Smelly Yet Therapeutic Sulfate Onsen Hot Springs

Bathing in onsen (hot springs), strolling around onsen towns, and savoring local delicacies are some of the most luxurious experiences you can have during a visit to Japan. Japan is home to countless onsen springs/towns, each of which has unique temperatures, settings, facilities, cuisine, and therapeutic effects. The mineral content, acid-alkaline balance, and temperature of the hot springs, particularly that of onsen with a high sulfate content, are believed to help with skin problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, arthritis, and other ailments. Thanks to these health benefits, sulfate onsen are popular despite their notorious rotten-egg smell. Here we introduce notable onsen towns that have sulfate springs.

Noboribetsu Onsen in Hokkaido is one of the leading onsen spa resorts in Japan because of the high quality and quantity of its spring water. There are nine different springs, including a milky white sulfate spring. A nearby spot called Jigokudani (The Valley of Hell) has many craters that gush out gas and hot water, offering a hellish view visible from an observation walkway. Since it’s located in Hokkaido, which is famous for great seafood and dairies, there is no shortage of scrumptious local food.

Literally meaning “silver mountain hot spring,” Ginzan Onsen used to be a silver mining town nearly 500 years ago and became a popular therapeutic onsen town about 250 years ago. Located deep in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, this onsen town has a retro atmosphere, with many of the onsen inns built 50 to 100 years ago in an older architectural style. The view of riverside onsen turns quite enchanting in the evening, when gas lamps are lit. Today, visitors come for the ambience as well as the quality spring water of the onsen.

If you want to plan a one-day trip from Tokyo, Shiobara Onsen in Tochigi Prefecture might be a good option. Nestled in the forest, this onsen has 1,200 years of history and has attracted numerous literary figures and artists because of its beautiful views, dynamic landscape, and romantic atmosphere. It has many tourist attractions and destinations that visitors can enjoy before and after onsen bathing. Since it is an upscale onsen town, you can enjoy onsen-hopping as well.

Shirahone Onsen in Nagano Prefecture is located inside Chubu Sangaku National Park and is known for its milky white spring which dates back to the Kamakura period (1185–mid fourteenth century). The name, Shirahone, meaning “white bone,” comes from the novel Dai-bosatsu Toge (Great Bodhisattva Pass, later made into an internationally known film, The Sword of Doom) by Kaizan Nakazato, who loved the onsen.

Kirishima Onsen-kyo, located in a volcano-ridden area, refers to a group of onsen towns spanning Kirishima City to Yusui-cho in Kagoshima Prefecture. It has 300 years of history, and many historical figures visited to treat their ailments with the sulfate-rich onsen spring. Surrounded by beautiful nature at the foot of the sacred Kirishima Mountain, Kirishima Onsen-kyo also offers numerous other activities you can enjoy besides the onsen.

There are other sulfate onsen in Japan, but if you aren’t able to visit right now, you can buy yu no hana (flowers of the hot spring), a natural bath salt containing sulfate, to enjoy the effects of sulfate onsen.


Visitors can walk through and enjoy a hellish view of Jigokudani in Noboribetsu Onsen.

Lined up with Taisho Era (1912-26)-style architecture, Ginzan Onsen is filled with a nostalgic feeling.

Hidden in the deep valley, Shirahone Onsen had been a secret hot spring for centuries. Today, they offer a dozen of onsen inns.

Right Ways to Bathe in Sulfate Hot Spring

Since it’s high in sulfate content, the sulfate hot spring has a great healing power. However, it is too strong if you over-bathe in it. It is recommended to put sulfate spring water onto the body parts farthest from your heart first, such as feet and hands. Then, gradually move on to those closer to the heart. Many onsen lovers tend to bathe as many times as possible when they come to an onsen town, but it should be kept at three times maximum if you bathe in sulfate onsen. Also, you should not stay more than three minutes in the sulfate onsen. Sulfate spring water is soft on your skin, and you don’t need any soap to wash your dirt off. Since it has detoxifying effects, the water gently removes toxins in your body.

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