Travel back in time and meander through quaint streets while wearing traditional Japanese garb in a turn-of-the-century onsen town.
Located at the remote northern tip of the Hyōgo Prefecture, right near Tottori and the Sea of Japan, is the resort hot spring (onsen, 温泉) town of Kinosaki. Long lauded for the curative properties of its local waters, Kinosaki has been a popular destination over the past seven centuries for royalty, artists and weary travellers alike.
Most traditional Japanese inns (ryokan,旅館) include a pass for guests to visit all of the local onsen, and many also include breakfast and a traditional multi-course feast, cotton robes (yukata, 浴衣) and wooden sandals (geta, 下駄) to relax in, and attentive hospitality unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
Trains arrive from Osaka, Kyoto and Himeji at the train station located at the edge of the main town’s historic shopping district. There is a shuttle that whisks visitors to ryokan, however walking from the train station to the town centre only takes a few minutes—and leads past cobblestone streets and over Edo-and Meiji-era bridges, transporting visitors back in time to the turn of the century.
When arriving at the ryokan, the hostess (okami, 女将) greets each guest and explains the services and facilities at the establishment and in town. Meanwhile, an attendant whisks your luggage to your room, where you’ll find a snack waiting and your yukata and necessities laid out. Enjoy strolling through town in your yukata and geta until your stomach begins to growl, at which time a multi-course dinner awaits in your room or in the private dining room. This tantalizing traditional meal consists of Tajima beef from locally raised black Wagyu cattle, sushi and seasonal specialties such as locally caught crab, grilled fish, handmade tofu, locally brewed beers and sake. In the morning, you’ll be treated again to a traditional Japanese breakfast. Spend the day visiting the local onsen and wandering the historic market streets and art galleries before heading back to the train station and returning to the 21st century.
The area’s seven onsen are each known for their curative properties and unique characteristics. It is said that guests who visit all seven onsen will be blessed with various kinds of luck: beauty, success and fortune in business and school, family, relationships and general good luck. This activity is known as a bath stroll (sotoyu meguri, 外湯めぐり) and is the reason most people visit Kinosaki. Visitors can spend anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more at each onsen, enjoying the distinct features that make each one an exciting destination.
Kou-no-yu (鴻の湯) is located furthest from the train station, and is the oldest onsen in the area. Legends say that 1,400 years ago storks landed in the hot springs at Kou-no-yu to heal their wounded legs. Today, bathers relax in a rock-lined bath by a tranquil Japanese garden to heal their own aching feet, as well as to heal their relationships.
Sato-no-yu (さとの湯), in contrast, is both closest to the station and the newest onsen to the area. Built in 2000, Sato-no-yu is a combination of modern conveniences and traditional Japanese esthetics. The baths include an Arab-themed sauna, a cold “penguin” sauna, a rooftop outdoor bath (rotenburo, 露天風呂) as well as separate men’s and women’s baths.
Gosho-no-yu (御所の湯) is said to bring luck in love and beauty and protect the bather from disaster. It was built in the style of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, and was nicknamed “Kyoto Gosho” by Ankamonin, the sister of the Edo-period Emperor Gohorikawa.
Ichi-no-yu (一の湯) features a “cave” bath made from local boulders. The curative properties of this onsen have been espoused by the famed Edo-era doctor Goto Konzan, and it has been named one of the best onsen in the world. Ichi-no-yu is believed to grant success in school and protection on the road.
Mandara-no-yu (まんだら湯) was established in the 8th century, when the founder of Onsenji (Onsen Temple), Douchi-Shonin, prayed for 1,000 days. As an answer to his prayers, it rained hard and the hot spring water gushed from the ground. This onsen brings luck to future business transactions and the harvest.
Jizo-no-yu (地蔵湯) is popular with the locals for its retro-style baths and hexagonal-shaped windows in the style of the volcanic rocks found in the local Genbudo Cave. The spring is thought to grant safety to families.
Listen for the drumming reverberating through Kinosaki at 3 pm—it is the sound of Yanagi-no-yu (柳湯) opening for business. Yanagi-no-yu is believed to ensure fertility and safe childbirth for women, and its waters are particularly effective for helping external injuries and swelling to heal.
While staying in Kinosaki, many visitors walk along the Otani River (大谿川) and find themselves at the base of Mt. Taishi (大師山). A ropeway takes visitors to an observation point on the mountain where they can enjoy the scenic views of the Sea of Japan, hike the trail to Onsenji Temple (温泉寺) and even attempt disc throwing! Kinosaki is a tranquil destination for the adventurous and a unique experience unlike any other in the world.
Sample delicious local delicacies
Treat yourself to local eats
Picture ©ACworks Co.Ltd.
Kinosaki’s healing waters are used to make delicious local specialties: eggs semi-hard-boiled in the onsen, breads and cakes, fist-sized and fruit-filled sweet rice daifuku, handmade egg custards and award-winning fruit-infused vinegars.
All-natural Yuagari egg custards are a treat to savour after enjoying a long soak in Kinosaki’s many onsen.
Picture ©Tomori N
Thin, crisp and slightly sweet crackers made with the naturally carbonated local hot spring waters, senbei are imprinted with their maker’s mark and make a unique gift for friends back home.
Picture ©Tomori N
All photos ©Toyooka City Photo Library unless otherwise noted