Kinosaki Onsen: Onsen-hop at a historic hot spring town overlooked by a temple
Kinosaki Onsen is located in the northern part of Hyogo Prefecture on the western, Sea of Japan side of Japan. The area abounds in nature, surrounded by the ocean and mountains. It is said that the hot springs began to flow in the year 720 after the Buddhist monk Douchi Shonin completed his thousand-day ascetic practice in hopes of curing the sick. The year 2020 marked the 1,300-year anniversary of the origin of the hot springs, and Kinosaki Onsen is still beloved by many for its nostalgic feel.
At Kinosaki Onsen, public baths installed inside the ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) are called “uchiyu,” while those built outside are known as “sotoyu.” In order to enjoy Kinosaki Onsen to the fullest, it is widely believed that one must experience the sotoyu throughout the town. There are seven sotoyu in all, each with its own different history of opening, atmosphere, and water temperature. They even promise unique benefits, whether it is perennial youth and longevity or thriving business. What they do have in common is the quality of the water—the hot spring is sodium-calcium chloride, a salty spring that is said to be effective for nerve pain and fatigue.
It is typically the rule to wear yukata (traditional cotton robe) only inside the ryokan, but at Kinosaki Onsen it is very common to put on a yukata, grab a towel, and head out to spend a day onsen-hopping. Those who stay at a ryokan will be given a “Yumepa,” a free pass that gives you unlimited access to the sotoyu outdoor baths. Day-trippers can also purchase this pass for 1,300 yen to make the most of their onsen-hopping experience.
After a rejuvenating bath, we recommend getting on the Kinosaki Ropeway to explore Onsenji Temple. The breathtaking view from the mountain summit is listed as a one-star landscape in the Michelin Green Guide Japan, and the townscape of Kinosaki Onsen below has a two-star listing. Beyond that is the enormous expanse of the Sea of Japan.
To get to Onsenji Temple, visitors must get off the ropeway midway at Onsenji Temple Station. The temple was established in 738 by Douchi Shonin and has since kept watch over Kinosaki Onsen and its millions of onsen enthusiasts.
From Matsuba snow crab to Tajima Beef, Kinosaki Onsen is a treasure house of delicious cuisine that takes full advantage of the bounties of the mountains and sea. Not only can you savour the food during your visit, but many shops and restaurants allow travelers to purchase them as souvenirs. If you’re an onsen-loving “foodie,” there’s no reason not to visit this historic onsen town.
Tokyo Sta. -> 135 min by Tokaido Shinkansen -> Kyoto Sta. -> 150 min by limited express Kinosaki -> Kinosaki Onsen Sta.
Kinosaki Hot spring Tourism Association
*The information herein is as of April 2021.