How can onsens propel Japan’s usage of geothermal energy, lessening their reliance on fossil fuels?



温泉 for 昆布,ニセコ 

(Onsen for Konbu Niseko)

Only 13% of the energy in Japan is renewable and only 2% of which is geothermal. Geothermal energy has vast potential in Japan yet has not been gaining much traction or attention. One way to bring attention towards geothermal energy is onsens. This onsen would attract visitors and raise awareness on the potential of geothermal energy and how even an individual can help through ways such as residential geothermal instalments. This project would tackle UN’s sustainable goals number 7 and 13

What is an 温泉 (Onsen)

Onsen means hot spring in Japanese, or in other words, a bath where the water has been heated by the earth. Onsens are public baths separated by gender and have historically been places of relaxation and serenity. They are a perfect attraction to raise awareness and educate on geothermal energy. The following is an interview with my former AP Japanese teacher, apologies for being cut out of the frame.

What is Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal Energy is a form of renewable energy harvesting the earths natural heat. It does not create any pollutants, has relatively low matienance, and produces a respectable net energy yield. unfortunately high underground heat levels are required, luckily Japan is located on the ring of fire. Recently advancements have been made by companies such as Climeon making geothermal energy more accessible. The following is an interview with my AP Environmental Science teacher.


The Site

Niseko is one of the most popular ski destinations in Japan attracting over 2 million visitors each year. Kombu, Niseko is a fairly central station in proximity to major ski hills. The site is only a 5 minute walk from the station and other hotels and hostels. The whole region is very mountainous and surrounded by Shirakaba trees (Japanese white birch).

 The lot is empty with an abandoned building, there is one small house on the other end of the property which I decided to remove just for more space. Abandoned buildings are very common and these spaces should be made use of.

As you can see below, the site itself is located on the base of a mountain. This embeds the project in a nature filled environment which can be taken advantage of by facing the windows in that direction. The plot has an odd almost triangular shaped which proved as an interesting challenge when designing the layout.


Here I will display the process in which I took to reach my final design. 

3D Model Development

The first rendition of my sketchup model is on my left. I began by only designing the main building and figuring out the shapes and proportions. I also fleshed out the interior and shaped the basement. The model on the right shows my first rendition of the bathhouse. This positioning and shape can also be seen in early floorpans. The shape and positioning was then changed.

Floor plan Development

My floor plan has gone through 4 different versions. When first deciding how to fit a structure into my odd shaped site I drew up the sketch on the left. Later I decided to switch the location of the bathhouse and the main building. The second floor plan shows that change however the shape of the main building would waste site space in the top left.

My third floor plan on the left shows the indoor layout. It shows where the stairs and other indoor features are located. On the right the floor plan changed by repositioning the bathhouse, including the sub-floor and being done digitally. There were also major changes from my fourth to final floor plan upon feedback from peers and teachers.

Sketch Development

Sketches are very important in this project to get across details about landscaping and exterior designs that I could not achieve in sketchup. Below you can see how my first two sketches match up with the forms in my predesign floor-plans and 3D models.

Final Design

The final design that I have come to optimises the clients exposure to information on geothermal energy, takes them on a journey through the project, and allows for relaxation.

Floor plan/ Interior

When you enter the building you are greeted by an entrance separate from the main building.  Following that is the (gen-kan) or mudroom. It is very common in Japanese buildings to take of your shoes and traverse the building in your socks. The elevator and restrooms are located near the entrance tucked away in the bottom left. As you turn you have the option to either continue down the hall to reception or to head down to the sub-floor to learn about geothermal energy. Turning again and going down a set of stairs there is more information on geothermal energy and slippers available to walk on the paths outdoors leading to the bathhouse itself.

