After a scenic train trip, we arrived at Kinosaki Onsen station for our two night onsen getaway. The first thing we noticed was the use of crabs in all forms of signage beginning once you step off the train. We reserved our seats for our continuing journey, and made our way to the hotel. Bob insisted on taking charge and had furiously researched the walk the night before to avoid any incidents. Hence, his knowledge of the town’s streets was such that he did not need to look at a map once during our walk.
We were a good three hours early for check-in so we left our bags at the ryokan, took our cameras and started walking. There weren’t many people around at 12.30pm, and we could not figure out why. It was lunch time and I could not see many places to eat. It was later explained to us that the seafood markets we could see on the ground floor normally had a restaurant attached and available on the first floor. Not being armed with that information, however, we settled on a little diner on the main street.
We selected our food via vending machine, but we were having trouble comparing the pictures on the wall with the text on the vending machine, so we asked for some assistance. Bob had a tasty noodle soup with tempura prawn and I had creamed crab balls, which was better than it sounds. It was there that we finally learned the word for water, mizu.
At a local supermarket to find some dessert, Bob was amazed at how cheap Yakults were. He bought a five-pack, and we each bought some sweets, which we ate at a nearby park, whilst occasionally snapping photos of passers by. There was a set of stairs near our ryokan which lead us to a small park that provided us with some nice views of the city.
We were staying at a ryokan called Morizuya, located in the heart of the town, (something which is quite easy to do due to its tiny size). Shoes off, we dotted t’s, crossed i’s and were led to the second floor where our beautiful room (and a welcoming pot of green tea) awaited us. For the most part, the ryokan had about it a traditional Japanese look. From tatami mats, decorations, to the yukatas laid out for us, the room was complemented with modernity. A television and bar fridge, an incredible toilet that offered you a complete service, and pillows with backrests which, for a serial sloucher, provided some comfort.
After testing out the facilities, we decided to visit the largest of the seven public onsens that the town offers. We walked to the reception area where we were given a basket in which we placed our towels. Part of the deal when one stays at a local ryokan is that they give you a pass to use all the public onsens during the length of your stay. We scanned them at the entrance, after taking off our shoes, and made our way to the change rooms. The onsens are separated into male and female, though some provide you with the option of hiring a bath out for a period of time.
I supposed I felt somewhat prepared after our bath experience at the Capsule Value Kanda, as the procedure was somewhat similar. You undress in the change room and leave all your belongings in a locker. The locker key is on a plastic bracelet which you can keep on your arm. You enter the bath with nothing but your small towel, which is used for cleaning and drying your body. In the main bathroom there are a number of wash areas which consist of a small stool to sit on, a large plastic bowl, either a tap or a portable shower head, shampoo and body wash. Once you are clean and have washed away all the soap suds, you may enter the bath.
Some people would use the small towel for modesty as they walked between the baths, but as the towel is not supposed to go in the water, once they sat in one of the baths they would either leave it on a rock nearby or on their heads. The first onsen we visited, Goshono-yu, was the largest. It had a main indoor bath, an outdoor section, a foot bath area, and a sauna. The main bath had a spa section, which was one of the more popular areas. Bob and I both preferred the outdoor area as the hot water complimented the cool exterior nicely. Once you were done bathing, you used the small towel to dry yourself as best you could, before re-entering the change room. Some of the bigger onsens also had an onsen water feature with two small pails which you could use to rinse your body before drying.
I found my first onsen experience quite relaxing. Our concierge had recommended this particular one, and we planned on trying number 2 after dinner. Dinner ended up being a bit of a trying experience on our first night. For some reason it appeared that the majority of restaurants were closed, (perhaps everyone was dining in their ryokan?) so after a couple of laps of the main streets we bought dinner from the local supermarket that had provided us with dessert and Yakults earlier. As we ate dinner in our room, one of the staff came in to unfold our futons.
During evenings and early mornings in Kinosaki Onsen, people visit the onsens in traditional clothing. We’d already begun to see people clad in their traditional yukatas including their wooden thongs, so we decided to immerse ourselves in the tradition completely. The wooden thongs looked a bit tricky to walk in so we chose a pair that were a bit closer to the ground. At times all one could hear was the sound of wooden clogs clip clopping on the pavement.
The second onsen we visited later that night was right next to the train station. Satono-yu had the main baths on the second level and a third level in which there were two rooftop baths as well as a sauna. It boasted both Japanese and Roman-style baths, but for our first night the men were allocated the Japanese baths. Upon arrival we learned that the bath was closing in a bit under half an hour. Most close at 11pm but this one was due to close at 9pm so we didn’t have much time to check it out. Some of the baths were at scalding temperatures which took a bit of getting used to. There were occasionally large bowls outside the baths, with which you could splash water on your body. I assumed this was so people could get used to the hot water.
There were two outdoor baths on the rooftop. One was heated and one was not. There was a sign in front of it, but as it was in Japanese only I am unsure if it read: “cold bath” or “broken, do not use”. Regardless, I didn’t see anybody entering the cold bath. There was an older man who I could see out of the corner my myopic eye. At first I thought he was dancing to keep warm, but then I realised he was doing his exercises. Naked leg raises were followed by naked pushups. Good on him, though I preferred naked sitting around during my onsen time!
As ‘auld lang syne” blasted through the onsen I realised it was time to go. In our yukatas we joined the chorus of wooden thongs as we made our way through the town, back to our ryokan.
Edit – January 23, 2018
I recently reacquainted myself with the videos I filmed during this Japan trip. I took the liberty of editing the footage from the first few days, which incorporates our first night in Tokyo and skims over our brief but failed first visit to Osaka, but mainly focuses on the beauty that is Kinosaki Onsen. I hope that you enjoy my first video, below.