“Kinosaki Onsen is considered to be one big ryokan, where the station is the entrance, the streets are the hallways, the various ryokan the guest rooms, and the onsen the bathrooms.” This is how locals describe their town. Therefore, should be understandable why Lonely Planet mentioned that a visit to Kinosaki Onsen will trully let you experience the traditional onsen culture of Japan.
But before exploring the city of today, let’s talk about the history of the place which takes us back to 1300 years ago. The city was established by the Budhist priest Dochi Shonin which was travelling the country looking for ways to help cure the sick. As the Western medicine had not been introduced in Japan at that moment in time, people had to rely on Buddhism for healing. Instructed by a local oracle, the priest chant a Buddhist sutra for 1000 days, until the hot spring water came forth. It is said that the scene of the first sighting of the hot spring source is now one of the current onsens, the Mandara-yu bath. And years after years, since 717AD till now, Dochi Shonin is leading the people to Kinosaki Onsen for healing.
Legend or not, the city of today is a great onsen destination which brings people together. The power of the water, the charming streets and the delicious food can be enjoyed during a day trip, and even better, combined with an overnight stay.
Yakushi Hotspring Source
There are seven onsen in the town, each of them with different healing powers. The waters can relieve symptoms like muscle pain, poor digestion, fatigue. So, ensure you spend enough time in each of them and skip none! A daily pass costs 1300¥ and it offers unlimited entry to all the seven onsen, while a single entry costs 650¥. Therefore, if you’re planning to visit more than two is definatelly worth in the money. And if you’re spendind the night in a ryokan, they normally offer you a free onsen pass – so don’t forget to ask!
Once you’ll be in the possesion of a city map or the onsen map, you will notice each onsen has a number from 1 to 7, to easily identify them. Therefore, I will keep the same order and give you a review, one by one. So, let’s get started!
The only onsen that was closed during my stay was Satonoyu bath. It is located exactly near the train station and looks prety even from outside. From what I read, this bath is designed in two styles, Western and Japanese, which change every day. So, you have to go two consecutive days to get the full experience. Apart from this, it has an outside bath, a sauna with herbal aromatics, a beautiful view and an ice-sauna. As all sounds great, I hope it will be open during your stay!
This baths is prefered among the locals and families and the design of the building was inspired by a Japanese lantern. The hexagonal windows are shaped after the volcanic rock formations of Genbudo cave which is located only a few km away from the town. I found this bath extremely hot and too hard to bear with it. It has only an indoor bath so it was hard for me to resist even 20 minutes inside.
This bath is made of rustic cypress wood and it’s the smallest and the deepeste of all the onsen. It is said to ensure the fertility and safe childbirth of women. However, the temperature inside is so high, I really struggled to fully enter into the water even for a full minute. Like the one before, it doesn’t have an outside bath.
In Japanese ichi means one, and ichinoyu means the number one bath. This name has been given by a doctor back in the Edo period after coming and discovering the healling powers of the water. It is also one of my favourite, as it has a bath outside, under a cave. There is little light and perfect to fully relax. This is one of the places you cannot miss during your visit to Kinosaki onsen!
Known as the water of the beauty, this onsen brings luck in love and protects against fires. Once you get inside you’ll be impressed by the paintings, but hold on until you get in. The onsen is located outside, surounded by lush greenary, while the water is coming as a waterfall over the stones. I did spent more than an hour here as I couldn’t leave the place – I could had spent the entire day there too. Honestelly, the view inside looks unreal. This is the most beautiful onsen of all the seven and a must to every visit to Kinosaki onsen.
The name itself means enlighted mind, because of the legend with the priest that prayed 1000 days to bring the water. While the indoor is not impressive, outside you can find two cypress barrel. You can go inside them and enjoy a private onsen experience. You will be nicely impressed of the aromatic fragrance of the cypress while enjoying the mountain view.
This last bath is the oldest in the town and is quite isolated from the others. This baths is said to bring happiness and longevity. It has been discovered when a priest found an oriental stork healing its wounds in the waters. The outside bath is absolutely beautiful, as you are surounded by a Japanese garden. Extremely peacefull and relaxing, this is a good option to end up the day.
