Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 1 (18 May 18) – The Ancient Onsen Waters of Arima-onsen

Arrival at Kansai International Airport

I have always wanted to visit Osaka and Kyoto in Japan due to the rich in historic buildings. After a few years later, I finally made a trip to Osaka and Kyoto located in Kansai of Japan. As I was planning this trip, I found there are more places to visit in Kansai other than the traditional Osaka and Kyoto. During this trip, my friend and I visited some places that are visited by few foreign visitors. After our red-eye flight connected via Bangkok, my friend and I finally landed at Kansai International Airport. We had previously pre-booked our JR Kansai Wide Pass, 2-day Kansai Thru pass and 2-day Osaka Amazing pass, which provides excellent value for money on the transportation for the next 8 days around Kansai. We waited for the counter to open and collected our passes before heading outside the airport terminal to get our bus tickets to our first stop of the trip – Arima-onsen. There are several ways to get to Arima-onsen from Kansai Airport. We could take a train and transfer at Osaka, then 2 more times in Kobe; or take a bus and transfer either in Kobe or Osaka. The time taken for all 3 options are about the same. We opted to transfer at Osaka as this would minimise the number of transfers required as well as maximise our rest time onboard. It took us around 2 hours to get from Kansai Airport to Arima-onsen.

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Using Osaka as a base, we explored parts of Kansai during this trip

Arima-Onsen (有馬溫泉)

When I was planning this Kansai trip, I wanted to incorporate a stay in an onsen hotel. Trips to Japan is incomplete without a trip to their onsens. As I was looking around in Kansai region, several options came up. I opted for Arima-onsen as it was one of the oldest onsen towns in Japan, as well as it was visited mainly by locals. Arima-onsen is nested in the hills near the city of Kobe, with the earliest recorded of onsen experience dated back to 8th Century A.D. Unlike most onsens in Japan which is heated by volcanoes, the onsen waters in Arima-onsen is heated by  the unique geology in the area and the source of the onsen water is from an ancient sea that made its way from 60km below the ground. Arima-onsen is famed for its Kinsen (Gold Spring) and Ginsen (Silver Spring). The Kinsen has a reddish-brown colour due to the iron and salt concentration. The Kinsen is said to stimulate the skin and temporarily treat symptoms of common skin and joint diseases. The Ginsen is clear onsen waters which contain traces of radium that is said to promote cell activation, relieve muscle fatigue and boost the immune system. We arrived at Arima-onsen slightly after noon and were too early to check-in. We left our luggage in the onsen hotel and headed out to explore the town of Arima-onsen. The Arima-gawa river runs right in front of the hotel that we will be staying and is connected to by the signature red Nene bridge. Visitors can cross the Nene bridge to get down to the Arima River Shinsui Park, which essentially allows visitors to get up close to this river that runs through the time. In the interest of time, we decided to snap some pictures from the roadside instead.

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Arrival at Arima-onsen

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Arima-gawa River and Nene Bridge

Strolling on the Streets of Arima-Onsen

The entire Arima-onsen town is dotted with wooden low rise buildings that are not more than 2 storeys tall, eluding a sense of rustic charm.  This is our first experience with ancient Japanese structure. Walking through these rustic wooden building feels like we are walking into a part of the Japanese history. Every building in every corner seems to be preserved since the day the town was built over 1,300 years ago. The town is relatively small, it took us around 30 mins to explore every corner of the town by foot. Most of the buildings in Arima-onsen town sells souvenirs and local street food, the most famous of the street food is the rice crackers which are available in most of the shops in Arima-onsen. Yet a handful of the shops around the town are restaurants. Right smack centre of Arima-onsen, we came across the Gin-no Yu spa, where day-trippers can come and enjoy Kinsen. There is a small stream of Ginsen beside the Gin-no Yu where visitors can soak their tired feet into the foot bath. The moment we saw this Ginsen foot bath, my friend and I told ourselves that we will come back at night when it is not crowded.

The Source of Carbonated Water – Tansan Sengen Koen (碳酸泉源)

As we were walking through the Arima-onsen, little did we realised that we were walking up a small hill. This hill is Tansan Hill. At the mid-point of the slope, we came upon an ancient looking wooden pavilion. Upon closer examination, we realised we are at Tansan Sengen Koen. The park is relatively small, with the wooden pavilion as the centre of this attraction. The Tansan Sengen Koen is the source of carbonated water. In the centre of the pavilion is a well, which looked like it was filled with dirty stagnant water. At the side of the Tansan Sengen pavilion is a tap where one can drink the natural carbonated water from. Not far from Tansan Sengen Koen Park, we discovered a viewpoint (which essentially is a car park) where we can see the whole of Arima-onsen town.

