Kinosaki Onsen Town experience, a Dabawenya's guide

Adventures of Teacher Maita
Kinosaki Town Proper
Kinosaki Town Proper

AS Teacher Maita, an art teacher, artist, and writer hailing from the vibrant city of Davao, I've always believed that traveling is a remarkable teacher. This year, my wanderlust led me to the captivating land of Japan. With four days spent alongside friends and another seven with my eldest sister, I embarked on my second journey to Japan, this time venturing into the enchanting realms of the Kansai Region. 

Kinosaki Town Proper view from across a bridge
Kinosaki Town Proper view from across a bridge

On my sixth day in Japan, my sister and I rode a train with three train transfers to get to Kinosaki Onsen Town. It took three and a half hours but the trains were very pleasant and the scenery was quite spectacular.

A traditional Ryokan
A traditional Ryokan

Uncover the hidden jewel of Kinosaki Onsen Town tucked away among Japan's gorgeous landscapes. It lies within Hyōgo Prefecture and is a part of Toyooka. 

Visitors come from far and wide to see this charming town's peaceful atmosphere and abundant cultural history. The seven public onsens in Kinosaki are famous, but did you know that each one is special in its own way? However, they all share a commitment to Japanese hospitality and heritage in the water.

Photograph of Kinosaki Town Proper at the turn of the century. This photograph is displayed outside a shopping arcade beside a free library.
Photograph of Kinosaki Town Proper at the turn of the century. This photograph is displayed outside a shopping arcade beside a free library.

I was hit hard by a fever and hypertension the moment I stepped foot in Kinosaki, maybe brought on by the rapid shift in temperature or the exhaustion from my journey. Still, I was adamant about seeing the town so I wouldn't miss out on this genuine Japanese experience. We stayed at a classic Ryokan right in the middle of town. It was a haven of tranquility, surrounded by onsens, where my tired spirit might find rest.

You won't find anything like a Ryokan stay in Kinosaki. Every detail, from the private onsens to the painstaking kaiseki meals, exudes an air of elegance and serenity. Even though I was initially exhausted, a plunge in the private onsen's calming waters did wonders for my body and soul. The Tsutaya Ryokan also had wonderful traditional and modern art as well as a gallery beside its onsen’s entrance.

Mandara-Yu, Onsen beside the mountain
Mandara-Yu, Onsen beside the mountain

The following day, accompanied by my sister, we embarked on a journey of exploration, indulging in the therapeutic waters of two onsens and immersing ourselves in the charm of the town. My second onsen is the Yanagi-Yu. 

According to traditional belief, Yanagi-yu can help a woman conceive easily and safely. The willow-lined street in front of the Yanagi-yu is the inspiration for the name Yanagi, which means weeping willow in Japanese. 

The bathhouse is warm and inviting. A traditional take on modern Japanese design characterizes the inside. The cypress-built tub and the restful atmosphere created by the rustic wooden furnishings create the perfect setting for a rejuvenating soak. 

Author wearing the Yukata and Haori provided by the Ryokan
Author wearing the Yukata and Haori provided by the Ryokan

As my sister relaxed at the Ryokan, I made my way to Mandara-Yu, my next onsen, which was conveniently located across the street. The ladies loved it, so much so that there was a large line to enter. It is said that a holy priest named Dochi prayed nonstop for a thousand days in order to bring forth the waters of Mandara, which means "enlightened mind." And so, the name is born. The Mandara-yu is located just beside the mountains.

Even in the tranquility of Kinosaki, we business owners couldn't tear our eyes away from our phones. Work still had to be done even when we’re on vacation. We were able to find a happy medium between work and play thanks to the abundance of convenience stores and consistent wifi, so we could enjoy our holiday to the most. 

Did you know there are photocopy machines in convenience stores that print documents, scan and send things that you need? You can also have photo-quality images printed from your phone. Additionally, there are fantastic cafes where you can relax with your laptops and get some work done.

Your Onsen guide

For those planning to experience the magic of Kinosaki's onsens or any Onsen Towns in Japan, here are some handy tips. Take note, there are seven public onsens in Kinosaki but there are several private ones. When you check in to a hotel or Ryokan, you are given a complimentary Onsen Pass for the duration of your stay. For those who are checked-in to Airbnbs or not in any accredited hotels, you might have to pay a minimal fee per onsen.

1.    Your hotel and Ryokans got you covered

Leave your worries behind and travel light; the Ryokans provide all the essentials. You get a robe to wear for you entire stay. I actually brought only one change of clothes and two pairs of underwear. The cute Yukatas can be worn around town so you can feel like a local. They also provide you with towels. In the onsen, they have combs, blow-dryers, toiletries and even lotion. Most of these are high-quality ones. They also smell so good. The only thing I needed was my specialized face lotion, sun block and deodorant.

2.    Observe the rituals

When you enter any onsen, there is a locker room for your shoes. Only put shoes there. There is a separate locker for clothing. That will be the second room you enter. Strip to nothing and put everything inside. Take the key and the smaller towel. Yes, nude. Everyone enters the bath proper in their birthday suit. The towels aren’t for covering either. It is for drying yourself after the bath. Embrace the ritual of cleansing before entering the onsen proper by scrubbing well. Shampoo, conditioner and bath soaps are provided. You may choose to wash your hair or not. Shower caps are provided as well. Remember to keep your soak brief, around 10-15 minutes. This is because there is usually a queue outside and the onsen managers make sure it is not too tight inside. Also, keeping 10-minute soaks are healthy but might make you dizzy if longer than that so listen to your body. Dry yourself well. Some onsen have saunas that you can go in for free or you may start drying and dressing to go.

3. Respect the culture

Respect the cultural norms, especially regarding tattoos. Kinosaki is tattoo-friendly but many in Japan are not. Some onsen will give you flesh-colored bandages to wrap your tattoos with while some will allow it uncovered. Photography in the onsen or locker rooms is not allowed. Sorry, can’t Tiktok inside. This is because everyone is naked.

Revel in the feminine energy that permeates the female section of the onsens. Or if you are male by birth, please use the male section of the onsen. All onsens in Japan are segregated. They don’t care if you are a lady-boy or trans. They care what is hanging or not down below. So, please observe that. It is culture and not something to do with feelings. If you are uncomfortable, there are private onsens that you can rent.

4.    Explore the town

Yes, the town proper is still small. It is composed only of a couple streets that lead to the train station. Old residential dwellings are still found interspaced along with converted commercialized buildings. Did you know there is a Ghibli Shop in Kinosaki? Was not able to take photos because I was already feeling unwell but it is official and quite quaint.

Kinosaki’s specialty is King Crabs and seafood.
Kinosaki’s specialty is King Crabs and seafood.

A journey to remember

The friendliness of the locals at Kinosaki is second only to the water's warmth. A grin may break down boundaries and bring people together, even when they don't speak the same language. No matter how much or how little experience you have traveling, a trip to Kinosaki Onsen Town will be an experience you will never forget.

Author wearing the Yukata and robe provided by the Ryokan. The setting is our traditional Ryokan room.
Author wearing the Yukata and robe provided by the Ryokan. The setting is our traditional Ryokan room.

Ultimately, as I say goodbye to Kinosaki's peaceful streets and hot onsens on the third day. I take with me more than just memories; I also bring a deep admiration for the ageless customs and limitless splendor of Japan's undiscovered gems. Listen up, my fellow adventurers; I beseech you to set off on your own journey to Kinosaki, a refuge for the tired spirit and a home for the nomadic spirit.

For more info about the town, please visit: https://visitkinosaki.com/

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