The hot spring town of Zao Onsen (, Zaō Onsen) lies attractively at an altitude of 880 meters above sea level on the slopes of the volcanic Mount Zao. In winter, it also serves as one of Japan's leading ski resorts, enabling skiers to enjoy the Japanese way of relaxing in a hot spring bath after a day on the slopes.

Zao Onsen's sulfuric waters are among the most acidic in the entire country with a PH value of close to 1. They can be enjoyed at multiple public bath houses across the town, which range from small, old-fashioned community baths to a modern facility with various pools. The highlight is the Zao Dai-Rotemburo outdoor bath, which unfortunately is closed during the winter months.

Most ryokan and many hotels and pensions in Zao Onsen offer their staying guests hot spring baths. A few of them also open their baths to non-staying guests during daytime for a small admission fee.

Below are some of the public baths found in Zao Onsen:

Zao Dai-Rotemburo (Zao Large Outdoor Baths)

Hours: 6:00 to 19:00 (until 18:00 in November and April)
Closed: late November to mid April
Admission: 600 yen
Attractively situated in a forested valley right alongside a mountain river, these large, gender-separated outdoor baths are among Japan's most attractive. Unfortunately, they cannot be used during the winter months.

Shinzaemon no Yu

Hours: 10:00 to 18:30 (until 21:30 on weekends and holidays)
Admission ends 30 minutes before closing
Closed: Irregular closing days (usually one Wednesday per month)
Admission: 800 yen
Shinzaemon no Yu is an attractive public bath house with multiple, gender-separated indoor and outdoor pools. The modern facility also includes a restaurant.

Kawarayu Public Bath

Hours: 6:00 to 22:00
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 200 yen (deposit into box)
The Kawarayu is the most unique of Zao's three traditional public bath houses. The unmanned building stands right on top of a hot spring source with water gushing up directly into the pools. A wall separates the men's from the women's bath rooms, but the two genders' pools are connected with each other under the water surface.

Shimoyu Public Bath

Hours: 6:00 to 22:00
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 200 yen (deposit into box)
The Shimoyu ("lower bath house") is one of three traditional, small public bath houses in the old town center. The unmanned facility offers two simple, gender-separated pools.

Kamiyu Public Bath

Hours: 6:00 to 22:00
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 200 yen (deposit into box)
The Kamiyu ("upper bath house") is another of Zao's traditional bath houses. Like Shimoyu the facility is small and simple and has gender-separated pools.

Ratings:    best of the best    best of Japan    outstanding

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