Kinosaki Onsen is one of the loveliest onsen spots I have visited in Japan. I found it thanks to my lovely friend Mai, who suggested it last time we went back to visit Japan. We visited in mid-June, which is hot and humid (and not the time of year I’d normally recommend for visiting Japan.) Still, even with the humidity, we had a fantastic trip. The food was truly delicious and in the evening we could watch hundreds of fireflies along the rivers within the town center. The whole trip was magical.
Since our visit, the local authorities have been promoting Kinosaki Onsen heavily, so I have a feeling there will have been an increase in tourists to this beautiful area.
Kinosaki Onsen – How to get there
This is quite a rural area, so unlike some of the more obvious tourist-magnet-locations in Japan, it can be a bit of a mission to reach Kinosaki Onsen! There are two main ways (if you don’t fancy driving.)
- Train – (plan a route using Hyperdia) It takes about 3 hours, and 4 transfers if you start from Sannomiya station in Kobe.
- Bus – It takes just over 3 hours via an express bus from Kobe or Osaka. For further information or to book, visit the Kinosaki Onsen Tourist Information site.
Onsenji Temple (温泉寺)
If you’ve seen a few of my posts about Japan, you have probably noticed that the names of temples always end in ji (寺.) So, Onsenji is a temple dedicated to hot springs! This temple was established at the same time as Kinosaki, so it has some of the oldest buildings in the town.
People have been enjoying these hot springs for 1300 years, so it is about the same age as Heijokyo and the ancient temples in Nara. I seem to love all the buildings from this era. My favourite temple, Muroji is about the same age. There are steps up to reach the various buildings around Onsenji, the main temple buildings are halfway up Mount Taishi.
Mount Taishi ropeway
Or, if you are feeling too hot to climb steps there is also a ropeway to carry you up above Kinosaki with no effort. While you’re up there, you can throw clay disks to hit a target at the top of the mountain. Apparently if you hit the target, your wishes will come true.
We decided to hike up, and then take the ropeway back down again.
Kinosaki’s best snacks
We knew we would have a massive dinner in the evening, so during the day, we decided to skip a sensible lunch, and taste some of the most famous snacks from around Kinosaki. Firstly we had some onsen eggs. Basically you buy eggs, that are then placed in a net and lowered into onsen water to cook.
The resulting eggs are cooked to gooey perfection. Seriously, this was one of the tastiest eggs I have ever eaten (and my sister keeps chickens, so I am used to good eggs…)
You have probably heard of Kobe beef. Well, one of the best varieties of Kobe beef is Tajima-gyu (it’s beef from this area of Hyogo.) We spotted nikuman for sale that used Tajima-gyu. I always love nikuman but ohmygoodness this was such a tasty version. It involved perfectly cooked beef encased in a fluffy, steamed bun. I’m drooling just remembering it.
Ryokan time – Yuraku
If you visit Japan, you should try to stay in a ryokan at least once. Marc had never stayed in one before, so we splashed out and booked a night in Yuraku. It was simply perfect. They only have Japanese-style rooms, but that is sort of the point! We checked in, had a dip in the onsen and changed into the yukata provided in our room.
The awesome thing about staying in a ryokan in Kinosaki Onsen, is that they’ll give you tickets to go and try other onsens for free. They even gave us little baskets to carry our towels in. So, we set off to explore the hot springs of Kinosaki.
At least, we started to explore, before we were waylaid by honey soft-serve ice cream. I mean, how can you *not* stop on a hot day when ice cream looks that tasty!?
There is a river running through the center of Kinosaki, with several pretty bridges over it. We followed the river looking at all our onsen options.
There are some pretty good omiyage (gifts to take home to family and friends) options. I bought senbei for my colleagues back in the UK. In addition to tajima-gyu beef and onsen eggs, the other thing this area is famous for is snow crabs. Luckily, even if you don’t speak Japanese, you *might* be able to work out which restaurants serve crab.
Testing out the onsen
We found a gorgeous onsen to try. But as always, men and women go to separate areas when they bathe, so when I emerged warm, relaxed and happy, I found Marc waiting for me, asleep against a pillar. Aww.
There is a display in the center of the town that shows off the geta (footwear) from each ryokan and onsen in Kinosaki. You can see there are plenty of options!
Amazing dinner at Yuraku
We had a pretty amazing day, but the best was still to come. When you stay in a Japanese ryokan, you are normally given the option to dine there as well. We (of course) jumped at the chance to eat at Yuraku. Our meal was served in our room, so a member of staff kept popping in to bring more and more food, and help us serve it. It was quite a fun language lesson too as I needed to translate each explanation about the dishes so Marc knew what he was about to chow down on.
I’ll leave a gallery of each dish, so you can scroll along if you are interested. Our meal consisted of:
- Snow Crab – half a giant crab each!
- Sukiyaki which is basically a hot pot, cooked in tasty soup in the center of the table. Ours included plenty of seasonal vegetables and more tajima-gyu beef. You dip each item in raw egg before you eat it.
- Once we’d finished the sukiyaki, they added udon noodles to the nabe pot, to soak up the soup flavours.
- Sashimi – we had sweet prawns, squid, clams and yellowtail.
- Vegetable tempura – this was served with a variety of salts, 3 from Japan, and 3 from around the world. Each of them tasted different.
- Traditional pickles
- Chawanmushi (I LOVE this) it’s like a savory egg custard, with clams, mushrooms, yams etc hidden inside.
- Buttery rice that came with a tasty soup
- A light, aloe flavoured dessert.
If you like all this food porn, I have a massive Japanese food guide that will make sure you try all the best dishes if you visit Japan!
Kashikiri (private) Onsen
As part of our stay, we were also given access to the kashikiri onsen. The staff at Yuraku had set out the bath to be filled with flower petals. We were both pretty stuffed from the amazing meal, but we still made the most of our time in the private onsen. It was soooo relaxing. It was also my third dip in an onsen that day. I have never been so clean!
Watching Hotaru – Fireflies
It was firefly season in Kinosaki. So, after our final bath of the day, we went outside to watch the fireflies. As the town is lined with waterways, it is really easy to view them, just by wandering around. It was such a magical evening, filled with fairy-like lights.
Breakfast at Yuraku
The following morning we were treated to more food! I know many Westerners are not so keen on the traditional Japanese breakfast of miso soup, rice and grilled fish. It took me a while to get used to it, but I actually really enjoy it. Our ryokan had a posh version of this, so we also had a bento-like spread with interesting side dishes.
Early morning onsen
We both had another dip in Yuraku’s onsen before heading out. I had the ladies side to myself, so I took a couple of photos so you can see what it is like.
Then, even though we had booked a bus that morning, Marc and I went to try one more onsen before we left Kinosaki. This one was pretty amazing on the ladies side. It even had a fridge-like room where you could cool down between the steam rooms and saunas!
Then lastly, we spotted an ashiyu (onsen for your feet) within viewing distance of the bus stop. So, rather than waiting for the bus at the official bus stop, we relaxed and kept our feet clean.
This is our final view of Kinosaki. It was all pretty perfect.
What do you think? Do you fancy visiting an Onsen town like Kinosaki? Or have you already visited?