Kinosaki: the Japanese Hot Springs Town That Will Blow your Mind

Some destinations are so unique - so special - they are forever etched in your memory banks. And, Kinosaki, Japan’s onsen (hot springs in Japanese) town, is one of those places. No matter how much I’ve travelled since, I still remember this small Japanese city as vividly as if I just visited yesterday. Of course Japan in general is a destination that’s not easy to forget. But Kinosaki in particular, with its local thermal waters that flow through every ryokan and onsen spa in town, is truly a one-of-a-kind travel experience.

Local display of geta (Japanese clogs)

If you’re a first-time visitor to Japan, Kinosaki probably doesn’t top your must-see list. But I promise its a place my fellow beauty lovers and hot springs enthusiasts do not want to miss. Located a little over two hours from Kyoto by train, Kinosaki Onsen is the perfect place to hit the pause button and take a break from the sensory overload that’s part and parcel to visiting Japan. (Tokyo’s Robot Show, anyone?)

Book yourself into a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), sample kaiseki fare (Japanese haute cuisine) and spend a few luxurious days hopping around Kinosaki with a yumepa pass that allows you entry into all of the public Japanese bathhouses. Throw in some beautiful willow-lined streets (that are equally stunning covered in candy-floss pink cherry blossoms or fresh dewy snow) and you will never ever want to leave.

The streets of Kinosaki, Japan

Kinosaki’s been a hot spot for Japanese tourists for quite some time. Since the 8th century in fact, and it’s remained popular even today, as the perfect place to escape for a relaxing weekend getaway. So why not join in on all the fun with the locals?

I had a brilliant overnight stay in Kinosaki, savouring every local experience to the max. Here’s exactly what you can expect to go down if you visit this beautiful onsen spa town.

The ryokan’s koi pond and garden

You’ll likely arrive into Kinosaki via Shinkansen (the Japanese bullet train), direct from Kyoto - or Osaka. Kinosaki’s small, so it’s easy to map and walk your way to the ryokan you’ll call home for the next day or so. I chose the stunning Nishimuraya Honkan which I can’t recommend enough. As soon as you arrive, you’ll receive the full royal treatment. (Honestly, is there anything better than Japanese service?!) You’ll hand your belongings over to the staff, slip into your geta (local wooden clogs) and get escorted to your beautiful traditional room.

The staff will help you settle in, provide you with a cup of fresh green tea and even offer to help you change into your yukata (a more casual form of kimono). You’ll be wearing this as you stroll about town and visit Kinosaki’s seven (YES, SEVEN) different Japanese bathhouses. But before doing so, you can chill for a few hours - and snoop around your ryokan’s private onsen of course - before being served the first (might I add, incredible) meal of your stay. I simply can’t stress it enough, eating kaiseki-style in one of Kinosaki’s ryokans is well and truly a special affair.

My kaiseki-style dinner

This multi-course meal is not only lovingly cooked using special Japanese techniques, its also beautifully curated. And all to your own private room. The staff came in to set up my low-lying dinner table, propped me up on a few pillows and then beautifully delivered each dish one by one.

My kaiseki-style dinner

My kaiseki-style dinner

After dinner, it’s time to hit the town. For some steamy, luxurious baths that is. Dressed in your yukata, you’ll clip-clop your way through the streets and test each and every onsen house. They’re quite close together so its easy to explore a few in just one evening. As a first-time onsen visitor (and one of the only Western tourists), I was incredibly grateful to all the friendly spa-goers who helped me change in and out of my yukata in each bathhouse and guided me through every step of the onsen process with lots of creative hand gestures. (I visited Kinosaki pre-tattoo so I had no trouble gaining entry but keep in mind you’ll have to cover these up to be admitted into any onsen in Japan.)

Two Japanese women adjusting their outfits as they stroll through town

The onsen ritual itself is not to dissimilar to what you might experience in other spas and hot springs around the world. Just be prepared for a lot of nakedness. The bathhouses are split by gender, and some women will cover themselves with small towels, but you’re certainly not expected to. But its good fun to embrace the tradition and shed the swimsuit shackles. Once showered and dressed in your birthday suit, its time to relax, mediate, breathe and fully soak in your onsen experience. Only when you’ve gone full raisin should you move on to the onsen’s shower facilities. Though these were actually my very favourite part of the Japanese bathhouse experience. Each onsen is fully stocked with countless lotions and potions. So after you’ve showered on one of the small stools and feel sufficiently squeaky clean, you can lather yourself up in all the Japanese beauty goodies - from body lotions to facial essences. It’s bliss.

Kinosaki’s small side streets

Fully refreshed and very zen, you’ll head back to your ryokan, where the staff will set up your traditional bed. Be warned, this will - quite literally - be on the floor. But don’t worry - it’s throughly cushioned and surprisingly comfortable. And you’re bound to crash out anyway, after such a relaxing evening spent in Kinosaki’s steamy onsen. And no matter how you get on during the night, you’ll be rewarded with an epic kaiseki-style breakfast to give you an energy boost and end your trip on a high the following morning.

Kinosaki: How to Get There

I travelled by train from Kyoto (which is about 2.5 hours), but you can also take a similar Shinkansen from Osaka.

Kinosaki: Where to Stay

You’ll spoilt for choice for beautiful ryokan in Kinosaki. I adored Nishimuraya Honkan, where I splurged on one epic night, but if you need a more Western bed, then you can stay at its sister hotel Nishimuraya Hotel Shogetsutei instead. Otherwise, have a browse through Booking.com for a range of ryokan options. You can also find cheaper accommodation but keep in mind this won’t necessarily include free entry into Kinosaki’s public onsen.

Kinosaki’s willow-linked streets along the Otani-gawa River


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