As the temperatures drop, I start missing Japanese Onsen culture. Onsen are hot springs that you can find all over Japan and even in big cities like Tokyo. But there are quite a few towns that dedicate themselves to Japanese onsen culture – Kinosaki Onsen is one of them. As it’s only a 2.5-hour train ride from Kyoto, we decided to put it on the itinerary of our last trip to Japan.
While Kinosaki Onsen might be considered quite touristy, it’s still beautiful and quaint. The main streets of Kinosaki Onsen run along a small river lined with cherry trees. There are lots of traditional buildings and by night, when everyone walks through town wearing their Yukata and Geta – the classic apparel you wear while staying in an Onsen town – you genuinely feel like you travelled back in time.
Kinosaki has seven public onsen and if you stay in one of the Ryokan – traditional Japanese guesthouses – you will be provided with a pass to enter all of them free of charge. My favourites were the Yanagi-yu, a very small and very hot onsen, as well as the Goshono-yu, that has a beautiful outdoor onsen with a small waterfall and a great view into the woods. I could have spent hours sitting there, watching the water and the green of the trees.
Apart from those bathhouses, you will encounter many smaller hot springs throughout town; some provide for hot foot baths, others are equipped with cups so you can drink the hot water directly from the source. There is even one hot spring in which you can boil an onsen egg – I will tell you more about that later.
While you walk from onsen to onsen, it is common to grab a locally brewed beer from one of the little kiosks or bars lining the main streets as a refreshment. As you can see, Kinosaki Onsen is really like a dream come true.
Where to Stay in Kinosaki Onsen
We stayed at a beautiful Ryokan called Mikiya; it’s one of Kinosaki’s traditional guest houses with a modern twist. The booking included Japanese breakfast and a Kaiseki style dinner that was divine; so was the view into the lush, green garden that you seen see in the picture above.
But there are many other great hotels and guesthouses available through Booking.com or on Japanese Guesthouses. While we were there, we came across a cute shop and inn called Kojinmari. With only four rooms it is the smallest inn in Kinosaki.
You will probably have at least a half board of delicious Japanese fare wherever you stay. Should you feel hungry in between, there are plenty of options along the main road of Kinosakionsen. I can recommend the Gubigabu Local Beer Restaurant where you can sample the local beer on tap and eat some local Tajima beef – one of the specialities of the region. Another one is the Matsuba Crab that restaurants serve between November and March. Then there is the Onsen egg that you can cook and enjoy at the Gelato Cafe Chaya.
Activities in Kinosaki Onsen
Bathe! And take a walk through town. Do it three times a day, since the scenery will be very different in the morning and the afternoon. Then there is also a ropeway that will bring you up on Mount Taishi. We did not make it all the way up. Instead, we took a spontaneous hike (yes in a Yukata and Birkenstocks) to the Onsenji Temple at the ropeway’s medium station. In the evening you should go for a walk through town – it’s beautiful and many people are about – and maybe you will be even daring enough to visit one of the old Pachinko parlours.
How to Use Japanese Onsen
There are many rules for the use of onsen. But, you will probably be informed about them at the Ryokan. The website of Kinosaki Onsen also provides a little guide of onsen dos and donts. What they do not mention, but what’s good to know is that most onsens do not allow tattoos – in Japan, tattoos are connected to the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. So, bring band-aid to cover those up.