The country of Japan boasts more than 27,000 hot springs, this is millions of litres of warm, mineralised water flowing every minute. With this wealth of volcanically-heated water in a beautiful country, it’s no wonder that an entire culture has developed over generations based on the relaxation and health benefits of these hot springs, called “onsen.“
From a CNN article about the geothermally heated spas, interviews with the older clientele show how helpful the onsen are in regards to health and longevity:
“It’s good for my health,” explains Hisako Sugiura of Nagoya, a 65-year-old who has visited onsen on the northern island of Hokkaido, the southern island of Kyushu and points in between.
“I go to onsen 20 times a year,” says 73-year old Toshimi Ishiyama, who came to Shuzenji with three friends from the Tokyo area. “It’s good for the body.”
There is also a quote from Dr. Agishi, who has spent many, many years studying onsen. “There is a physiological mechanism of keeping the body temperature warm by some kinds of hot springs that differs from plain tap water,” says Agishi, who goes on to explain that there are different mineral compositions in different hot springs, based on the environment and earth around the springs. Different properties are more beneficial for a certain kind of therapeutic benefit than others.
In addition to the different properties of the water, the relaxation of sitting in the soothing warmth, often in a beautiful, scenic settings is also a known scientific benefit to not just longevity, but also vitality and energetic living.
The Japanese have the highest life expectancy of any major country. Often cultural diet is attributed as the biggest factor, but Onsen are part of daily life for a large portion of the population, and can’t be ignored as a contributing factor.
The types of Onsen in Japan, and the specific benefits of each:
“Simple Onsen” or how they describe the water in the majority of the springs in Japan, contain small amounts of radical carbon, salt and other minerals and are good for relaxation and offer general health benefits and relaxation.
“Salt Spring Onsen” have a much higher concentration of minerals and salt, and as we know from worldwide studies from the Dead Sea to Epsom baths at home, bathing in these offer a variety of health benefits from joint pain and arthritis to heart problems. Research on bathers who dipped in the Dead Sea for one hour every day saw the negative effects of psoriasis improved by 88%. There has also been some suggestion that mineral salt bathing can also lessen dermatological allergies.
“Carbonated Onsen” are salt onsen with the addition of natural carbonation. Carbonated Onsen are said to aid those with heart disease, blood circulation disorders and neurological disorders.
“Sodium Chloride Onsen” are said to offer specifically potent relief for those with joint pain, arthritis or rheumatism.
“Iron Springs” are intimidating on the surface, due to the look of boiling brown or red water they possess, but they are said to offer relief for painful joints, female reproductive system pain and complaints including menopause, and chronic skin diseases. Iron is what we use to carry oxygen in our bloodstream, so there can be many benefits here.
“Sulphur Onsen” may be tough for a first-timer to stomach, as they can smell strongly like rotting eggs. Once you are in, however, it is said to prevent hardening of the arteries, is great for rheumatism, arthritis, and circulatory issues and is one of the best for ensuring the health of the body overall, provoking nervous system and metabolic reflexes that can assist your whole body health.
“Radium Onsen” are said to be effective at lowering high blood pressure and preventing hardening of the arteries and are also good for those suffering with digestive disorders or rheumatism.
“Acid Onsen” are indigenous to Japan and the water’s high concentration of hydrogen ions may irritate the skin, so be cautious. Those with sensitive skin may want to skip this type of hot spring. Those with chronic skin diseases and diabetes are said to get relief from the waters of an acid onsen.