Kinosaki, also known as Kinosaki-onsen, is a small town in the Kansai region and Hyogo Prefecture, known for its hot springs and thermal baths. If you really want to experience the ryokan and onsen experience in Japan, I really advise you to come and discover the onsen in Kinosaki or in another city dedicated to hot springs. There are more than 3,000 thermal spas in Japan, which have been built around 27,000 thermal springs from volcanoes. The ancestral Japanese tradition of onsen is supposed to purify the body and mind and the water of onsens is known to have therapeutic virtues thanks to the minerals it contains.
If I had already tested the Japanese onsens anecdotally during my two trips to Japan, I really didn’t understand their importance until last July when I had the chance to test several onsenses across the country and onsenses of different styles. However, it was by spending a special day onen in Kinosaki that I became addicted. A few weeks ago, I was told that I would enjoy diving in water at 30°C++++ in the middle of summer and in full humidity, I would have laughed. And yet… here I am a few weeks later wondering where my next onsen will be!
Going to Kinosaki during a trip to Japan
Kinosaki is a well-known spa in Japan and is visited all year round, but especially in winter and during the flowering of cherry trees. It is very easily accessible from Osaka, Himeji or Kyoto and it is therefore easy to integrate a stop for one or two nights in Kinosaki into a classic Japanese travel itinerary.
For my part, I had a little more time ahead of me and I had the Seichu 18 Kippu, a 5-day seasonal pass (consecutive or not), allowing me to travel all over Japan unlimitedly on local and fast JR trains. It is a slow way to travel, but it is probably also one of the cheapest ways to cover a lot of distance, while accessing unknown places. I left Osaka and went through Himeji, making several transfers. Transfers are very simple, the trip is picturesque and the train crosses typical mountain and rural landscapes. Already a whole experience!
Discover the art of onsen in Kinosaki
Kinosaki’s onsen art has a history of more than 1,300 years and despite its reputation, the city has preserved its atmosphere of yesteryear, its friendliness and its traditions. Due to its small size and its environment between the sea, mountains and canals, it is a small village that can be visited on foot.
There are temples, there are mountains, there are canals, there are traditional houses, there are cafés and restaurants, there is one of the most beautiful beaches in Japan a few kilometres away and of course there are onsens. To be exact, there are 7 public onsens in Kinosaki and legend has it that it brings good luck to visit them all. It is still necessary to stay at least two full days, because of the days of closure. I only visited 6 of them for this reason… I’ll have to come back.
If you sleep in a ryokan in town, you will have free access to all public onsenses in Kinosaki with a pass, valid from the time of your check-in until 10am the next day. Your ryokan will also provide you with a yukata to wear, getas (wooden sandals), a bag for your belongings, towels and other beauty products to explore the city and visit the different onsens. It is a tradition for people taking the waters to go from one person to another in traditional yukatas, getas and socks. Everyone plays the game well, making the atmosphere even more unique.
I tested the walk with getas for the first time under a blazing sun and the first few minutes were a little complicated. Finding your balance, holding your yukata so it doesn’t open to the wind or when walking, holding your things, wiping sweat off your brow, finding your way… poof! It was sports. But I quickly got used to it and walked around the city all day and evening, as well as the next morning in full gear. The city is small and adorable and is perfect for walking and contemplating its canals. The canals are bordered by willows and crossed by numerous bridges, decorated with benches where you can sit and rest between two onsens. At night, the city is decorated with lanterns and takes on a completely different atmosphere.
During the day, it was strange to walk alone in yukata, when most of the locals were dressed normally and cars were speeding through the village, but Kinosaki calms down in the evening and the city is then travelled by tourists in yukata, enjoying the coolness of the evening and the beauty of the place. The cars disappear and only the song of the cicadas and the slamming of the getas on the tar resonate. The atmosphere becomes more romantic. A couple is having their picture taken on a bridge. Old friends share a beer and ice cream bought at the local konbini. Laughter dresses up at night. The getas are singing on a summer evening. Cicadas animate the whole mountain.
The onsens close at 11pm and it is therefore possible to enjoy them all day long. The afternoon is the quietest time. Tourist buses arrive in the evening and there are therefore many more people in the baths in the evening, after dinner and early in the morning, just before breakfast.
I did eight onsense sessions, all in less than 24 hours and I ended this excursion in an incredibly relaxed way and ready for the rest of the trip. I don’t think I’ve ever been so clean in my life. Remember to hydrate well and drink plenty of water and cold tea between your onsen sessions.
The 7 onsens to discover in Kinosaki
Onsen Satono-yu: a large onsen with many indoor and outdoor baths and hammams. The view of the mountain is spectacular. I am just disappointed that I didn’t have access to the “cold sauna or penguin”, since it was only accessible to men that day.
- Onsen Jizou-yu: the hottest onsen I’ve ever tested and probably the least pleasant.
- Onsen Ichino-yu: a small, unpretentious and very pleasant onsen.
- Onsen Goshono-yu: the most famous onsen in Kinosaki, a splendid onsen in a setting of waterfalls and rocks.
- Onsen Mandara-yu: a much quieter and more intimate onsen, where I found myself alone. It is my favorite among the public onsens in Kinosaki, especially for its wooden pond.
- Onsen Kouno-yu: nice outdoor and indoor onsen, very nice to end the evening.
- Onsen Yanagi-yu: Unfortunately, I was not able to test it.
Don’t forget to enjoy the onsen of your ryokan, often just as sophisticated and much quieter.