What better way to experience some hot summertime fun than at an onsen? (温泉、おんせん - also known as hot spring in English). After you’ve enjoyed the summer sun at the beach, or a festival, or even a trek through the woods, and you’re sticky from perpetual sweat that never seems to escape the surface of your body, coupled with the dirt/sand/etc, an onsen is a great way to cleanse off the day's dirt and grime, and simply relax. Sure, onsen are amazing in the dead of winter, when instead of perpetual sweat you can only dream of warm weather. And yes, sitting in hot water may make you sweat too, but afterward you can experience that squeaky clean feeling, at least for a little while, until the humidity again forms a sweat bubble around you. Oh, and remember to hydrate before and after.
Shizuoka (my neck of the woods) is generally known for its many onsen hotels and resorts, mostly concentrated in the Izu Peninsula area. While there are plenty of great places to go up and down the peninsula, escaping the Tokyo-tourist crowd can be a bit challenging.
Enter Nanadaru (七滝), otherwise known as Seven Waterfalls. A google search will tell you everything you need to know about these seven lovely falls, a half hour bus ride away from Kawazu (河津), on Shizuoka’s eastern edge. You walk along pathways (and a few sets of ridiculously steep stairs) to see all seven. Though said to be a hike, it really isn’t – more like a nature walk with some intense stair-climbing cardio. There are lots of touristy shops and soft cream, and though it is a tourist spot, the few times I’ve been there (on weekends) it was never really crowded.
After meandering around the falls, you can either check in to one of the many onsen hotels (though, not so cheap), or walk over to Otaki Onsen (大滝温泉) (part of Amagisou Hotel, but used by day tourists too). For about 1000 yen, don your swimsuit (co-ed outdoor baths and pool) and settle down at the foot of a waterfall. Wander into one of the cave baths, toss your kids in the pool or chill out in the cold-water bath.
Fukuroi Fireworks Festival or one of the many other hanabi in the area, then you may want to try out the Kawane Onsen (川根温泉). A 40 minute train ride from Kanaya (金谷) (with the option of riding a traditional steam train) takes you to the tiny mountain town of Kawane (川根). Though not much else around, the onsen is separated into a co-ed swimsuit bathing area (the body zone) and the gender-separated onsen, with indoor and outdoor baths. The regular onsen is 500 yen, while the body zone costs 700 yen and features indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, and other various baths. 1000 yen will give you access to both.
Though it is a popular tourist destination, when I visited on a Saturday it was quite empty. The onsen also features cottages for rent, restaurant and gift shop. And since Kawane (and the rest of Shizuoka) is known for its green tea, don’t forget to grab some matcha/vanilla ice cream on the way out!
Either of these places are great to go with a significant other and/or family, as you can use the co-ed swimsuit areas. Of course, there are plenty of other great onsen around Shizuoka, and some have private baths to rent as well (though usually in hotels and ryokan), but for day trips or short weekend trips in the area I recommend checking out these two.
Whatever you do, just get out and explore! There is a lot to see and do, and adventures to be had, no matter where you live (or visit) in Japan.