Sub Floor: Geothermal Energy Education

The primary focus of the subfloor will be a space where people can learn about how geothermal energy works, new developments and how they can use geothermal energy. couches and information tables would fill the centre of the room although they are not depicted in the sketch. This is to provide a clear view of the space and details on the the walls. The wall to the left will showcase new compact geothermal energy such as Climeon’s, a renewable energy company,  compact geothermal plants as an example. There will also be a video playing explaining the need for geothermal and further describing it. Finally the space would encourage viewers to consider installing residential systems. The space is accessible by stairs and elevator.


This sketch depicts the outdoor courtyard surrounded by the main building and bath house. As can be seen in the sketchup model there is a deck that wraps around elevated above the pod. The walkway only allows for one route to get to the bath house creating a guided experience. The structure across from the water is the bathhouse.



Alternatively to having the entrance be directly connected to the mud room I created an entrance way that makes entering and navigating the structure more of a serene and calming experience. At the end of the entrance is an indoor terrarium surrounded by windows on two sides. Directly to the right from where the sketch is drawn is where the door would be.








The buildings interior and exterior walls will be smoothed white concrete. The material reflects natural light well, maintains indoor temperature and keeps a light colour scheme. Shirakaba white birch, the trees in surrounding forests, will be the flooring for all the main buildings and will nicely compliment the concrete. The exterior pathways will also be white birch however the extended roofing above the pathway and the overhang of the baths are dark oak. This image depicts the contrast between birch and smooth white concrete.

Sketchup Render

My 3D model in sketchup took many renditions and alterations. 3D warehouse components were not used because they slowed down my sketchup significantly.

3D Model

I constructed the major shapes of the structure in a 3d model to represent the site in a different manner. The model is made out of watercolour paper, cardboard and dead basil plant stems.

Questions for You

  • what are some renewable energy forms that are used in your community?

  • what are your thoughts on geothermal energy?

  • How well do you think my project educated you on geothermal energy and could educate others?

  • would you try an onsen?

If you would like more information on geothermal energy in Japan click this link to read an essay I wrote on the topic: Japan’s Geothermal Potential_ OP ED





  1. You did an amazing job. it looks like you put a lot of time and effort into this. Your drawings look amazing. I love the design of the building it’s very modern and simple. Your drawings are really nice and easy to read. I love how you created an actual model to show us how it would look like in real life. Really good job!

    1. Thank you so much, it means a lot!

      1. I am so impressed by your ideas and process to come up with such an interesting and beautifully designed space. Your different renderings and techniques are very useful to understand your vision. I really love the combination of something natural and traditional with your own ideas. It’s definitely somewhere I want to go. Great job, Jacob!

  2. Hi Jacob! Your Sketchup is actually crazy! The different elevations and surrounding landscape adds to the Onsen model you had created and to be honest, I don’t think that you even needed any warehouse components for the interior after all the detail presented outside. Renewable energy is definitely on the rise today and around me, I can think of a lot of wind-powered or solar-powered farms situated in the desert part of my state that provided power back to the city. Excellent work!

  3. Thanks Claire I really appreciate it! Thank you for sharing the kinds of renewable energy that are present in your community!

  4. Hi Jacob, I thought you did a great job on your project. The use of geothermal energy was something that I hadn’t really thought about, as although I had heard about it before it was interesting to learn more about it. All of your drawings, SketchUp models, and actual model, were really well made, and they easily allowed me to understand your building. Overall it was pretty cool, and I thought you did a great job.

    1. Thank you so much Ethan!

  5. Hey Jacob! I admire your attention to detail in the project’s various rooms, including the smoked concrete interior, the use of endemic wood (white birch) as the main material, and the courtyard walkway which allows for a “guided experience”. I’m not an architecture student, but I’d be happy to visit your onsen. While I learned a good amount about the mechanics of geothermal energy, I didn’t get a sense for how an onsen harnesses that energy to heat the lagoon. Does the geothermal energy simply diffuse from the ground into the water? Is piping/machinery required to regulate water temperature?

