Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉) is a quaint little onsen town lined with traditional houses. The weepings willows swaying gently by the basalt river banks and stone bridges are reminiscent of feudal Japan. It is perhaps one of the few places whereby you can see people pattering about in yukatas as they hop from one onsen to another. The legend of an oriental white stork healing its wounds in the hot spring water found in Kinosaki make the public onsens the main draw of the town. Relaxing foot baths and spring water drinking fountains can also be found around the town. Most of the visitors to Kinosaki Onsen are locals, with a few foreign tourists like us, but the town is almost deserted, which suits me very well, for then it retains the magical history of the place. The reason to this could be that most of the ryokan owners are unable to converse in anything else for English, and even I had difficulty understanding their Japanese.
We stayed at Kawakuchiya Honkan (川口屋本館), which is a mere 5-minute walk from JR Kinosaki Onsen station. Staying in any ryokan in Kinosaki will entitle you to a special ryokan pass that gives you unlimited admission to all seven of their public bathhouses (外湯“soto-yu”). After checking out several of them, we chose to enter Goshono-Yu (御所のお湯 “imperial palace bath”), attracted to its luxurious imperial-style infrastructure. It was built in the likeness of Kyoto’s Gosho Palace, and the pools inside were as grand the entrance, with rock boulders encircling the steaming baths and a mini-waterfall gurgling from within the lush gardens at the outdoor bathing area.
We first went to the indoor bath, as the temperatures at night dip to around 10 degrees, we were not too inclined to try the outdoor bath straightaway. But the indoor bath was too scalding for us to soak for long, so we quickly braved through the sudden rush of cold air to experience the outdoor onsen. It was my first experience at the outdoor bath, and it did not fail to impress me. The outdoor bath facing a waterfall was not only beautiful, the water temperature was just right, with jet streams hitting our back as we lazed in the rock pools and admired the nature before us. Japan is filled with places that make people to forget their connections with the real world, Himeji was like that, so was Kinosaki. It felt like a warm jacuzzi, and the surrounding mist added a heavenly effect. We were almost reluctant to leave it.
Though the public baths are definitely wonderful, the ryokan’s private bath was also not too shabby, particularly for my parents who were too shy to try the public onsens. My mother actually claimed that the water made her face smoother! I didn’t think to try to wash my face with the hot spring water, but maybe I should give it a go the next time.
The dinner provided at the ryokan is an impressive spread, with matsuba-gani (snow crab) legs and tajima beef. Tajima beef was the highlight of the meal, rich, soft and buttery, melting almost instant in our mouths. Afterall，it should be, for Tajima beef has the finest marbling quality amongst all Wagyu beef. Unfortunately it wasn’t the snow crab season, so the crab legs were rather small.
The next update will still be about Kinosaki! This little town is a gem, packed with luxurious hot spring baths and beautiful places to explore.