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Me with the view of Arima-onsen

The Temple of Onsens – Onsenji Temple (溫泉寺)

Our destination before heading back to the hotel today is to take the Arima-onsen ropeway up to Mt Rokko, a 931m mountain that separates Arima-onsen from Kobe. As my friend and I continued our journey towards the ropeway station, we spotted a temple up yet another slope. This is the Onsenji Temple in Arima-onsen, literally translates to Temple of Onsen waters. Since we were literally at the doorstep of Onsenji Temple, we decided to take a short hike up the slope to visit the temple. As we were walking up the slope, the first building that we saw is a 2-storey wooden tower, which resembles a bell tower. There was no way for us to verify the purpose of this wooden tower as it was closed at the time of our visit. We proceeded to the single storey wooden Onsenji Temple prayer hall, a simple structure with a 2-tiered roof and walls clad in white. Inside the temple sits the statue of Buddha of Medicine. Onsenji Temple was set up by Monk Gyoki who recognised the medicinal waters in Arima-onsen. The locals would usually come to Onsenji Temple to pay respects to the Buddha here before taking a dip in the onsens in Arima-onsen. There is a Torii gate made of stone beside the temple that seems to lead further up into the hill. As we were rather tired from the overnight flight, we decided to give it a miss and head to our next destination in Arima-onsen.

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Onsenji Temple. It is believed that one should pay respect to the Buddha of Medicine here before soaking in the Ginsen and Kinsen in Arima-onsen

The Mountain between Arima-onsen and Kobe – Mt Rokko (六甲山)

Our next destination is about 20 mins by foot from Onsenji Temple. We were walking what seems to be the outskirts of Arima-onsen, being surrounded by mountains coupled with the crisp fresh mountain air, the walk is rather enjoyable. My friend and I arrived at the Arima-onsen ropeway station where we took a 10 mins ropeway ride to the top of Mt Rokko. The ropeway slowly ascends up the 931m mountain, bringing us over the forested parts of Arima-onsen. The scenic ride allowed us to see the mountain range that forms a barrier between Arima-onsen and the city of Kobe. As we were riding upwards to the Rokko Sancho Station, the gondola passed through some low clouds. The clouds are so thick that we can barely see 50m ahead of us. All that was visible was the cable that the gondola was travelling on. At times the strong wind swayed the gondola that can be felt inside it.

We soon arrived at the peak station of Rokko Sancho Station. Due to the low clouds, everywhere appears foggy. This added some mysticism to the surroundings, but the bad news is we might not be able to see the view of Kobe city that we came for. It kind of reminded me of Showa-Shinzan in Lake Toya, Hokkaido that we visited last year. We did not let this spoilt our mood as we enjoyed the cooling weather. Since we were not able to view the city of Kobe, we made use of our time to visit some of the attractions up here in Mt Rokko. Opposite the cafe where we had our lunch is where the Rokko-Shidare Observatory is located. The wooden tower which seems to be enclosed in a hive-like metal structure is an art piece. According to the poster, the lighting here at night changes according to the season. The low clouds and foggy weather gave the Rokko-Shidare Observatory a sense of mystery.

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In a clear day we would be able to see Kobe from this viewpoint, however, the low clouds mean we were not able to see anything

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Rokko-Shidare Observatory on Mt Rokko

My friend and I left the observatory and ventured further away from the ropeway station to see what else is there up here in Mt Rokko. We chanced upon an English village, which is essentially European cottages made of stone. Nearby the cottage is a tower. The low clouds made us feel as though we were in Europe more than we were in Japan. We scaled up the tower, but couldn’t see anything other than the cottages below. Seeing there is nothing much we can do here, my friend and I entered one of the cottages, which turns out to be another shop selling souvenirs. We left shortly after entering the building. As we were a little tired plus there is really nothing much we can do up here with no views to see, we decided to head back to the hotel.

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The sky cleared up as we approached the base station of the ropeway

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View of Arima-onsen from the ropeway

A Quiet Little Waterfall – Tsuzumigataki Koen(鼓ケ滝公園)

We soon reached the base station of the ropeway in Arima-onsen. My friend and I spotted a sign that points to a waterfall in Tsuzumigataki Koen, which is not far from the ropeway station and headed towards it to check it out. The waterfall is around 3 mins walk from the ropeway station. Tsuzumigataki Koen got its name from the sound of the waterfall when it echoes around the rocks resembling the sound of tsuzumi hand drum. The waterfall is rather small and has 2 tiers to it. There is a small tea house in front of the waterfall. We left for the hotel after snapping some pictures at the waterfall.

Enjoying the Footbath in Arima-onsen

After checking in, my friend and I headed for the onsen to enjoy the Kinsen and Ginsen before heading back to our room for the dinner to be served in-room. We returned back to town for the Ginsen footbath after dinner in our Yukatas. As it was late, there is no one at the Ginsen footbath. We went for another onsen bath after returning to the hotel before we rested for the night.

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View of Arima-onsen from our hotel room

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Kinsen and Ginsen in the hotel

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