  6. Thats a great question Ethan. Underground water gets heated by the earths mantle and then comes to the earths surface. It is very similar to a geyser except not heated to the point where the water vaporizes! As for whether there is machinery used to regulate water temperature it depends on how old or new the onsen is. Older onsens are located on hot springs that produce an already ideal temperature however newer facilities will pump the water out of the ground to get it faster and to regulate it.

  7. Hi Jacob
    Amazing idea and project! It really makes us think how many more kinds of renewable energy are out there waiting for us to make use of!
    Congratulations for the forward thinking!

    1. Thank you so much for taking a look at my project Claudia!

  8. Hello, Jacob! I love your simple and modern design of the buildings. I can see modern white concrete makes you feel the warmth of the wood even more!
    Great job!

    1. Thank you so much!

  9. Hi Jacob, I love your project idea and how it uses renewable energy as well as provides a space that Japanese people love, onsens!
    Some forms of renewable energy used in my community are sunlight and wind energy. There may be others but I am not sure, as others are hard to see, as they may be underground or underwater. My thoughts on geothermal energy is that many people do not know about how useful it can be, if it can be used in that region/area. It requires a level of heat, so it might not be realistic everywhere, but areas where there is significant heat is definitely great for producing renewable energy, something we should do more of. Through your project, I was able to learn about it and I think your project could educate others as well, especially in the education center portion. And for your final question, yes, I love onsens.
    Excellent work!!

    1. Thank you so much Asako! Who doesn’t love a good onsen right!

  10. Hey Jacob! I can’t tell you how well you crush this project out of the park. Your design for an onsen center based around geothermic energy is amazing. I can tell you put so much time in your project and you organized it so well. I could really see your design process as I viewed your project. I had already seen parts of your project at school, but there were some things I hadn’t seen yet and they’re mind-blowing, especially your drawings/sketches. I believe your project educated me well on geothermic energy and I am all for it. I have been to an onsen and it is definitely a different experience.

    1. Thanks so much Connor it means a lot and thanks for taking a look at my work throughout the process!

  11. Hi Jacob!

    Really nice work. Gives me hope for the future with smart guys like you looking for smart solutions for environmental concerns, Passive energy construction is vital to relieve the stresses put on the planet from ill-considered past construction practices. I will be following your progress. Keep up the great work!

    1. Hi, Jacob!
      Your project is awesome .
      I’m so impressed.
      I like your point that utilizing natural energy sources that have not yet be effectively utilized.
      Because as you know, Japan has few fossil fuels and energy self-sufficiency is really low. And also a lot of power generation relies on thermal power generation.
      So using geothermal energy which does not create any pollutions is great idea.
      And making use of abandoned buildings is also an excellent idea. It could be one of the solutions to stop a depopulation in a country side.
      I’d love to visit your Onsen.
      Again you did a great job!

    2. Thank you so much John! I completely agree with you on the importance of relieving stress on our environment. I hope you are well!

  12. Jacob,
    Very solid proposal. I am a biased supporter, clearly, but this cuts across many critical areas; repurposing derelict property, clean energy, net-zero energy goal education, domestic tourism, sustainability, and international tourism. Buildings contribute 11% to global carbon output and building operation an incremental 28% (39% in aggregate).
    There is a very strong political lobby against the development of this resource (geothermal energy) in Japan, namely the Japan Onsen Association (JOA), a large $ contributor to the ruling LDP party. Their concern is with scale growth in the harvesting of geothermal energy leading to the depletion of resource.
    Globally geothermal is small, 15.4GW, of which 24% is US. The deemed potential is 3-5% of global energy requirements (8.3% of electricity).
    The Japanese apprehension with respect to nuclear energy is noted. Pre-Fukushima Japan sourced 40% of their energy from nuclear power. Globally nuclear makes up 11% of total energy, but 60% of “clean energy”.
    Recent events in Texas (polar vortex) have highlighted the shortcomings of renewable energy for “base load” requirements.

