Whether your trip involves trekking across mountains, hopping between art islands, or visiting castles, temples, and shrines, at the end of the day, nothing beats a long soak in a hot bath. Sometimes, the trip is all about the baths. In this article, I’ll introduce you to some places around the Seto Inland Sea where you can enjoy superb onsen.
Itsukushima Shrine views by night at Aki Grand Hotel
Aki Grand Hotel’s greatest asset is its location — right across the water from the floating red torii of Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima prefecture, one of Japan’s most iconic and spiritual landmarks. It even offers its guests an exclusive night cruise to tour around the shrine after dark. The lanterns are lit up, and the Ootorii (Great Gate), Itsukushima Shrine, the five-story pagoda, and the tahoto pagoda are illuminated, creating a mystical scene. So why don’t you enjoy the special night view of Itsukushima from the boat?
Misen no Yu
The hotel has two private outdoor onsen with seamless sea views that make you feel like you are bathing right in the middle of a steaming sea. Each one is named after a natural element of the island at which it gazes: Misen, the sacred mountain whose northern foothills are covered by primeval forest, and Momiji, the fiery autumn leaves. Both of these lavish rotenburo are exclusively reserved for guests who book them in advance (3,800 JPY tax included for 45 minutes).
Two recently renovated wooden tone indoor baths offer a more traditional onsen bathing experience inside the hotel. Miyabi (“elegant”) features a large stone pool in an opulent setting; Raku (“enjoyable”) is surrounded by natural light. The alkaline water is particularly suited to relieve muscle pain and fatigue.
Japanese style room (sea view)
Aki Grand Hotel has a modern and friendly feel, with its wooden seaside sun deck and café, outdoor pool, and atrium, while all guest rooms are exceptionally spacious with sea and shrine views. In addition, there are many places on site to lounge and eat Setouchi food, such as Hiroshima beef paired with wine at the western restaurant Sunset, or seafood dishes and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki using seasonal, local ingredients from Setouchi alongside Hiroshima sake at Nagi. Alternatively, you can just sit back and enjoy the timeless Itsukushima Shrine view from the Seagull tea lounge.
Private mountain onsen under the stars at Otani Sanso
Since 1960, Otani Sanso has been comfortably ensconced alongside the peaceful Otozure River within the Yumoto Onsen village in Nagato, Yamaguchi prefecture. Nagato Yumoto Onsen has been flowing since 1427, and the warlord of the old province of Choshu once bathed in these same hot spring waters.
Otani Sanso’s largest bath area is located at the corner of a mountain stream at the base of a sloping foothill. This is a resort where you can truly indulge yourself in the various pleasures of hot spring bathing, with enough different styles, sceneries, and atmospheres to offer you a new experience each time.
Seseragi no Yu (open-air rock bath)
Komorebi no Yu (Inner onsen)
The hotel’s main attraction is Seseragi no Yu (Murmuring Stream Bath), a large outdoor area centered around two resplendent baths made respectively of rock and cypress wood, as well as an expansive riverside indoor bath, bubbling jacuzzi, reclining lounge bath, and sauna. The second floor Komorebi no Yu (Dappled Light Bath) boasts a spacious indoor bath looking over the forest, a semi-open-air bath able to be enjoyed no matter the weather, herbal baths, and more. There is even a foot bath under a waterfall by the garden on the lounge floor.
Premium Suite A with outdoor onsen (riverside)
Premium Suite B with open-air bath (streamside)
But the best part of this secluded ryokan just may be inside your own room. Among Otani Sanso’s 107 luxury rooms, 18 sumptuous suites include a private outdoor bath. In addition, eight different room styles in various blends of Japanese and Western interiors offer one of four different scenic views of the Otozure River and lush mountainside streams.
Winter Special Kaiseki (the content of the meal will vary depending on the season)
When you’re ready to get out of the water, the chefs will cook your meal right before your eyes, such as black wagyu beef from Yamaguchi Prefecture on the teppanyaki grill, or you can opt for kaiseki cuisine with seasonal ingredients. Be sure to save some room for the homemade bread at breakfast.
In addition, works related to the history and local culture of Yamaguchi Prefecture are exhibited at the Otani Sanso gallery “Tsuki no Kaze” on the top floor. The inn also has an astronomical dome that guests can use for free, peer into the telescope, and on a clear night, gaze at the stars.
