The Original: According to lore, a Buddhist monk discovered the hot springs of Yamanaka, on the western coast of Honshu island, some 1,300 years ago. Take a dip in the privacy of the secluded Kayotei, then stay for an organic kaiseki meal with locally foraged bamboo shoots and soba noodles with grated daikon.
The Pastoral: Located at the foot of Mount Amagi, Yugashima has jaw-dropping scenery and rustic baths. The Yumotokan onsensits in a gorge along the Kano River. Post-dip, walk through the primeval cedar forest to Jōren no taki, an 82-foot-high waterfall.
The Seaside: The Shirahama coastline is lined with unusual rock formations, but the real showstopper is the Sakinoyu onsen (81-739/42-3016), where open-air baths are carved into boulders fronting the Pacific. Once a retreat for the imperial family, it’s open to all for a nominal fee.
The Village: Kurokawa, in Kumamoto Prefecture, is one of Japan’s iconic hot-springs towns—there are more than 30 ryokan clustered in one sleepy hamlet; people wander the streets in robes. Don’t miss the private pools at Okyakuya and Shinmeikan, which has baths located in caves.