  13. Hi Jacob! I love your project. It’s definitely really unique and a great start to a more educated future. Your sketches are absolutely incredible and the amount of planning and effort you put into this project is admirable. I have learnt so much more about geothermal energy from you and I’m so glad you are able to share your incredible work with so many people! Again, this is an incredible idea and I hope to see it in our future.

  14. Hi Jacob,
    Very interesting presentation. I enjoyed following your creative process and seeing the different iterations of the design you came up with before the final version. It’s a great re-use of space and would be an educational and relaxing place to visit.
    In my work on the board of education, we are looking at how we can retrofit our 100 year-old buildings to last for the next hundred and your project made me wonder what our energy sources will be as our demand will go up. Is geothermal an option?

  15. hello Jacob, i admired the project and just loved the entire concept of using old unused building to convert in a onsen that use geothermal energy. Renewable energy that doesn’t produce pollution is really the future!
    In your project i can see beautiful design , attention to details, smart use of material in order to create a low impact building that can easily blend in the territory ( as for example the use of white birch wood) , sustainibility and more…
    Love also your sketches and model, were very useful to understand the entire project and your vision.
    Good job Jacob !!!!

  16. Truly spectacular Jacob and super educational. I’ll do some reading around this myself now. Fascinating and thought provoking. We need a generation to think out of the box, and change the way we all look at energy…’s sourcing, utilisation and it’s cost benefits. Onwards and upwards young man!!

  17. Spectacular Jacob and super educational. I’ll do some reading around this myself now. Fascinating and thought provoking. We need a generation to think out of the box, and change the way we all look at energy…’s sourcing, utilisation and it’s cost benefits. Onwards and upwards young man!!

  18. Hi Jacob,

    Your project has a ton of very valuable and interesting information. In vancouver, renewable energy is a very large topic and goal, and after researching about this in japan, i found that it is also a major goal of japan. I have not heard of geothermal energy before so reading about that was very cool. The designs that you made were obviously very well thought out and it is very evident that you care a lot about your topic. It was so amazing how you thought about every little detail and implemented those thoughts into your design. Very well done!

  19. Hi Jacob! It was really great to see how your project progressed throughout the course and your final product is amazing. All of your drawings, Sketchup designs, and the 3D model are super detailed and give a good idea of what your onsen would look like in real life. I learned a lot about geothermal energy and think that it is definitely a great way for not only Japan, but countries across the world to become more sustainable. Overall awesome work!

  20. This is a really great project, I like how you did a lot of research into this specific issue and addressed it. You made severl types of representations of your work all of which help to understand your goal.

  21. Wow Jacob amazing work with this. Your sketches are so well done and are very impressive. I really like the simplicity of your structure and the sleek modern look it leaves. It is also a very unique and interesting topic.

  22. Hi Jacob. This project is really impressive. Your sketches and SketchUp renderings are really something! You must have spent a long time on them. I had never heard of geothermal energy, so I learned a lot through your presentation. Your research was very thorough and easy to understand, so I think you did a really nice job on presenting the information well.

  23. Hi Jacob! The concept of your project is unique, original, and innovative. Geothermal energy has many advantages, especially environmentally, but not all areas of the world are as accessible to it. It is great that you’re encouraging taking advantage of Japan’s access to geothermal energy in your project! I like how you show the changes you made to the layout through your design process. All of your interior and exterior sketches are extremely well done! I like how you used different weights in your outlines and added color to enrich your sketches. Your sketches exhibit perspective and dimension.

  24. Hey Jacob, your project is very impressive and it’s clear that you’ve put a lot of time and energy into creating your final product. I especially like your SketchUp renderings with the topography and the images that you created for your final design. Great job!

  25. Hey Jacob, I think your project is well thought out and all the different aspects from the interior sketches to the 3D model and the sketchup do a good job at piecing together how it would look like in real life. I like how you’re looking at geothermal energy to influence the build too. And your landscaping with sketchup is also impressive!

  26. Hi Jacob – very interesting work. I really enjoyed reviewing your materials especially your designs and interviews! Well done. Dr. H

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