Floral terrace baths at Koubaitei
Koubaitei is located on the edge of the town center, at the foot of Mt. Konpira, near the famous Kotohira Shrine, popularly known as “Kompira-san” in Kagawa prefecture. This high-rise hotel flaunts natural hot springs alongside a resplendent menu of seasonal ingredients. This is all bolstered by a sizable poolside deck surrounded by greenery and spacious rooms offering views of the magnificent Sanuki Fuji (Mt. Iino) and the surrounding cityscape.The 8th floor “Hana Club” is a private open-air bath made of rock that can be reserved for free by hotel guests (2,420 JPY tax included for 45 minutes, reserve on the day). Here you can thoroughly relish this luxury together with family, a partner, or small group.
But Koubaitei stands out for its playful menu of floral onsen options in the basement Hana Sumika and first floor Hana Terrace: spacious cypress indoor baths, stone and cypress rotenburo with floating flowers, cascades, and rock baths. In total, 15 types of baths flow from three different sources.
The extensive menu doesn’t stop at the onsen, as the lavish breakfast buffet offers around 60 options, and you can see exactly how your food is prepared with seasonal ingredients in the open kitchen. You can enjoy both Japanese and Western food, such as tempura, dashimaki tamago, and bread. The Sanuki rice cooked in a kamado is also excellent. For the time being, set meals or buffet meals will be served due to Corona infection control measures.
On the second floor, true to its heritage, Koubaitei also dedicates a gallery to Konpira Kabuki actors, where you can browse local documents, artifacts, and artwork related to this traditional performing art.
Setouchi freshness in the heart of Dogo Onsen at Dogo Yaya
Dogo Yaya is the ideal hotel for business travelers or families who appreciate sleek, functional rooms with wood furnishings, a full buffet breakfast, a touch of regional style, and a central location within easy walking distance to the best of Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama.
Once outside, just around the corner from Dogo Yaya are the three historical Dogo Onsen bathhouses: Honkan, the original wooden main building that has been preserved since its completion in 1894; Asuka-no-Yu, a contemporary reinterpretation of the Honkan constructed in the architectural style of the Asuka period (592-710); and the granite Tsubaki-no-Yu, built in 1953, fully refurbished and re-opened to the public in 2017.
Instead of an on-site onsen, Dogo Yaya supplies you with stylish Ehime-themed accessories and invites you to go onsen-hopping out on the town. As soon as you check in, you will be offered a yukata featuring an original mikan-themed design, in a choice of four different colors. The hotel’s Imabari Towel Bar offers a full range of 10 different textures of Imabari city’s reputed high-quality brand so that you can curate your personal sensation of post-bathing body drying as meticulously as you might select your shampoo.
Once outside, just around the corner from Dogo Yaya are the three historical Dogo Onsen bathhouses: Honkan, the original wooden main building that has been preserved since its The hotel takes special pride in its original fresh food offerings: house French toast made to order right in front of you, the chef’s monthly lineup of seasonal side dishes. These are only a few elements of Dogo Yaya’s lavish breakfast buffet, featuring a spread of both cooked and cold deli dishes prepared using the freshest local ingredients from around the Seto Inland Sea.
Surprisingly, there is also a “Mikan Faucet” at the hotel entrance where juice made from three types of oranges produced in Ehime Prefecture flows out of the faucet. So please enjoy the taste of the pride of Ehime Prefecture, which boasts of being one of the top citrus harvests in Japan in terms of quantity and variety.
Just a few steps away, the Dogo Haikara Dori shopping street is another place where you’ll feel right at home in a yukata, if not riding in a rickshaw. It’s also where you can sample local snacks such as mikan onigiri, tricolored Botchan dango, Matsuyama tarts, Ichiroku tarts, and everything mikan (such as daifuku mochi, juice, soft ice cream, and jelly.)
From Hiroshima to Yamaguchi on Honshu to Ehime and Kagawa prefectures on Shikoku, the Setouchi region is teeming with hot springs—along with hotels and resorts that channel their natural energy into sumptuous baths in lavish settings, if not right into your own room. Whatever your style or situation, let your journey begin and end with a soothing soak in the perfect onsen.
Photographs and text by Cherise Fong
・Aki Grand Hotel (安芸グランドホテル)
1-1-17, Miyajimaguchinishi, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima
・ Otani Sanso (大谷山荘)
2208 Fukawa Yumoto, Nagato-shi, Yamaguchi
HP (Japanese): https://otanisanso.co.jp/
HP (English): https://otanisanso.co.jp/en/
・ Koubaitei (紅梅亭)
556-1 Kotohira-cho, Nakatado-gun, Kagawa
HP (Japanese): https://www.koubaitei.jp/
HP (English): https://www.koubaitei.jp/en/
・ Dogo Yaya (道後やや)
6-1 Dogotakocho, Matsuyama, Ehime
HP (Japanese): https://www.yayahotel.jp
HP (English): https://www.yayahotel.jp/english