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Unwinding in Japan's geothermal wonderlands

Unwinding in Japan's geothermal wonderlands
By Seamus Kearney
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Mention the word onsen to people in Japan and their faces instantly light up; and it’s not surprising, as this is a word that symbolises something very special for the Japanese.

An onsen is a traditional hot springs, a natural geothermal resource where people go to unwind from the stresses of daily life.

Kagoshima, with its impressive volcanoes, is just one of the places where tourists can enjoy this unique experience.

There are many different kinds of onsens, from expensive luxurious ones to establishments that are more affordable for budget travellers.

Japan has thousands of onsens, both indoor and outdoors, and in the old days these were actually public bathing places.

Often they are in natural surroundings, to give visitors the feeling of having found a haven, an escape.

The traditional one we visited is called Gajoen, a resort tucked in between trees and a lovely stream.

There is a wonderful rustic feeling when you arrive, with the buildings really blending in to the green environment.

The resort is at the southernmost tip of Kyushu in a quiet hot springs town in Kagoshima prefecture.

There are 10 guest rooms, some with their own private hot springs inside, and guests can use three main hot springs situated close to the stream.

The Gajoen website says: “We will provide you with the perfect place to escape from the everyday and the ordinary, allowing you to relax both your mind and body.

“We hope that after unwinding at our rustic estate, you will return home with memories of a pleasant stay with us.”

And just one session in the hot springs – which is rich in numerous minerals including magnesium, calcium and iron – and you know you will leave feeling better.

The owners here explain that as well as being good for relaxation, the onsen is an effective treatment for aches and pains and can help heal numerous health complaints.


For foreign visitors to an onsen, there is also the chance to really get immersed in another world.

At the onsen we visited you are given a kimono and other traditional Japanese clothes to wear. Your normal, everyday clothes can be left in the cupboard until you check out.

A visit to these popular centres is also a chance to eat well and try something different.


The food here is fresh and organic and can be delivered to your room. There is also a breakfast room and a cafe where you can also relax and meet others.

What is impressive about the food is the variety of the produce and the different kinds of dishes, with traditional cuisine the focus.

Some people come just for a night, others for a weekend.

But there are those like me who would be quite happy to stay for a week or longer, to really make the most of that wonderful feeling of being pampered and doing something kind to your body.

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