THE TRADITION: In Japan, taking the waters in the country’s onsen (hot springs) is the way many treat everything from rheumatism to skin disorders. The naturally heated waters, which are found in the country’s volcanic areas, are rich in minerals and naturally occurring chemical elements, and soaking in them is proven to be both medicinal and therapeutic.
STAY The Yu Spa at Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo imports spring water multiple times a week from the rugged Izu Peninsula on Japan’s west coast. Spending time in the communal bath is the perfect prelude to one of the massages using treatments made from seasonal flowers and herbs.
An hour’s train ride southwest of Tokyo, Hakone is a slice of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park that’s characterized by emerald green mountains, alpine lakes, steam-spouting vents, and countless onsen. (Think of it as Japan’s answer to Europe’s famed spa town Baden Baden.) By day, travelers fit therapeutic soaks in between visits to beautiful Shinto shrines, botanic gardens, and various museums. At night, they bed down in one of the region’s ryokans — traditional Japanese inns, where rooms often come with tatami mat floors topped with futon mattresses for beds, and elaborate, multicourse kaiseki meals are served nightly.
STAY For one of the best takes on the ryokan experience, check in to Gora Kadan: Spread over the grounds of a former Imperial family summer estate, the retreat’s 38 minimalist-chic rooms come with lovely Japanese gardens. Many also have private open-air soaking tubs that thermal spring water is pumped into. The more traditionally minded can fully immerse themselves in the onsen way of life at the property’s two communal open-air baths surrounded by rocks and lush vegetation.
Now, just lean back and let it all soak in.