If you love hot springs and history, we have the perfect spot for you to delve into Japanese culture while you unwind. Founded over 1300 years ago, Arima Onsen, Hyogo in Japan is the oldest hot springs (onsen) in the country.
The town lies in the Rokko Mountains, just behind Kobe city. Its natural mountain setting and endless hot springs make it the perfect place to plan a relaxing getaway.
According to mythology, the Arima Onsen was created by the gods. Furthermore, oral tradition, handed down over generations, tells the tale of three hurt crows who bathed in the spring water and were healed. This story helped root the belief that Arima Onsen’s springs promote healing and better health to those who soak in them.
Later, Buddhist monks built temples in the beautiful mountain setting after making regular pilgrimages to the springs. Emperors, Japanese nobility, samurai, and respected intellects traveled from all over Japan to wash in these healing springs. This was the beginning of the current spa and retreat city we know today.
The Hot Springs and Healing
Arima Onsens’s hot springs can be divided into two categories: golden springs (kinsen) and silver springs (ginsen). These unique springs come directly out of the Earth’s bedrock from the active mantle, unlike many others who have volcanic origins.
Golden Springs (Kinsen)
These springs run clear from the source but turn a brownish-red color once the iron combines with air and is oxidized. These waters are believed to help relax joints and muscles as well as heal cuts, scapes, and skin problems due to the water’s high concentration of salt and iron. For those of you who react negatively to the cold, you may find that soaking in this spring helps with your hypersensitivity.
Silver Springs (Ginsen):
These springs appear clear but still are believed to have medicinal powers. There are two different types of silver springs.
- The carbonate springs, full of carbonic acid, are thought to help with blood circulation and lower hypertension. Some say drinking this water may help with stomach issues and increase appetite.
- The radon springs believed to use its radioactive powers to heal gout, rheumatism and issues in menopause. Additionally, by breathing in the steam from the radon springs it could be possible to enhance your body’s natural ability to heal.
Where Should I Stay?
Due to hot springs tourism, there are endless locations you can stay in Arima Onsen. Many Buddhist monks built guest houses called “Juni-Bou” where people would come to retreat, pray, reflect, and soak in the healing springs. Many of these Juni-Bou still operate as authentic Japanese inns called ryokans. This unique feature of the Arima Onsen hot springs focuses on bringing healing to a weary body and soul.
Many ryokans have hot springs that are reserved only for guests who are staying there, and others allow the public to come for a fee during the day. You will often find free foot baths (ashiyu) around the city.
Which Hot Springs To Visit?
While all the springs are worth visiting, here are a few notable ones:
Kin no Yu
Located in the center of town, the most popular public hot spring, by far, is Kin no Yu. Of the two public baths in Arima Onsen, this is the larger one. Entrance fees are reasonable and baths are divided for male and female privacy while soaking. You can purchase a dual entrance pass, which also allows you to visit the second public bath, Gin no Yu, only a five minute walk away. These springs do not have sleeping quarters and are only for daytime visits.
Kanpo no Yado Arima
If you are looking for the best quality spring water in all of Arima Onsen, it is said that Kanpo no Yado Arima, which is also a hotel, is superior to all others. However, to soak in this spring, you must travel up the mountains to find it.
Dating back to 1191, this hot spring is one of the oldest in all of Arima Onsen. It is a traditional Japanese inn that once was reserved for nobility only. The elegant atmosphere and exceptional service leave guests feeling like royalty themselves. The mixed bathing area is unique in this hot spring, but not too uncomfortable given the color of the water provides privacy.
What Else Should I Do?
While hot springs are a central focus of a visit to Arima Onsen, the cultural experiences of the region should not be overlooked.
Historically, visitors would be required to visit the temple before receiving entrance into the hot springs. Of course, this isn’t a prerequisite today, but it is still a beautiful place to see.
