Is there anything more Japanese than relaxing in an onsen under the stars? Say what you will about studying in Japan, but there aren’t that many places where it’s perfectly acceptable to strip down in front of your classmates and share around a bottle of warm sake! Time to learn a little about Arima Onsen….
You can’t come to Japan and NOT experience a traditional Japanese Onsen (温泉 – hot spring). The rituals and traditions of the onsen are deeply emmeshed in Japanese culture…but yeah, you’re going to have to be OK with being naked in public. At least it’s all single-gender these days (well, mostly…there are still some ‘Konyoku (混浴 – mixed baths) around)!
While many of Japan’s onsen resorts are waaaaaaay out in the countryside, we’re very lucky in Kobe, with one of Japan’s most famous onsen towns located just outside the city centre. Arima Onsen is also one of the oldest hot springs in the country, with a history dating back over 1,300 years. Arima Onsen is known for its two distinct types of hot spring water, which are said to have unique healing properties.
The first type of hot spring water is (slightly unfortunately) called the “golden water,” which is yellowish in color and is rich in iron. This water is said to be effective in treating skin conditions such as eczema and rheumatism. The second type of hot spring water is called the “silver water,” which is clear and has a high concentration of sodium and magnesium. This water is said to be effective in treating digestive problems, joint pain, and fatigue.
Arima Onsen is a popular destination for both tourists and locals, and it is known for its traditional architecture and tranquil atmosphere. The onsen town is dotted with small, traditional inns and ryokans, many of which have been in continuous operation for hundreds of years. To stay in these inns can be ruinously expensive, but one of Japan’s great life hacks is to simply enjoy them as a ‘day visitor’ for a few hundred yen. Thankfully, Kobe is so close that it’s an easy trip over the mountain for a lunch and a few hours soaking.
Arima Onsen is also known for its delicious cuisine, which includes a wide variety of local specialties such as Kobe beef, seafood, and soba noodles. Many of the local restaurants and inns serve meals that are made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, making it a perfect place to sample the best of Kobe’s cuisine.
The world of onsen etiquette could fill an entire blog on its own, but for the time being stick to these six key rules and you’ll be absolutely fine:
- Before entering the onsen, wash your body thoroughly in the shower area. The onsen is for soaking, not cleaning.
- Don’t wear a bathing suit in the onsen. Instead, use the towel provided to cover anything that’s not for public display.
- Don’t let your towel touch the water in the onsen. Keep it folded neatly on your head or next to you (or on top of your head, if you want to go full ojisan)
- Don’t swim or splash around in the onsen. It’s a place for relaxation, not play.
- Don’t bring any soap or shampoo into the onsen. These items are provided in the shower area.
- Be mindful of noise and avoid talking loudly in the onsen.
And just to make sure you don’t find yourself in the wrong bath, here are some key words related to Onsen:
- 温泉 (Onsen) – hot spring
- 湯船 (Yubune) – hot spring bath
- 銭湯 (Sento) – public bath
- 混浴 (Konyoku) – mixed bathing
- 露天風呂 (Rotenburo) – outdoor bath
- 共同浴場 (Kyodo-yokuba) – shared bath
- 個室浴場 (Koshitsu-yokuba) – private bath (normally in a bedroom)
- 貸切 (Kashikiri) – ‘reservable’ private bath
Getting there The quickest and most convenient way to reach Arima Onsen from Kobe is by taking the Kobe Electric Railway (also known as the Hankyu Line) from Kobe-Sannomiya Station to Arima Onsen Station. The journey takes just over 20 minutes and trains run frequently throughout the day.