An onsen is bath (some the size of a small swimming pool) where mineral hot spring water runs continuously. Before you enter the onsen you should have a good scrub and then rinsed off any soap. Now you are ready to soak in the hot water and enjoy the views. Do this a couple of times at a couple of different onsens and this favourite pastime of the Japanese will almost certainly take hold of you too.
Combine the onsen with a traditional Japanese inn (known as a ryokan) and the experience goes up yet another notch (Most ryokans sport an onsen). After a solid day of doing what tourists do, there is nothing better than enjoying the civilised relaxation of the onsen before your exquisitely prepared dinner at your ryokan. The style of meal at ryokan is known as kaiseki , as much as an art as it is a culinary experience. Ryokans pride themselves on their unique presentation and content.
There are literally thousands of onsens in Japan and the variety of views and styles does justice to this fascinating part of Japanese culture. There are outdoor onsens where you can soak in the hot springs and watch the snowflakes as they fall, add a vista of snow clad mountains and the serenity is breathtaking. Or what about a looking out over a harbour as the sun glints on the water as it disappears for the day and you reflect on your day too.
Some say that the practice of enjoying an onsen goes back to the dawn of the Japanese themselves. With the combination of the standard of service, the range of onsens, very special meals and the shear atmosphere of the ryokan, is there really any wonder that Japanese consider the experience is their holiday?