After following the path toward the temple, you will find a shrine at the end dedicated to Buddhist gods Onamuchi no Mikoto and Sukuna Biko no Mikoto. These gods are believed to have discovered and protected Arima Onsen. It was later in the Nara period that Monk Gyoki built the temple. This is an excellent location to also see a view of Arima Onsen. You can also:
- Take a Zen meditation class
- Eat fucha ryori, a vegetarian food course, which originates from China
This temple is known for its beautiful, 250-year-old Sal tree. The temple was built during the Muromachi era. Once at the temple you may choose to:
- Enjoy the tea or coffee in the temples tea room
- Admire the beautiful garden
- Try the dry curry made by the wife of the former chief priest
Geisha performances are legendary throughout the world, but Arima Onsen is one of the few places in Hyogo where they can still be found. Geiko Cafe Ito opened its doors to guests in 2015 allowing guests to watch as geishas dance, sing, and play the shamisen (a plucked string instrument).
Additionally, they play traditional games with tourists and create a party full of laughter that guests won’t forget. There are also seasonal events where geisha dance in festivals around the town. It is rare for geishas to be within arm’s length of an average citizen (both price-wise and culturally), so this is an opportunity you won’t want to miss. Have your ryokan or hotel help arrange this for you.
Many of Arima Onsen’s specialty foods are based around the hot springs, often using salt or minerals from the springs. The Arima roll, made from the golden spring’s salt, can be found at Arima Sweets at Cafe De Beau.
Bubble crackers are popular in Arima Onsen because they are special rice crackers made with carbonated water from the springs. You can get one, along with gelato, at the Stagione Ice Cream Shop in chocolate, strawberry, and matcha flavors.
Arima Teppo Water Cider is the town’s famous signature drink, also it is made from the spring water. This carbonated water has the fizz and bubble one would associate with carbonation, but it also has a sweet taste pleasing to drinkers.
If you love to be physically active during your visit, one can take the Rokko Cable Car and Rokko Arima Ropeway to the peak of the Rokko Mountains. After your hike, you can relax those muscles in one of the hot springs.
Don’t forget that shopping while on vacation is part of the fun. In the heart of the city, you will find Yumotozaka Street, which is the perfect place to find all your purchasing needs. There are many artisanal items for sale, as well as souvenirs and groceries.
Arima Toys and Automata Museum is a popular place to visit for both young and old alike. Their retro toys will bring back memories of your childhood while you find the perfect gift for any children in your life.
For those looking to bring home more traditional Japanese gifts, Arima Koushindou is a wonderful store to find Japanese incense and incense burners.
Lastly, if you just need to grab a few quick and inexpensive gifts, Yoshitakaya is a great place to go souvenir shopping. It is Arima Onsen’s oldest shop for finding souvenirs, which opened in 1868 (Who knew souvenir shopping was over a century old?!). Here you will find an infinite collection of items ranging from hot spring exclusive items (soaps, cosmetics, foods) to unique artisan creations. You will also find it easy to travel with gifts such as hairpins, cloth coasters, face towels, makeup bags, and the like.
If you’re looking for a few relaxing days, or simply for a unique spot to visit while in Japan, Arima Onsen has it all. Their mineral hot springs are said to soothe your worries and aches away, leaving you with glowing skin and a smile. Go see a geisha performance and grab a bite to eat, then visit a temple or two to calm your soul and embrace the beauty of Buddhism.
The mountain landscape only adds to the relaxing atmosphere, away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Just like royalty from hundreds of years ago, you will find that Arima Onsen leaves you feeling rested and energized!
- Arima Onsen is accessible by train, bus, or taxi from all large nearby cities.
- From Osaka Union Station: 60 minutes (bus, train, taxi options, and combinations)
- From Osaka International Airport (ITM): 30-minute direct bus ride
- From Kyoto Station: 60 minutes (Shinkasen + train/taxi or bus options)
- From Himeji Station: 60 minutes (Shinkasen + train, taxi options)
- From Kansai International Airport (KIX) 90 minutes (airport limousine + bus/train/taxi options
View the town’s official website.