A Tour around the Oldest Onsen in Japan

The spa town of Zao is located at an altitude of 880 meters above sea level, on the slopes of the volcano of Mount Zao, Yamagata Prefecture.

In winter, it is regarded as one of Japan’s leading ski resorts, allowing skiers to enjoy great relaxing baths in hot tubs after a day on the slopes.

The sulphurous water of Zao are among the most acidic of the whole country, with a pH value close to 1.

These onsen can be tried in different areas and resorts in the area, as well as in public restrooms throughout the city.

Zao onsen

Here you can find small bathrooms in the old style and modern facilities with several swimming pools.

The highlight is the Zao Dai-Rotemburo, an outdoors onsen, but unfortunately it is closed during the winter months.

Most ryokan and many hotels and inns in Zao offer their guests including thermal baths in the living room. Some of these open their bathrooms even for non-guests of the hotel, but only during the day and of course with a payment for entry.

Here are some of the best public toilets that are located in Zao:

Zao Dai-Rotemburo

Hours: 6:00 to 19:00
Closed: from late November to late April
Admission: 450 yen

Beautifully situated in a wooded valley and on the side of a mountain river, these large outdoor pools are among the most attractive rotemburo of Japan.

Unfortunately they can not be used during the winter months.

Zao Dai-Rotemburo

Shinzaemon no Yu

Hours: 10:00 to 18:30 (until 21:30 on weekends and public holidays)
Closed: usually one Wednesday per month
Admission: 700 yen

Shinzaemon no Yu is a lovely open with more indoor and outdoor pools. The modern hotel also has a restaurant.

Kawarayu Public Bath

Hours: 6:00 to 22:00
Closed: always open
Admission: 200 yen

The Kawarayu is the most unique traditional public bath of Zao. The building stands right on top of a hot spring with water welling up directly in the pools.

A wall separates the living area for men than for women, but the pools are connected to each other under the water surface.

Shimoyu Public Bath

Shimoyu Public Bath

Hours: 6:00 to 22:00
Closed: always open
Admission: 200 yen

The Shimoyu is another small public bath in the historic center. The property offers two swimming pools simple separated by gender.

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