. But as mentioned earlier, they also have a really nice cooling effect which helps to make the hot humid summers more pleasant and enjoyable.
If you are still concerned about the heat, visit the onsen early in the morning or in the evening when the temperatures have cooled down. If you are at an onsen with a nice view, the sunset will be another beautiful highlight you can enjoy!
Choose your hot spring carefully and select mountain onsens and cooler regions. When you are up in the mountains the temperatures will be several degrees lower and so the heat shouldn’t be a problem. Hokkaido is cooler for example. Tohoku, Nagano, and Niigata are other popular choices.
Shy people or first-timers might want to rent a private onsen. Like this, you can take a dip or cool down outside of the water anytime you want and without being concerned about the other people around you.
My Personal Experience
The first time one of my Japanese friends suggested visiting an onsen in the summer, I thought it was just a joke. But when she asked me again and I noticed that she really wants to go I just thought: But that’s crazy.
Even though I am one of the very few people who love the hot and humid summer in Tokyo, I still couldn’t imagine that soaking in an onsen would be fun.
But that immediately changed after my first summer onsen experience. My friend is from Nagano and we both love hiking so we went to the secret hot spring Nakabusa Onsen in Nagano Prefecture.
It is a huge onsen with 14 different baths. The lush green scenery was just beautiful and believe it or not the onsen really helped me to cool down.
Since then I have been a huge fan of visiting an onsen in the summer! Hence I really recommend you to try it, too.
What are the best onsen in summer? Sukawa Onsen in Akita has beautiful mountain views. Nakabusa Onsen and Takamine Onsen are secret hot springs all the way up in the mountains of Nagano. Wanoyado Hotel Iya Onsen is deep down in Tokushima’s Iya Valley and surrounded by beautiful nature.
How hot does Japan get in summer? In most parts of Japan, the temperature in summer is around 25-35°C. Only the northern part of Japan is a bit cooler with temperatures around 20-26°C.
How hot is a Japanese hot spring? The average bathing temperature for Japanese ranges from 39℃ to 42℃. Most onsen spas will have a variety of hot, lukewarm, and colder bathtubs.