Located in northern Hyogo Prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan, Kinosaki Onsen is one of the most popular onsen towns in Kansai. It is a very beautiful town laden with charming historical buildings, willow lined canals and cherry trees. I felt so blessed that the timing of my visit coincided with the cherry blossom season so there were plenty of gorgeous photos and special moments. What’s more, I felt like a kid in a lolly shop when I discovered that as a staying guest at any of the ryokans, I was eligible for a “Sotoyu Meguri” pass which provided free entry to any of the town’s seven onsen. In the interest of research, I decided to visit all 7!
I was ready to start my onsen adventure bright and early from Saturday morning, however given the onsen pass was not available until check in time I had plenty of time to explore. Just opposite the station I found an excellent service centre which offered baggage storage and bike rental so within a few minutes I was free of my luggage and happily on my way down the street from the station past a number of omiyage (gift) shops and eateries toward Kitayanagi Street.
Very soon after, I came across Kitayanagi Street which has a beautiful central canal featuring willow trees along its length. Lined with more old fashioned buildings renovated as cafes and shops, I stopped quite a few times to take photos and wondered if I would have been better off walking!
The cycling option did turn out to be a great decision though as once I got out of the central town area, I rode my way around the outer streets and hills and was absolutely in awe of all of the stunning cherry blossoms in full bloom. I couldn’t believe my luck with the timing.
Kinosaki Onsen Ropeway & Onsenji Temple
Along my bike ride I soon came across the Kinosaki Onsen Ropeway and decided to take a trip to the top of the mountain and visit Onsenji Temple along the way. Onsenji Temple is dedicated to a Buddhist saint who according to legend prayed for 1000 days to bring forth the spring water. I was fascinated to learn that in the old days all visitors to Kinosaki onsen would visit the temple to pray and give thanks before bathing. This practice is still popular today, so it turned out to be a happy coincidence that I had come across the temple before my onsen.
After visiting the temple, I hopped back on the ropeway up to the summit of Mt Daishi was such a beautiful clear spring day, so I enjoyed the stunning view overlooking the town and Maruyama river.
Having enjoyed the ropeway tour, I was back on my bike in search of a place to stop for lunch. There were a couple of little stalls selling onsen tamago (eggs boiled in onsen water) just near the exit of the ropeway. It was great to see the clear self service instructions in English, but after a quick look I ended up heading back into the main part of town.
I stopped at a little cafe with gorgeous views overlooking the canal, and delighted in a Tajima beef burger, one of the specialities of the area!
After lunch I ventured across the Maruyama river and enjoyed cycling along its banks, basking in more pink blossoms.
It was then time to return my bike, pick up my luggage and head to my ryokan, located a short walk away.
7 Onsen “Pilgramage”
After relaxing and unwinding in my room for a while, I changed into my yukata and geta and armed with my free pass, I wandered off down the street to start my 7 onsen pilgrimage!
The first onsen I visited was Yanagi-yu. This ended up being one of my favourite baths as it has a very traditional interior with hand crafted wooden baths. There is also a small foot bath out the front.
Goshono-yu was my next point of call. This bath house was completely redeveloped in 2005 and was built to resemble the Kyoto Imperial Palace. As I approached the entrance I felt plenty of wow and snapped lots of pictures. As I entered the building however, I soon felt somewhat “processed” as there were “bath wardens” ushering people through to keep the crowds moving. I recall the lovely outdoor baths overlooking a water fall, but I did not end up staying too long due to the crowds.
For my next stop I headed to Mandara-yu for a quick visit. Mandara means “enlightened mind”. As this was my 3rd bath in a couple of hours, I was feeling more of a “foggy mind” rather than enlightened! Mandara-yu has a main indoor bath as well as 2 small ceramic outdoor baths.
After my bath at Mandara yu, I was feeling pretty “cooked” but decided to fit in one more quick “dip” just up the road at Kouno-yu.
Kouno-yu has lovely outdoor garden baths. It is renowned for the legend of the storks who were said to bathe in the nearby waters to heal their wounds. Again, there were quite a few people there, but it was nice to enjoy a brief bathing experience before strolling back to the ryokan to rest.
After a light dinner, I wandered out again to Satono-yu which is a landmark building you cannot miss just near the station. Satono-yu is the largest bathhouse in Kinosaki and offers a waterfall feature, sauna mist rooms along with Romanesque and traditional style baths.
On my way back the the hotel, I loved seeing the beautiful night views of the canal, and the great atmosphere as fellow visitors wandered around town in their yukata and geta.
After a very solid night’s sleep, I woke early to make sure I had time to visit the 2 remaining onsens before having to return my pass by the 10am check out time.
From my perspective, Jizou-yu was probably the least attractive from the outside, but apparently it is well frequented by the locals.
Ichino-yu was my final onsen destination. You cannot miss this bath house as it is a large yellow building right in the centre of town. The “surprise” at this bath house is the bath which is built into a cave out the back, so it was quite a novel bathing experience!
Reflecting back on all of the 7 onsen, it really was a marathon to get to all of them! In order to visit all onsen I could really only afford a “quick dip” in each of them rather than really being able to relax and savour the atmosphere. All in all though, it was a fantastic visit to Kinosaki Onsen, and so good to have been able to combine the bathing with the cycling, fresh mountain air and cherry blossoms!
From Kyoto, the fastest and easiest option is to take the Kinosaki Limited Express train to Kinosaki Onsen (2 hours 20 minutes).