Also located a little ways out of town, Seta Onsen in the fashionable Futako-Tamagawa area is a place of considerable charm. Taking into consideration price, facilities, location and overall atmosphere, this is perhaps the best onsen in the city.
The water is pumped entirely from a geothermal source, and all the minerals lend an amber hint to the baths. Of the outdoor facilities, one is a large, gender-shared bath (bathing suits required) surrounded by ancient Japanese elm trees. On a clear winter day, you can enjoy views of Mt Fuji in the distance, surrounded by your friends or family with drink in hand. The multiple indoor baths offer simple décor for a subdued atmosphere and look out though large glass windows onto their open-air counterparts.
Extra services range from chiropractic therapy to Thai massage, so leave the aches and pains behind and depart with fresher skin and better health (call for reservations). If such courses are not for you, head straight to the massive “relaxation space,” where an array of beds and mats allow you to stretch out in quietude. It’s not at all frowned upon to snooze here for a few hours.
There are also tatami rooms where you can kick back and watch TV, drink tea and chat. The restaurants at Seta Onsen are above par, and offer a variety of course options. On weekdays, you can enjoy a package that includes the onsen and a meal.
If you’re looking to host a party, Seta Onsen can accommodate groups large and small with an all-inclusive plan that includes bathing, food and private quarters with Nintendo Wii consoles and party games like Twister.
4-15-30 Seta, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-3707-8228. Open daily 10am-11pm. Nearest stn: Futako-Tamagawa. www.setaonsen.co.jp
Niwa no Yu is located in northwestern Tokyo, not too far from Ikebukuro or Shinjuku. It may look like a public water park from the outside, and some of its facilities may not have the charm of the more stylishly designed onsen listed here. But it’s most certainly worth a visit.
The outdoor bath facilities incorporate traditional architecture and landscaping to create an amply relaxing environment. Enjoy the autumn foliage now and come back for the sakura in the spring. Immerse yourself in one of the private tubs big enough for you alone and slough off those big-city cares; some of the mineral-rich water takes on a golden hue. Among the indoor baths, you’ll find a variety of different options, including that ubiquitous micro-bubble bath, as well as a “bade zone” that at first glance looks like a pimped-out jacuzzi area. This area is gender-shared, so bring your bathing suit. Also check out the “Dead Sea Pool,” which attempts to mimic the buoyant water of its famous namesake.
Niwa no Yu also offers a number of saunas, and the second floor is reserved for dining services, a relaxation room, massages and other basic services.
Note that the onsen does not allow entry to children under junior high school age.
3-25-1 Kouyama, Nerima-ku. Tel: 03-3990-4126. Open daily 10am-11pm. Nearest stn: Toshimaen. www.toshimaen.co.jp/niwa-yu/niwanoyu.html
The pricing systems, hours and rules of onsen vary widely, so check the websites for the most up-to-date and comprehensive details. (The Japanese versions are usually more informative compared to the typically bare-bones and/or outdated English ones.) Though the popularity of tattoos is growing rapidly, ink is still associated with criminal elements of society and as such, many onsen will expressly forbid entry to anyone sporting one. If it’s small, just pick up one of those stick-on bandages or heating pads at any drugstore to hide it. Otherwise, you could try your luck—but be prepared to be asked to leave.