The one and only onsen village: Nozawa Onsen, Nagano

Mayo Harry | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Nozawa Onsen village in the Nagano prefecture has a history of over 700 years of onsen (hot springs). Even though the village looks so remotely located, the access to Nozawa Onsen is pretty simple. You can take a fast train from Tokyo or Nagoya -where international airports are - to Nagano station, and then another train to Liyama station. If you are coming from Osaka, take a train to Kanazawa, and then another train to Liyama station. The distance from Liyama to Nozawa Onsen is only a 25-minute bus ride away.

©iStock / olli0815

There are 13 public communal onsens in the village where springs are spouting. This natural onsen spring in the village has been regarded as a common property of the villagers since the Edo period (1603-1868) and has been carefully protected. A system called “Yu-Nakama” (hot spring mates) has been inherited. Nozawa’s onsen spring is used not only for bathing but also provides hot water for the villagers’ laundry and kitchen. How amazing! The spring seems to be deeply connected to the lives of the villagers even nowadays.

The Nozawa Onsen snow resort

Nozawa Onsen village is also famous as a winter sports hub. The Nozawa Onsen snow resort is located not far from the village, and there are many free shuttle buses between the village and the resort during the snow season. It is a historical snow resort and has a different charm from Niseko in Hokkaido or the Hakuba areas in Nagano. If you are an onsen loving traveler with the intention of skiing or snowboarding in Japan, Nozawa Onsen is definitely the most suitable for you.

©iStock / Umarin Nakamura

Soto-yu, free public onsens

One of the highlights of visiting Nozawa Onsen village is exploring Soto-yu (public baths). There are 13 baths in the village, and they are free of charge. There is a small donation box at each bathhouse, so I would recommend you leave a tip. Each bathhouse is run by an onsen protection volunteer group called 'Yu-Nakama,' which is in charge of cleaning, management, utility bills, building maintenance, etc. In Nozawa Onsen village, tourists can use all the public baths the same way locals would - so it is definitely an interesting place to interact with local people.

Nozawa Onsen’s temperature is very high. The trick to getting into hot water is to pour the water little by little over your body and get used to the temperature. If you are in trouble getting into the bathtub, then the locals will give you some tips.  These bathhouses do not have showers, and there are some rules you need to know. Merely adding the cold water can be considered rude! Locals are used to having overseas visitors in the Nozawa Onsen village. Having a friendly conversation with locals in Soto-yu Onsen and learning about local culture would be a remarkable experience, for sure! Always wash your body before entering the bathtub, but watch out for the temperature.

©iStock / gyro

The O-yu (big hot spring) bathhouse is the perfect starting point: It is located conveniently in the middle of the village, and it is characterized by its beautiful yu-ya (bathhouse) architecture, which is inspired from the Edo period.

Onsen source ‘Ogama’ (big hemp)

©Wikimedia / Miya.m

Ogama is one of the onsen spring sources and a village designated as a natural monument, where hot water near 70-100 degrees gushes out. There are five large onsen pods: a cauldron pot, a round pot, a boiling pot, a bamboo pot, and a lower pot. Each pool is used for a different purpose by the villagers. At present, the pots are called the "Nozawa Onsen's kitchen", and people in the village use them daily to wash Nozawana leaf vegetables or boil eggs. It is said that the name ‘big hemp’ was given due to the fact that hemp, which was harvested around this area, was soaked in these pods to be made easier to peel. The visitors are not allowed to use these onsen pods for safety reasons, but it is highly recommended to visit Ogama to explore the villagers’ unique cooking style.

The Nozawa Onsen village is a gorgeous historic onsen village with easy access to the snow resort. As the temperature of its hot springs is very high, you would enjoy visiting the village, especially in winter. Soak up the historical atmosphere and enjoy the one and only ‘onsenvillage, Nozawa Onsen village.

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