Apart from the onsens, you can find in the town several foot baths and also drinking fountains. I tried none, but if you have more time, continue exploring the healing powers of the water.
In case you are experiencing onsen for the first time, read the instructions inside to behave accordingly. Also, while planning your onsen visits, pay attention to the opening hours. While the baths are open from 7am till 11pm, some of them open only from 3pm in the afternoon. Also, some of them have closing days too. Another tip I’d like to give is to check the screen inside each onsen. They are showing in real time how busy each place it is, so you can plan your next stop accordingly.
If you have to chose one more place to visit in Kinosaki Onsen apart from the baths, this should be the Onsenji temple. You can get there by cable car or walk 500 stone steps through the forest – which is totally worth in! Onsenji temple is the special head temple of the Koyasan Shingon Buddhism sect and is considered the guardian temple of the hot springs. A visit to this temple was a ritual and a must in the past, a condition to enter the sacred waters.Visitors were receiving a special ladle that served as an entry ticket to the baths, which had to be returned at the end.
The temple has been founded in 738AD to honor the Buddhist priest Dochi Shonin (that prayed 1000 days for the healing waters). The temple hosts some imporant artifacts, one of this beeing the statue of the Buddhist deity known as Juichimen Kanzeon Bosatsu (the Eleven Faced Kannon), which is a Japanese Important Cultural property. This statue is on display for three years every 30 years, so it’s a huge opportunity to see it during this year. The entrance to the temple costs 300¥, and can be extended to the museum nearby for another 400¥.
This temple has been rebuilt by Takuan Osho during the Oei era (around 1400). It has a beautiful stone garden called “Seikantei”, which has been built during the Edo period, which is totally worth in a visit – it’s free. Nearby, you will also find a beautiful cemetery which lines down on the mountain hill.
The streets of Kinosaki onsen are trully beautiful. On one side you have the Minamiyanagi Dori street covered with trees touching the water, while a bit upper side the Kiyamachi dori street is well known during the cherry blossom season. No matter the season you’ll go, the nature is perfectly adapting to create a magical athmosphere.
If you’re willing to walk 20 minutes from the station, you will be well rewarded. Hachigoro Toshima Wetland has many rare animals and plants, including the white oriental stork once extincted in Japan. With huge efforts, Japan brough the storks back in the wild, while changing also the agriculture to pesticide-free methods.
Food & Drinks
Matsuba crab is a must try during the winter months. It is a local speciality and people across Japan are coming to enjoy this speciality. As a souvenir and to help the local producers, buy some stork natural rice (pesticide-free), healty and eco friendly. Tajima beef is known for the exceptional quality of marbling and superior taste. As Kobe beef, it is well known internationally. And if you’re vegetarian you can enjoy the Izushi sara soba (buckwheat noodles), which is served in small portions on different plates, to showcase the Izushi porcelain ware. And last but not least, try jizake (the sake icecream) – absolutely delicious!
The best way to visit Kinosaki Onsen is by bus or private car if you’re coming from Osaka or Kyoto. It may be is faster and cheaper than the train. However, by train is not impossible either. However, by train is not impossible either. I came from Amanohashidate, so I took the Tantetsu line till Toyooka (1200¥,1.5h journey), and then I changed for Kinosaki onsen.
There are regular buses and trains from Toyooka to Kinosaki onsen. A one way bus ticket costs 400¥ and it takes approximately 25min. It is also cheaper than the train, which costs about double.
If you visit Kinosaki Onsen you should definatelly spend the night there. As the onsen are open from 7am till 11pm, this is a great opportunity to trully enjoy the place. There are several options for accommodation, but an affordable one is Kinosaki Knot for 4000¥ per night. If you are going during the peak season and national holidays, everything may be fully booked. In this case you can opt-in to sleep in Toyooka at Hostel Act for the same price.
Well, that’s it from my side. I trully hope you enjoyed the article and you will visit Kinosaki Onsen. Meanwhile, get inspired from more articles across Japan and not only, here.
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