Kinosaki is a small (population circa 4000) but beautiful town set just back from the sea. With a tranquil willow lined canal running through its centre that is criss-crossed by several stone humpback bridges and plenty of cafés and shops, you could happily while away a couple of sunny days here and feel it was a worthy diversion off the main foreign tourist route.
Undoubtedly the picturesque surroundings are part of the appeal that the place holds, but the reason that mainly Japanese tourists travel here to experience the best examples of one of Japan’s unique cultural traditions….the Onsen.
Yet again we are staying in a Ryokan, and a particularly impressive one at that thanks in part to a free room upgrade. Our Ryokan includes Japanese tea served in your room and a full on Japanese breakfast in the morning – self BBQ’d Sandfish, spinach and tofu!
In addition our hosts also present us with our outfits for the next few days. Oh boy.
The full Onsen ‘experience’ starts by dressing in traditional clothing. That means slightly uncomfortable wooden sandals (complete with special socks that separate your big toe from the rest of them) and Yukatas (a type of kimono).
Niki looks radiant in her beautiful bright gown completed by a wide waistband tied perfectly a bow. I look like one of those slightly confused elder gentlemen that are occasionally found walking round ASDA in their dressing gowns.
Our outfits are completed by the addition of a rather fetching feminine wicker basket in which we place our towels and then we leave the hotel and walk the down the street to one of the seven Onsen baths that are spread out across the town.
Each of them present the same basic format. Separate male and female areas in which you strip naked, have a very thorough shower and then immerse yourself in really quite warms pools of water. And then just relax.
When you have had enough you get out, put your dressing gown and clogs on and head off to find another one to try. You can grab a bite to eat or a beer on the way as several places along the side of the canal offer sustenance ‘to go’.
The basics are the same but each Onsen offers a different experience. Some have the additional options of saunas and cold rooms, but it’s the location and design of the baths themselves that we think can make the whole process memorable.
Sat in a open-aired stone pool with blue skies above you, watching steam rise off the water and looking out across the bay towards the mountains whilst listening to sound of a waterfall beside you is simply one of the most relaxing experiences of our entire trip.
Even if you do have to share it with a group of naked Japanese people.