After a quick night in Kyoto, I was pulled north by the lure of hot springs. I had been told there was a sleepy little village called Kinosaki which was known for its onsen or hot springs which lay a 2.5 hour ride on the shinkansen or bullet train away from the big city and out into the country side. The clicking of the wheels lulled me to doze as we raced past rice paddies and small towns.
Kinosaki is a draw for Japanese tourists too and the town thrives due to it’s onsen. The town has a bus waiting at the train station to whisk the next group of relaxation seekers to their respective ryokan (traditional inn) free of charge. Kinosaki is a picturesque little town of wooden buildings, waterways, bridges, and willows.
The ryokan is part of the experience. Dinner and breakfast (ridiculous amounts of food, all pretty enough to be artwork, but much of it fishy, slimy, or bitter and thus a little difficult for an American pallate, but hey when in Rome, at least give it a try) are included in the cost of your room and in Kinosaki, you are also given an unlimited pass to all 7 hot springs in town. In the inn there are many slippers. Sitting room slippers, bathroom slippers, onsen slippers, and no foot wear of any kind permitted on the tatami mats in the bedroom.
You are also given a set of robes for onsen hopping. At first, I was a little shy about stepping out in town in robes and tottering on high wooden sandals, but everyone else was and no one gave me a second look. In fact, that’s the onsen uniform. The click clack of wooden sandals is heard all around town and all hours of the day and night, you see people shuffling along in their robes with a little basket or plastic baggie in hand. This contains one’s toiletries. Bathing is a (gender segregated) but public experience here!
Lunch was not included and this gave me the opportunity to have fun exploring the little nooks and crannies and alleyways looking for something delicious to eat. Snow crab over warm buckwheat soba noodles in a tiny dark, wooden room stuffed to the gills with antiques was a favorite. And today’s 3pm pick me up of matcha tea with sweets was A-OK. Actually, I clapped with glee when it was presented to me. The bitter of the matcha was a perfect foil for the sweet mochi and cakes. And as I was leaving there was a man who had been hunched over the counter top doing something which turned out to be making me a tiny oragami crane! The people here have just been so, so kind.