The most popular outings in Japan are trips to hot springs (onsen). Retired couples visiting famous historical sites usually stay at traditional inns (ryokan) with hot-spring baths, and these same inns are also popular with groups of workers on company outings. Most of the company groups spend the day at nearby recreational facilities golfing or fishing and return to the ryokan for a relaxing soak before gathering in the banquet room to eat, drink, and reaffirm friendships. Young people are generally not as fond of the hot-springresorts, but more and more they have been staying at hot-spring inns or indulging in open-air baths while on skiing or mountaineering trips.
The Japanese hot-spring habit began as medical therapy. Many of the minerals in hot-spring waters are said to be good for what ails you. Although hot-spring water has often been drunk in Western Europe, Japan’s hot springs are generally only bathed in, and not just by the sick but also by the healthy and hard-working for relaxation. There are now over 2,000 hot-spring inns throughout Japan, ranging from small inns near tiny hot springs deep in the mountains to rows of large hotels near major hot-spring arteries.
It used to be that hot-spring inns offered very inexpensive lodgings to guests who did their own cooking, and farmers would pack up everything from food to futon to spend the off season at the local hot-spring inns where they could enjoy the luxury of several weeks of treating tired muscles to daily hot-spring baths. While this custom declined with the advent of modern medicine, today’s Japanese are no less fond of visiting hot springs.