As we had the whole week off for Obon, the Town Mouse decided to treat me to an overnight getaway in Kinosaki, a small, onsen town in Hyogo Prefecture, one of the oldest hot springs in Japan
Kinosaki is a small, traditional onsen town located in Hyogo, to the east of Kyoto, and has been the resting spot for many legendary artists, poets and authors, including Basho Matsuo, the father of the Haiku. It is a pleasant, three hour train ride from central Kyoto, on a path which winds through peaceful farmlands and along the Katsuragawa Gorge, part of the famous river which cuts through Arashiyama’s countryside.
Following the Gozan no Okuribi, the Town Mouse spirited this Country Mouse to the famous seaside town, one of the oldest hot spring towns in Japan, where we stayed at the lovely Yutoya inn, a large traditional Japanese inn centered in the center of the city’s seven famous bathhouses. When going to this town, inns give their guests yukata (a summer kimono) to wear to the bath houses, as well as geta (sandals) and a bath set. An overnight trip will earn the traveler a ticket to all of these bath houses, which include the very traditional to the more contemporary. The Gosho-no-Yu was the most beautiful of the ones these mice were able to visit, and it is highly recommended any traveler try to go there if they make the trip.
Arriving in Kinosaki early left us with quite a bit of time to kill, so we hopped a bus to the coast to check out Kinosaki’s Marine World (not the theme park, but an aquarium more along the lines of Sea World than anything else). The coast was stunning, and out on the rocks in the distance, there was a palace whose only access was via boat.
Marine World was really fun all on its own. It was the first time I’d ever seen a walrus, so that was really fun, and they do a theatre show with the animals that is really cute. When we went, the theme was very close to Harry Potter, in that the animals were all students at a magic school and had to best “Bad Sensei” and help “Good Sensei” restore order to the school. The dolphins and seals were my favorite part of the act.
The rest of the complex was really nice too. They had lots of dolphins and fish and a very lively octopus, as well as these awesome sand eels and Japanese Giant Salamander that had just spilled its eggs all over the tank floor. I’ll try to be putting up the videos I took there on my Youtube channel in the near future, but for now, you can view the photos in my gallery.
After our time in Marine World, it was time to head back into town and check into our ryokan. Yutoya is a beautiful little ryokan nestled in the heart of the city, right along the canal. We stayed in the “Seagull” room, a two tatami room suite with a gorgeous view of a rock and moss garden on the premises. As we were only in town for one night, the Town Mouse and I quickly changed into the yukata they had given us to begin our tour of the town’s hot springs. Of course, the moment we left the inn, it began pouring rain, and without an umbrella, we were sufficiently trapped under an overhang as the monsoon strength rains pelted all around us, hoping our underwear wouldn’t be visible through the thin white cotton of our garments (it was).
Nonetheless, when it finally let up a bit, we were able to enjoy our trip to several of the onsen in the area, before heading back to the ryokan for an early dinner. We had a couple of shaved ice cones with some condensed milk syrup prior to eating (since we didn’t know how big the spread would be), went back to our room to change, and then were escorted by women in kimono to a private dining room, where they began setting course after course of food in front of us.
The danger of staying at a traditional ryokan is that sometimes, they will serve you strictly traditional foods, as they did for us. Now, some of that food was absolutely delicious, like the tofu soup and eel, or the sweet shrimp and miso. However, sometimes the food is not so delicious, like the escargo, or whole baked fish topped with cream paste (I’m talking whole: eyes, bones and guts included). You aren’t allowed to choose your own menu. It’s pre-determined.
Having a private dining room and staying in such a traditional place meant that we had to at least try and eat everything, or worry about offending the cook, so we ate everything we could. That was until this Country Mosue got to the “liver fish”- I was told to simply bite into it, but the combination of strange new taste, mushy guts and hair-width bones caused an immediate “bad reaction” and I had to do my best to wash it down with tea before my body expelled it permanently. Other than that though, the dinner was quite delicious- even the escargo.
After dinner, we got dressed in our yukata again to go back to the canal, where lovers and families were gathering on the bridges for the fireworks show. The Town Mouse and I slipped off to a quiet spot with a few others on the center of one bridge and watched as the fireworks whizzed into the sky, exploding like a million tri-colored dahlias. It was really beautiful. We returned to the ryokan after that to soak in their private hot spring, which was quite intimate and nice, since no one else was there, and then we went back to our suite to spend the night comfortably snug on our flush futons, watching TV.
The next morning we had to check out early, but before that, we were served yet another meal, this time a traditional breakfast, this time with more sweet things, like fruits and custards, as well as a salad and some super fresh sashimi. This was super tasty and got us charged up for the day. We said goodbye to everyone at the inn and then made our way through town one more time, for the obligatory souvenir shopping for friends back in Kyoto and also to take the ropeway to the top of the mountains, since it looked interesting.
It was fun taking the cable car to the top of the mountain and looking around, but since we had a long trip ahead of us, the Town Mouse and I decided to head back to Kyoto early, and after we got back down the hill, we bought a crab bento to eat on the train and bought tickets on the express. It was so peaceful and relaxing, riding back through the pastures and rice fields, listening to the tracks chug along beneath the train as we ate the fresh crab from the sea. In that moment, I felt so peaceful and happy. Kansai really has started to feel like home to me. Things that are brand new feel nostalgic as they happen, and it gives me such a sense of calm that I am utterly content. It was a really wonderful trip.