Whether it’s about pouring tea or arranging flowers, Japan is a country of rituals and bathing is no exception. Though the ultimate goal is healing and relaxation, bathing in Japan is a very serious business. This is demonstrated by the sheer number of names the Japanese language has for a bath. Onsen, sento, hinoki and ofuro are just four of them.
Onsen is the quintessential public Japanese bath which by definition is fed by a natural hot spring. A sento is similar to an onsen, but unlike hot-spring fed onsens, these public baths use warm tap water.
Hinoki, on the other hand, refers to the Japanese cypress. The tree is known for its natural antibacterial agents and it’s also resistant to humidity, making it the ideal material for batubs. Finally, ofuro is a steep-sided Japanese bathtub which is traditionally made from wood, but these days you’ll find plastic and stainless-steel versions in most homes and guest houses.
According to some estimates, there are around 3,000 public onsen baths in Japan. Visiting an onsen is on many a traveler’s Japan bucket list, but the rituals and customs related to an onsen visit can also seem daunting to a first timer. Japanese baths are designed for soaking, not for cleaning. Before entering an onsen, you’re expected to shower sitting down on a small wooden stool. Once you enter the hot spring, you need to be fully nude – no swimsuits are allowed and the same goes for tattoos.
If visiting a public onsen seems too extreme, you might want to consider a private onsen instead. Some guest houses have private onsens which are a great option for families. If you want to go a bit more luxurious, book a stay at one of these chalets, each complete with a private onsen-style bathtub.
If you’re planning a ski getaway with a large group, Kasetsu is a fantastic option. Located in Niseko’s Lower Hirafu Village, Kasetsu has six bedroom which can sleep up to 17 guests. Kasetsu features a private Japanese style bathtub as well as traditional tatami room that’s perfect for channeling those meditative vibes a long bath is bound to unleash.
Location: Lower Hirafu Village, Niseko
Price: USD $2,328 / night
Tamo offers a stylish blend of Japanese minimalism and funky modern architecture, set in the coveted Middle Hirafu Village, five minutes from the Ace family pair lift. Besides the enviable location, Tamo offers a traditional hinoki bathtub. The chalet takes its name from the fine Japanese tami timber which is used extensively across the chalet, meaning the Japanese cypress used to carve the bathtub is not the only elite timber in residence here.
Location: Middle Hirafu, Niseko
Price: From USD $458 / night
First off, a word of warning: after staying at AYA Villas, you won’t want to stay anywhere else in Niseko. This fabulous estate offers direct ski-in access right next to Grand Hirafu’s Family Lift and delivers immaculate views overlooking Niseko’s sought-after slopes. Trust us – this is about as close to the slopes as a chalet can get. Each of AYA Villas’ sleek modern chalets has four bedrooms, a private lift and of course, a sumptuous onsen set in a tranquil stone garden.
Location: Upper Hirafu Village, Niseko
Price: From USD $3,182 / night
Rather than listing out the amenities available at Annabel, it might be easier to count down the feature this lavish luxury chalet doesn’t have. In the way of a quick roll-call, this six-bedroom chalet has a media room, pool table, kids’ playroom, sauna, gas fireplace – and oh yes, a traditional wooden bathtub attached to the master bedroom. Annabel is built over three floors and offers majestic views of Mount Yotei and the Grand Hirafu ski hill.
Location: Hirafu Izumikyo 2, Niseko
Price: From USD $1,481
If you’re looking for a room with a view, you just can’t go wrong with Kuromatsu. Located at the prestigious Orchards Niseko estate just outside of Hirafu, Kuromatsu’s light and airy living room offers views of Niseko’s two giants, Mount Yotei and Annupuri. Kuromatsu is a fantastic options for smaller groups looking to experience Niseko in style – although you might have to argue over who gets first dibs to the chalet’s onsen style bathtub.
Location: St Moritz, Niseko
Price: From USD $464 / night
If soaking your sore muscles in a hot tub sounds like a total snooze fest, Enju offers the perfect solution. This five-bedroom chalet has an onsen-style bathtub hooked up to a state-of-the-art entertainment system, allowing you to watch movies while soaking up that heeling onsen magic. At Enju, bathing is a “the more the merrier” activity, as the huge tub can seat up to four people.
Location: Middle Hirafu Village, Niseko
Price: From USD $1,455 / night
Tsubaki offers the perfect blend of an alpine chalet and a minimalistic Japanese abode. Built over two floors, this four-bedroom chalet has a living room with rugged exposed beams and a stone fireplace. The chalet also offers dramatic views of the iconic Mount Yotei. Tsubaki features an authentic hinoki bathtub, perfect for a restorative soak after a day out on the slopes.
Location: Lower Hirafu Village, Niseko
Price: From USD $1,058 / night
Niseko isn’t just about the sleek and slick modern chalets (though there are plenty of those around as well). Greystone is a prime example of a classic chalet being refurbished into a contemporary luxury property without losing the building’s architectural integrity. One of the original features that have been preserved are the onsen style bathrooms which are lined with fragrant hinoki walls and feature authentic wooden stools for showering before slipping inside the tub. If soaking in your own private bath is not enough, Greystone is located right next door to the Yukoro Onsen.