Arguably one of the best places to visit and experience Japanese Onsen, or hot spring bath culture in Japan is in the quaint and nostalgic town of Kinosaki Onsen.
Get away from the crowds in Kyoto and Osaka and discover this hidden mountain town near the northern coast of Hyogo Prefecture. Day or Night Kinosaki is magical. The atmosphere will capture your imagination and remove your stress.
I arrived at dusk on a rainy evening and still Kinosaki captured my heart. The main area of town is along a canal with bath houses, Japanese inns, and small shops and restaurants twinkling in the night.
Only a 2 ½ hour train ride from Kyoto, Kinosaki is a world apart. Natural hot springs have made this spot a famous getaway for couples, honeymooners and groups of friends. Kinosaki has been a popular destination for hundreds of years and has a history going back more than 1300 years.
There are many hot springs in Kinosaki, but the most famous are the seven public hot springs.
You can find a wide range of Ryokan for your stay from cheap and cheerful to high-end luxury inns. The Onsen association just across from the train station will answer any questions, provide recommendations and even help get you to your ryokan upon arrival.
Most Ryokan or inns have their own onsen (hot spring) on premises but they also allow you to explore all seven of the local public baths with a day pass provided when you check in. Confirm when you are booking that your ryokan will provide the pass to go to multiple onsen. You can read about the seven public baths here.
A few tips for using Japanese Onsen in Kinosaki
- If you don’t have a pass from your inn most onsen charge a small entrance fee.
- Use the shoe lockers near the entrance and take the key then pay the entrance fee show your pass.
- The hot springs are divided into male and female sections. Enter your section and choose a locker. Undress and place your belongings in the locker and lock it. Don’t lose your key. Take your small towel with you. No bathing suits are allowed.
- Head to the shower area, wash and rinse yourself thoroughly.
- After rinsing off your soap and shampoo, you can enter any of the hot springs and saunas. Be sure to explore as the onsens usually have a few different kinds of baths.
- When you are done dry off, get dressed and make sure not to forget your belongings.
After checking into my simple and affordable inn, I went for a wander and enjoyed the misty quiet night. The evening air and the romantic views made me instantly glad to be in this town- far from the urban stress and chaos. Rooms are usually Japanese style with traditional tatami mat floors and comfortable futon prepared for you when you return after bathing.
Many inns also have intimate Japanese gardens like this one– landscaped to be beautiful in every season.
Some inns provide meals but you can also choose from many interesting restaurants for your lunch or dinner. One of the local specialties is crab so be sure to try one of the seafood restaurants around town. Kinosaki is proud of their crab (kani) cuisine.
The key to enjoying Kinosaki is to just take your time, soak in the hot springs, and relax as you explore. Onsen towns are best when enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
The town is so full of nostalgia and charm, including the adorable foot bath just outside the train station.
The next morning I wandered again enjoying the view as willow branches blow in the breezes, the river running through town is spanned by lovely foot bridges that make the perfect setting to take photos to remember your trip.
As in many Onsen towns, when you bath in your ryokan onsen, you are provided with a cotton kimono called a yukata. It is customary to wear your yukata and traditional wooden sandals called geta any time of day and out and about as you explore the town, have dinner or try some of the other bathhouses.
Thus on even the quietest evening or in the middle of a sunny afternoon you will hear the nostalgic click clack of geta and see the romantic yukata clad bathers going from building to building as they enjoy the famous hospitality of Kinosaki.
You can travel to Kinosaki by JR train lines via limited express trains from the most popular Kansai areas; Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Himeji. You can use your Japan Rail Pass or the Kansai Wide Rail Pass.
For more information: here
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