Bathing in hot spring onsens is one of the finest pastimes in Japan. Wherever you go, you’ll find baths with curative waters and spectacular views. Hiroshima is no different. A short drive into the Chugoku Mountains north of Hiroshima City is the quickest way to discover some of the best curative waters in this region.
Geihoku Oak Garden
The view looking out over the Chugoku Mountains.
“We started off as an ‘onsen stand’ for locals,” explains Ryu Matsuda, the general manager of the charming hot spring resort Geihoku Oak Garden. “We would fill up their water tanks so they could use natural spring water in their baths at home.”
Since those early days, the facilities at the Geihoku Oak Garden have expanded to include baths, accommodation, a restaurant, a gelato workshop, and a ground golf course. Today, people come from far and wide to bathe and relax at the resort deep in the Chugoku Mountains northwest of Hiroshima City.
“The waters are thought to benefit eczema and other skin conditions,” says Ryu. “The hot spring heats you right to the core.”
The water is thought to contain healing properties.
Being positioned on an elevation surrounded by mountains, the baths (especially the outdoor rotenburo) at Geihoku Oak Garden command spectacular views. You can sit back in the warm water and look out over mountain ranges stretching far into the horizon.
Some of the countryside around Geihoku Oak Garden.
Spectacular views through the valley.
After your dip, head to the restaurant for a wide choice of meals made with local ingredients. They offer some rare local delicacies including fresh salt-baked amago trout and wild boar tempura.
Fresh amago trout in the restaurant.
According to Ryu, autumn is the best season to visit Geihoku Oak Garden. Some of the best local produce like geihoku apples and mushrooms come into season and the mountains are resplendent in their autumn finery.
Wild boar tempura.
Geihoku Oak Garden
Address: 145-104 Hosomi, Kitahiroshima, Yamagata District, Hiroshima 731-2322
Hot spring hours: 10am to 9pm (last entry at 8pm)
Tawara Onsen “5,000 Nen Spa”
This former school building has been converted into Tawara Onsen.
“There was a spot just above us in the mountains where the snow always melted first in spring,” says Kanako Kitayama, the long-serving receptionist at Tawara Spa. “The locals dug down and discovered a hot spring and eventually this became Tawara Spa.”
From the outside, Tawara Spa doesn’t look like your average hot spring. The facility is the result of a local government initiative to breathe new life into an abandoned school building.
The entrance corridor and the staircase are still unchanged, but the rest of the building has been completely renovated. The spacious rooms are clean and furnished in the traditional Japanese style you often see in ryokans and spa resorts across the country.
The corridor is still unchanged from the time when the building was a primary school.
The “5,000 Nen” (meaning 5,000 years) refers to the owner’s wish that there’ll be a hot spring on this site for 5,000 years.
One of the spacious tatami accommodation rooms at Tawara Onsen.
In the bath, they have a number of different pools you can dip into. The waters here are also famed for their healing properties. There are regular customers who talk of stiff muscles and aches disappearing after regular visits.
Their outdoor rotenburo bath.
Enjoy the sounds of the birds and the mountain air as you bathe outside.
Plenty of different pools with jets to relax your body.
If you have the chance, try to visit Tawara Spa in the evening in late June. Once the sun sets over the mountains, hundreds of tiny fireflies dance and shimmer around the river flowing next to the spa.
Tawara Onsen “5,000 Nen Spa”< >
Address: 665 Tawara, Kitahiroshima, Yamagata District, Hiroshima 731-2105
Hot spring hours: 10am to 8pm (last entry at 7pm)
Hiroshima Kita Hotel
Hiroshima Kita Hotel in Chiyoda.
The spring water around the Chiyoda region directly north of Hiroshima City has long been famed for its purity.
For generations, people have travelled to the region in droves to fill up water bottles and bathe in the countless onsens that dotted the countryside. However, with expensive maintenance costs and fewer customers, the number of hot springs is slowly declining.
One establishment trying to buck the trend is the Hiroshima Kita Hotel. For the last ten years, they have built a large following of loyal customers who enjoy the benefits of staying in a hotel with water sourced entirely from their own private spring.
“Everything from the water in the hot spring baths to the water coming out of the taps in the rooms are from our own spring,” explains hotel manager Kazuki Miyano. “Our chefs cook with our water and the guests really notice the difference in the taste.”
The baths are luxurious. The men’s bath is beautifully decorated with Buddhist carvings and motifs. The women’s bath has a dragon-god theme. The water in Hiroshima Kita Hotel is renowned for its healing properties and leaves your skin feeling smooth to the touch.
It’s hard to miss the directions for the Buddha Bath.
The baths are beautifully laid out.
There are plenty of different pools to enjoy.
All the water comes from the hotel’s private spring.
“We have a mix of holiday guests and people on business trips because it’s a short drive from Hiroshima City,” says Kazuki. “By staying here, you can enjoy these campestral surroundings and rejuvenating waters. You can escape from daily stresses and leave feeling refreshed.”
With beautifully furnished rooms complete with jacuzzis, rooms that allow pets, and a public tap outside for visitors and locals to fill up their water bottles, Hiroshima Kita Hotel caters to a wide range of customers.
One of the upscale rooms at Hiroshima Kita Hotel.
It comes with its own private outdoor jacuzzi.
The public taps outside the hotel, where locals and visitors can fill up water bottles to take home.
Hiroshima Kita Hotel
Address: 3659 Minamigata, Kitahiroshima, Yamagata District, Hiroshima 731-1523
Hot spring hours: 11am to 9pm (last entry at 8pm)
Words and Photography by Tom Miyagawa Coulton. (Visited in March 2019)