The Best Onsen Town in Japan: Kinosaki Onsen

Photo: John Weiss on Flickr

The Best Onsen Town in Japan: Kinosaki Onsen

John Asano

Kinosaki Onsen is a small town in the Kinosaki District of northern Hyogo Prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan.  Nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains and sea, this traditional old town is filled with the history and culture of old Japan. The picturesque town with its classic architecture and willow-lined river is famous for its resort area featuring natural hot springs, called onsen in Japanese.

The hot springs were discovered in the area around the 8th century with the town developing around it. Legend has it that the locals found white storks (the symbol of the region) bathing in the marshes of Kinosaki to heal their wounds. The town’s famous bath houses were built over these very sites to take advantage of the therapeutic healing properties of the spring water. This mythical tale as well as many others adds to the magic that is Kinosaki Onsen.

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Samchan91 on Wikipedia

The charming old-fashioned onsen town is a pleasure to stroll around in the evenings in your yukata (summer kimono), and geta (wooden clogs) to go onsen hopping from hot spring to hot spring. This popular activity is called sotoyu meguri (bath stroll), which involves sampling the various public baths on foot around the town. There are seven public onsen bath houses in Kinosaki Onsen that all feature the famous local hot spring water.

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Nishimuraya Kinosaki Onsen on Flickr

A stay overnight in a ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) will give you a free pass to all seven public hot springs. The special pass which you can receive from the ryokan is free to use between check-in and check-out. There are over 50 different ryokan to choose from with each offering its own unique story and old world charm.

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Patrick Vierthaler on Flickr

If you do not wish to stay overnight you can purchase a Yumepa ticket for ¥1,200 which provides you with unlimited admission to all of the seven public bath houses in one day. The Yumepa ticket can be purchased at any of the seven public bath houses.

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 James Gochenouer on Flickr

There are also several ashiyu (foot baths) dotted around the town by the side of the road with running hot spring water, where you can sit down and relax while soaking your tired feet from all the walking.

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Nishimuraya Kinosaki Onsen on Flickr

A popular treat in Kinosaki Onsen is onsen tamago (hot spring eggs) which are available at several baths in the town. The mesh bag of eggs is immersed and boiled in the natural hot spring water while you wait.

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Janne Moren on Flickr

The onsen town is also famous for its ice-cream which is the perfect treat after a long hot soak in the hot springs. You can also try your hand at vintage pachinko, smartball and target shooting games at the town’s nostalgia-inducing game arcades.

If you have time on your hands, make sure you take the ropeway to the top of Mount Taishi, which has spectacular views of the town below and the Japan Sea coastline.

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James Gochenouer on Flickr

Kinosaki Onsen is a hidden treasure that can be enjoyed at any time of year. In whichever season you visit, you’ll find something beautiful to discover. In spring you can walk under the branches of soft pink cherry blossoms, summer brings with it vivid green willow trees and night festivals, autumn is bright red leaves, while winter brings fluffy white snow.

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Samchan91 on Wikipedia

ACCESS:

Kinosaki Onsen is a compact town that can be easily explored on foot. To reach Kinosaki Onsen from Kyoto take the JR Sanin Honsen Line to Kinosaki Onsen Station. The journey is around two and a half hours from Kyoto.

Official Website