Legend has it that the first onsen was found by a hunter trailing a wounded bear; he found the bear soothing its paw in a pool of natural hot water… and the rest is history. Not only did the onsen sources around the village provide heat, comfort, and hygiene to the villagers, but a source of stability, too. Snow country villages across Japan would lose their menfolk during the winter as they went to seek employment elsewhere. Not in Nozawa Onsen; the abundant hot water facilitated winter industries such as basketweaving, that kept the community together year-round. More than 200 years’ ago, the delights of onsen bathing turned Nozawa Onsen into an indulgent pleasure-haven for city dwellers (remember that gender-segregated bathing was a 20th century innovation!), and the tourism industry was born.
Today, the onsen are not only the main draw for domestic guests, but also continue to be the backbone of the community. Most villagers still prefer to bathe in their local onsen, to see their neighbours, catch up on gossip, and socialise at the end of their day. They are proud that guests from around the world want to share that experience. Just don’t leave the cold tap running…
Onsen time is a time for relaxation, and quite often for socialising with the locals or fellow bathers too. After the initial stage of getting used to the warmer water (about 40-44 degrees Celsius), you will find soaking in the bath so enjoyable and relaxing, that you just want to keep coming back for a soak while you are in the village. This is absolutely normal, because the locals do too!
Nozawa Onsen's natural onsen have been soothing visitors' tired muscles and souls for over 200 years, long before the village became a winter playground. There are numerous natural sources dotted around the village, all with different mineral properties and therapeutic effects.
A warm bath is exactly what we need after a day on the slope or out exploring the village. Soaking in onsen helps relieve emotional stress and physical tiredness. Apart from its soothing benefits, you may also find your skin appearing slightly red after soaking, which is perfectly normal because the onsen water helps boost blood circulation as well. Ladies love onsen particularly for its skin-nourishing benefits.