We’ve featured several posts on accommodations at Kinosaki Onsen, the largest hot springs town in Hyogo. But we’ve never written about Kinosaki’s actual claim to fame, the seven public onsen (hot spring baths) that dot the townscape, also called “sotoyu”. Dressing up in a yukata (cotton kimono) and geta (wooden sandals) and walking around town to the various onsen is the best way to enjoy a visit to Kinosaki.
When planning a trip to the town recently, I noticed a lack of English-language material on the web comparing the different hot springs and making recommendations. There’s a lot of PR material, but surprisingly few first-hand accounts.
So I decided to write the article myself! These are my real impressions based on a round of all seven hot springs in a twenty-four hour period. (Yes, I was feeling energetic that day.)
So, which hot springs should you visit if you’re not an onsen maniac like me or don’t have time to see all seven? (Yes, eating and sleeping during your trip are important too…)
Sato no Yu
The largest hot spring in town, Sato no Yu is located right next to the train station and is the most popular with visitors. It has a big open-air bath on the rooftop with a view of the surrounding mountains, and also has a variety of saunas, including a hot sauna, a cold sauna, and a steam bath. Not to be missed for a first-time visitor.
Hours: 1 PM – 9 PM, closed on Mondays
This hot spring is small and has a neighborhood feel. It doesn’t seem like much to this Westerner, but older Japanese people tell me that its atmosphere evokes old-time Japan. True to its namesake, statues of the bodhisattva Jizo adorn the perimeter of the bath.
Hours: 7 AM – 11 PM, closed on Fridays
This bath is the smallest and the hottest in all of Kinosaki! Fans of a truly scorching soak should visit here, but most bathers are not able to stay in the water for long.
Hours: 3 PM – 11 PM, closed on Thursdays
Ichi no Yu
Ichi no Yu’s main attraction is a bath situated in a large man-made cave. If bathing in a giant cave sounds awesome to you, then go for it.
Hours: 7 AM – 11 PM, closed on Wednesdays
Gosho no Yu
Gosho no Yu is my personal favorite. The inside is beautiful – in contrast to many other hot springs, it’s amply-lit, with skylights and glass walls providing plenty of sunlight. The outdoor bath directly faces a magnificent multi-story waterfall that seems to come cascading down toward you as you bathe, and an open view of the forest and sky is behind it. Not to be missed!
Hours: 7 AM to 11 PM, closed on first and third Thursdays
Kou no Yu
Kou no Yu has a fairly large outdoor bath situated in a Japanese-style garden. I found the traditional atmosphere relaxing and contemplative, though experienced onsen visitors may find it similar to other garden baths throughout Japan. It’s further away from the center of town, so it’s a good place to visit if you’re getting tired of all the crowds.
Hours: 7 AM to 11 PM, closed on Tuesdays
Mandara Yu features a very small outdoor bath formed by a giant barrel of Japanese cypress wood. Not many bathers will fit into the barrel, but I particularly enjoy the spicy herbal fragrance of the wood with the hot steam rising up out of the bath. A secluded spot well-worth visiting.
Hours: 3 PM to 11 PM, closed on Wednesdays
If you stay at a hotel in town, you will receive an unlimited pass that allows you to visit all seven hot springs for free. The hotel will also provide you with a yukata to wear. We recommend staying at a Japanese-style inn (ryokan) with a traditional tatami-mat room and a multi-course dinner of local specialties. Crab from the Sea of Japan is the big draw in winter, and seafood delicacies, Tajima beef, and local vegetables grace the menu all year.
With its abundance of lodging choices, Kinosaki is a great town to have a first experience staying in a ryokan. If you want to go for the all-out traditional experience, your meals will be served individually in your room, you will wear yukata, and you will sleep in futons on the floor. Small, family-run ryokan will offer you a friendly welcome and individual attention throughout your stay. Large ryokan will have all the hotel amenities you expect, as well as spacious baths and other luxury facilities. Both are very accustomed to receiving foreign guests.
Make your ryokan booking on this website:
Kinosaki Inn Concierge
Kinosaki Onsen Tourism Association
Website: http://www.kinosaki-hotsprings.com/ (English)
How To Get There
From Kobe Sannomiya, take the JR special express train “Hamakaze” to Kinosaki Onsen Station (2.5 hours). Three “Hamakaze” trains depart per day, so we recommend buying tickets ahead of time, especially during the busy winter season.