After the crazy concrete jungle of Osaka, we stumbled upon quintessential Japan in the mineral hot spring onsen town of Kinosaki. Despite spending only a single night here, the experience deserves an entire blog entry as it held so many joys in such a small space in time.
Kinosaki is a laid-back resort town where the Japanese come to soak their troubles away in 7 public bath houses aligning a slow drifting canal. As budget accommodation is non-existant round these parts, we splashed out on our first 'ryokan' & fell in love with the concept. Ryokan are traditional Japanese guest inns adhering to age old habits in hospitality and etiquette. We were treated like royalty from the moment we arrived, shown to the guest dining room and presented with artistically delicious mango-ice cocktails topped with cubed coconut jellies and dollops of icecream drizzled with chocolate sauce. Mmmmm. (Infact, the ryokan kitchen is at your beck and call, serving up dinner and breakfast as part of the price per night. The owner even presents guests with a farewell gift upon leaving).
Shoes are left at the front door as you jam your toes into a pair of 'house slippers' for
the walk to your room .... if you care to do it the injustice of even calling it a 'room'. Imagine an entire spacious apartment, tatami floors stretching through spaces delineated by function and sheer screens. Two tv's, a futon bedroom, seperate dining room with legless chairs, shoji-screen walls sliding the length of the apartment and opening onto two seperate sun rooms. Beyond that the boundary between inside and outside is blurred as the floor to ceiling glass walls slide back and the surrounding external environment becomes an extension of the living space. Our 'room' overlooked the main tree-lined canal street where the 'clip-clopping' of 'geta' (Japanese high wooden Havianas) on the pavement below became our call to join the onsen march.
In Kinosaki everyone totters around the streets wearing 'yukata' (casual cotton kimonos), from 45 degree thermal bath-house to bath-house. It certainly is a sight to behold! Yukatas come as standard issue with ryokans, so we found ourselves joining the colourful ranks as Dave struggled to fit his monstrous feet into a pair of geta half his size. The freedom of swishing around in public wearing nothing but a dressing gown is a pleasure in itself. Dave declared
his intention to purchase a yukata of his own before we leave Japan. (Look out anyone who decides to drop in when we get home).
Staying in a ryokan affords you free tickets to all the onsen in Kinosaki, so we whiled away an afternoon bath hopping up the street and rating the various establishments as we emerged from our segregated male and female bath rooms. Our absolute favourite by far was the Sato-no-yu, an expansive double-storey building split between 'Japanese-style' and 'Romanesque ' baths. The two styles alternate daily for men and women, so we made sure we returned the following morning for round #2. Bubble baths, saunas, steam rooms, freezer rooms, outdoor waterfall pools flowing over natural stones .... nothing beats the full-body tingling sensation of a dip in a near-freezing plunge pool followed by a thawing in a thermal bath, (even if you are sharing the experience with 30 naked strangers).
As luck would have it, emerging from our ryokan after dark we found a hoard of yukata-clad civilians congregating over a nearby canal bridge. The air buzzed with excitement. We joined the throng 10 seconds before the sky errupted in a shower of fireworks.
A perfect end to a perfect day.
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