This Japanese Island Is Hiding Some of the Country's Best Hot Springs — Where to Soak

Some of Japan's best onsens are on the southern island of Shikoku.

<p>Courtesy of Hotel Kazurabashi</p>

Courtesy of Hotel Kazurabashi

While Japan is well-loved for its culinary chops, centuries-old architecture, and kawaii culture, it's imperative that you work a trip to an outdoor onsen into your itinerary on any visit. A cornerstone of life in Japan, dipping into a natural hot spring is truly a wonderful place to unwind and relax. The only thing better than a day at a hot spring? Spending the night, of course.

Similar to a Western-style spa resort, onsen ryokan hotels take what you love about hot spring soaking and turn it into a blissful overnight experience. Ryokans are traditional-style inns that feature tatami flooring, futon beds, and other nods to the country's past, but the star of the show is those inviting hot springs. Popular among locals and visitors alike, ryokans are a great spot to cozy up during the colder months, but truly, there's no wrong time to visit.

<p>Masahiro Noguchi/Getty Images</p> The Oboke Gorge and the Yoshino River near the entrance to the Iya Valley in Tokushima, Japan

Masahiro Noguchi/Getty Images

The Oboke Gorge and the Yoshino River near the entrance to the Iya Valley in Tokushima, Japan

While you can find naturally occurring and human-made onsen ryokans across Japan, a large majority of them are tucked into the peaks and valleys across Shikoku Island — and we've pulled together a list of some of the best. These serene spa-focused properties range in price, geography, and amenities, but each promises an unforgettable escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. From a five-star geothermal spa deep in the Iya Valley to a seaside resort with a private beach, these are some of the most magical onsen ryokans on Shikoku Island.

Wanoyado Hotel Iyaonsen, Miyoshi, Tokushima

<p>Takehito Miyatake/Courtesy of Wanoyado Hotel Iyaonsen</p>

Takehito Miyatake/Courtesy of Wanoyado Hotel Iyaonsen

Surrounded by breathtaking views of the iconic Iya Valley, this ryokan is the most coveted property in Shikoku. Step into the instantly relaxing retreat, and you'll notice the tatami flooring, futon beds, in-room massage chairs, and unobstructed views of the surrounding valley. A funicular train will also take you directly to the private open-air baths at the bottom of the valley, which are fed with hot spring water straight from the source. Guests are also invited to indulge in a full kaiseki meal set in a corner dining room that overlooks the valley below.

Keep in mind that getting to Wanoyado Hotel Iyaonsen is not for the faint of heart — a 30-minute drive from the JR Oboke Stations, the resort is perched at the peak of sheer cliffs that cut through the Shikoku Mountains. Happily, the property offers a free shuttle service to and from the JR Oboke Stations for those on foot.

AoAwo Naruto Resort, Naruto, Tokushima

Located along the coast in the Tokushima Prefecture, one could easily check into AoAwo Naruto Resort and, well, never leave. The sprawling resort boasts a handful of relaxation-focused amenities, including a private beach, rooms with ocean views and patios, pools and hot tubs, and two onsens. There are also multiple snack bars, restaurants, and room service throughout the property for those who need to refuel after a day of detoxing.

If you do manage to peel yourself out of the dreamy resort space, the area is also a popular spot for cyclists, and bike rentals are available for those who want to explore the coastline and neighboring Naruto Park on two wheels.

<p>Ippei Naoi/Getty Images</p> A river running through the mountains in the Iya Valley, Shikoku, Japan

Ippei Naoi/Getty Images

A river running through the mountains in the Iya Valley, Shikoku, Japan

Funaya, Matsuyama, Ehime

This centrally located spa in Ehime Prefecture, just a stone's throw from the Dogo-Onsen Train Station, is an ideal option for travelers who want to experience relaxing hot spring baths without sacrificing the creature comforts of the city. The 380-year-old onsen features everything you'd want from a spa resort: multiple onsens, a tranquil Zen garden, a sauna, and optional massages.

Despite being set in the middle of the city, Funaya features traditional Japanese rooms and suites with futon beds and tatami mats. Note that "Western-style" rooms are also available, which still incorporate Japanese design elements, but rather than a traditional futon bed, these rooms have the typical bed frame and mattress you'd see in a modern hotel.

Dogo-Kan, Matsuyama, Ehime

This onsen is one of the oldest and most well-known in the region. The Dogo Onsen was mentioned in the Man'yōshū (written in 759), which suggests they date back more than 1,000 years. These days, the onsen is still well-loved by locals, and despite being in the middle of Matsuyama, the area around the hot spring feels more like a resort town than a bustling Japanese city.

While Dogo-Kan is less than a minute from the Dogo Onsen, the affiliated ryokan is separate from the onsen, which is open to the public. However, the property boasts a large outdoor bath reserved for guests of the 90-room resort.

Oborozukiyo, Matsuyama, Ehime

For an intimate experience, head to Oborozukiyo, just down the road from the Dogo Onsen. Following Japanese tradition, most onsens (and onsen ryokans) offer two different spaces for men and women and require bathers to be fully nude. If you're particularly shy or you would prefer taking a dip with your partner in peace, Oborozukiyo offers private, open-air onsens, which are filled with fresh spring water channeled directly from the legendary Dogo Onsen next door.

The tranquil ryokan offers spacious rooms, which come as a hybrid between traditional Japanese and modern styling, meaning you get those cozy tatami mats alongside a queen-size bed, complimentary minibar, and massage chair.

Hotel Kazurabashi, Miyoshi, Tokushima

<p>Courtesy of Hotel Kazurabashi</p>

Courtesy of Hotel Kazurabashi

Head to Miyoshi in Tokushima Prefecture for a dip in the rooftop onsen at Hotel Kazurabashi. The stunning panoramic views of the natural landscape below will inspire you. It's a particularly striking view in the autumn when the leaves begin to shift colors and reflect off the pastel-hued water.

The hotel also has a sauna, a game room, on-site massages, and a traditional dining room where your meals are cooked over an open flame at your table. Although the property boasts many high-end amenities, it's still considered to be quite traditional, and bathrooms are shared.

Kiyomi Sanso Hanajukai, Takamatsu, Kagawa

In Saihō Chō by the Seto Inland Sea, travelers will find Kiyomi Sanso Hanajukai, a modern 35-room ryokan with panoramic views of the ocean and neighboring islands to the north and city skyline to the south, which can be savored in the large open-air public baths.

The contemporary lobby and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of bustling Takamatsu below are blended perfectly with the traditional guest rooms.

<p>Anubhav C/Getty Images</p> The Shimanto River flowing through mountains in the western Kochi Prefecturein of Shikoku, Japan

Anubhav C/Getty Images

The Shimanto River flowing through mountains in the western Kochi Prefecturein of Shikoku, Japan

Kotohira Kadan, Nakatado, Kagawa

In the northwest district of Nakatado, located in Kagawa Prefecture, Kotohira Kadan is a traditional ryokan boasting over 400 years of history. Since its inception, the property has drawn locals, visitors, and big-name Japanese writers, including Ogai Mori, Hakushu Kitahara, and Akiko Yosano, primarily due to its jaw-dropping views of Mt. Sanuki-Fuji and Kotohira town and natural hot springs that flow into the public and private outdoor baths.

While the property was made to be a relaxing retreat, over the years, it's added modern amenities, including free Wi-Fi, a game room, and even an in-house karaoke room. Guests can also have a Western bed or a Japanese-style futon bed, and both options include traditional tatami mat flooring and elegant sliding paper screens.

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