Located in a quiet neighbourhood in the northern district of Kyoto City, Funaoka Onsen is quite an institution. Built in 1923, it is said to be one of the oldest sento (bathhouse) still in operation and is loved by visitors and locals alike.
I stumbled across this bath house as it was in the local neighbourhood of a beatutiul traditional Japanese guest house that I found to stay in following a business meeting in Kyoto. More about that a little later.
Upon arriving at Funaoka onsen, there is a beautiful entrance way with a huge tree that has been gently trained over the decades to curve across the front of the building. In addition, the building features a very unique Japanese architectural feature known as a karahafu which is a gable with an undulating curve that is traditionally only used in temples and aristocratic gateways denoting great prestige, so this was quite a rare sight to find at a bath house!
As you enter, there is definitely a feeling of stepping back in time looking at traditional tiles and very intricate wood carvings depicting mythological scenes that apparently took over 10 years to carve, along wth some quirky dated pink and beige lockers!
Upon removing your shoes and placing them in the locker, you pay at the front desk. As it is a local bath house, the charges are based on standard government rates and usually priced around 450yen. All of the locals will bring their towels, soaps and shampoos etc, however there are also items for sale if you have not brought them.
If you are a “newbie” to the onsen experience, there is well worn poster explaining the do’s and dont’ts. Interestingly, this was one bath house that did allow people with tatoos and I must admit the nude landscape had a lot more colour – not only due to the international bathers, but even on a Japanese! Times are changing in Japan!
Wide range of baths
There was a feeling of hustle and bustle at the bathouse as people moved between the various washing and bathing areas both insides and outside. One thing I can say is that the plastic stools to sit on were tiny – both in diameter and height! Modern bath houses now tend to use stools that are higher off the ground and accommodate a broader bottom!
The baths included a well worn cypress wood bath, rock baths, jet spa massage and bubble baths, herbal baths and a cold bath. In addition there are sauna facilities. The most novel bath is the denkiburo.
Denkiburo – an electrifying bath experience!
Yes – you read correctly! Denkiburo means electric bath! Yes, it was drilled into us as kids that electricity and water do not go hand in hand, but the Japanese have electric baths! Funaoka onsen was the first to feature such a bath.
How do they work you might ask? Basically a low level of electric current flows between 2 electrodes that are placed on the walls of the bath just below the water surface. You can only feel the effects if you are between these 2 electrodes. Of course I was somewhat curious so I very tentatively moved one finger toward the area and as if testing if the fence is electric or not! Immediately you feel a bit of a pins and needles type “zap”. Gradually, whilst still standing I moved my leg toward the area and my lower body and felt very strong vibes and pins and needles right through me, contracting all of my muscles. Like the ice water baths, I wondered about trying to go “1, 2, 3” and submerse myself fully, but 3-4 seconds was enough of an experience in my lower body, let alone zapping my heart! In fact there are signs to say that people with pace makers should avoid these baths for obvious reasons!
After doing a bit of reading about these baths, it appears there is not much research to support the benefits of such a pastime. By contrast, 3 of the articles I read talked about rumours of denkiburo lowering the sperm count in men! Despite this, you will still find denkiburo at some of the public bathhouses throughout Japan. Try at your own risk!
Following my little adventure, it was time to get head for the change room and wind down before heading back to the beautiful Koiya guesthouse for the evening. The walk back was along a lovely quiet local backstreet away from all of the overrun tourist destinations in Kyoto. I stopped and had a lovely meal at one of the local restraurants. It was a semi teppanyaki style restaurant whereby the chef prepared most of the meal and then brought you dishes such as okonomiyaki, meats and vegetables, for the final stages of cooking at your own table.
Koiya Guest House
This was a total gem that I found purely by accident whist searching for accommodation for an overnight stay in Kyoto. The house is a traditional old machiya which is a wooden townhouse that are well known in Kyoto. It was such a beautiful quiet home, in a serene neighbourhood, and was stunning both day and night.
The living room – exquisite by night and day…..note the beautiful view at eye height,
Off to bed….
Ready for the next onsen adventure
After a restful night’s sleep, I awoke to a rainy day. There are silver linings however as Japanese gardens are truly beautiful with the rain drops glistening on the leaves and moss, and the surfaces of the rocks shiny, highlighting the natural wear and tear from nature over many years. This private garden at Koiya was no exception. So few Japanese homes hardly have any garden space so this was a real treat!
It was such a pleasure to sit and contemplate my next steps ahead, and feel so truly grateful to have discovered the double bonus of an amazing onsen and accommodation experience!
Koiya guest house and Funaoka Onsen are located in the northern suburbs of Kyoto, tucked off the beaten tourist track. From Kyoto station, take the #9 bus from Terminal B1. It is about a 27 minute trip. Get off at Horikawa Kuramaguchi bus stop and walk 2 minutes. Funaoka onsen is a father 10 minute walk.