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Kinosaki Onsen Soto-yu Tour: Video Introduction

This video, titled "Kinosaki Onsen Soto-yu Tour - Experience the Bathhouses With a Stroll" (城崎温泉外湯巡り~散策しながら外湯を堪能しました~), was created by "fukuchiyama."

The video introduces seven soto-yu (a type of public bathhouse which is not part of the facilities of a hotel or inn), while going into detail on the origins of each, as well as introducing the ryokan (a Japanese style hotel) the video creator stayed in. We especially recommend this video if you happen to be planning a trip to Kinosaki Onsen. Check it out above!

Kinosaki Onsen – A Tourist Destination and Hot Spring Town With 1300 Years of History! Origins, Characteristics and Recommended Cuisine

Image of Kinosaki Onsen
Photo:Kinosaki Onsen

Located in the northern part of Hyogo on the coast of the Sea of Japan, Kinosaki Onsen, located in the city of Toyooka, is one of the many hot spring towns dotting Japan's Kansai region. This hot spring resort has a long history too, dating back to the Nara period (710–794 AD). Used as a healing hot spring in the past, the resort is also known for the list of famous authors and poets known to have visited it.
In 2020 a host of special events were held to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of Kinosaki Onsen's opening.

Kinosaki Onsen's popularity isn't limited to domestic tourists either; the Michelin Green Guide gives it two stars, stating "If you're in the area, you should make a detour to visit."

This hugely popular tourist spot goes by the slogan "The whole town is an onsen ryokan." Kinosaki Onsen Station (城崎温泉駅, kinosakionsen-eki) is the front door; the streets its corridors. Imagining each individual inn to be a guest room and the soto-yu as the "daiyokujo" (the large communal bathing area found in most onsen ryokan), the residents of the area band together to entertain visitors whilst protecting the traditions of old, giving the resort a lively feel.

And then there's the cuisine. Kinosaki Onsen's famed "kani" (crab) is a winter delight. Snow crabs caught at the nearby Tsuiyama Fishing Harbor (津居山漁港, Tsuiyama gyoko) are known as Tsuiyama-gani (津居山ガニ, lit. "Tsuiyama crab"), and are said to be amongst the best quality snow crabs you can eat.
Crab season comes in the colder months, and tourists descend upon the town to get a taste of fresh crab, as well as enjoy the hot springs. We're sure plenty of you will be checking lists of crab restaurants in search of the best crab dishes out there.

Kinosaki Onsen Soto-yu Tour – Opening Hours, Origins, and Characteristics of the Seven Bathhouses + Recommendations

Image of Kinosaki Onsen's Yanagi yu
Photo:Kinosaki Onsen's Yanagi yu

Kinosaki Onsen is famous for its "soto-yu" bathhouses. "Soto-yu" (外湯, lit. "outside bath") refers to a communal bathing space that is "outside" the facilities of an inn or hotel. In Kinosaki, there are seven soto-yu within walking distance, each with its own unique charm. The waters contain sodium and calcium, and are supposedly effective against nerve pain, muscular pain, bruising and digestive problems.

If you're planning to spend the day at the hot springs, you can save money with the soto-yu tour pass, "Yumepa"! For 1,300 yen (650 yen for minors), you can use the soto-yu as many times as you like for as long as you want for one day.

In Kinosaki Onsen, where yukata (a casual summer kimono) and geta (traditional Japanese wooden sandals) blend seamlessly into the scenery, why not don a kimono yourself, grab a map, and take a stroll through the ancient townscape whilst immersing yourself in the onsen mood?
Next, we'll walk you through the characteristics and origins of each of the seven soto-yu, following the order in which they appear in the video.

● Jizo yu (地蔵湯)
Upon leaving Kinosaki Onsen station, head straight down the main road in front of the station to find "Jizo yu." This soto-yu has been a popular spot of the locals since the Edo period (CE 1603-1868). It gets its name from tales that Jizo (the Buddhist guardian deity of children) once appeared from its waters. The building has the most modern Japanese appearance of all the soto-yu, with hexagonal windows that echo the shape of Japanese lanterns and the nearby Genbu Cave (玄武洞, genbu-do).
【Hours】7:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
[Video] 1:35 - A large stone lantern marks "Jizo yu" public bathhouse

● Sato no yu (さとの湯), a Hot Spring Inside a Station
Located right next to Kinosaki Onsen station, Sato no yu is also known affectionately as "Station Onsen" (駅舎温泉, ekisha onsen). Of the seven soto-yu, Sato no yu's facilities were built the most recently, and the hot spring offers the latest equipment, giving the onsen a spa-like vibe. As well as the open air bath from which you can gaze upon the Maruyama River (円山川, maruyama-gawa), there is a full complement of saunas of various types. There's even a footbath at the entrance that's free to use. Best of all, its proximity to the station makes it ideal for a quick dip while you're waiting for your train.
【Hours】1:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
[Video] 2:12 - Sato no yu, Right by Kinosaki Onsen Station

● Yanagi yu (柳湯)
Running through the heart of Kinosaki Onsen is the Otani River (大溪川, otani-gawa). The sight of the willow trees ("yanagi" in Japanese) that line the river are a defining image of Kinosaki Onsen, and holds a beauty that the famous Japanese writer Naoya Shiga is said to have held close to his heart. The name "Yanagi yu" comes from the onsen's source, bubbling up from beneath the roots of a willow tree transplanted from China's renowned Xi Lake. Although this is the smallest of the soto-yu, the minimalistic wood-construction bath has an atmosphere all its own.
Here, too, there are free footbaths - both out front and in the back - which can be enjoyed as part of a leisurely stroll.
【Hours】3:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
[Video] 3:20 - Yanagi yu as Seen From the Bank of the Otani River

Image of Kinosaki Onsen's Soto-yu tour, Ichi no Yu
Photo:Kinosaki Onsen's Soto-yu tour, Ichi no Yu

● Ichi no yu (一の湯)
Ichi no yu stands close to the center of Kinosaki, in front of Obashi Bridge (王橋, lit. "King's Bridge"), as it crosses the Otani River. In the mid-Edo Period, Ichi no yu was known as "Ara yu" (新湯). However, in renowned doctor Shutoku Kagawa's book, "Ippondo Yakusen," the onsen is described as "tenka ichi," meaning "the best under the heavens." Thanks to this, Ara yu's name was changed to "Ichi no yu" (一の湯, lit. "best hot spring") taking the "ichi" from "tenka ichi."
With its striking facade resembling a Kabuki Theatre, its stand-out feature is the cave-like bath, hewn from natural bedrock.
【Hours】7:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
[Video] 4:24 - Ichi no yu With its Kabuki Theatre-esque Building

● Mandara yu (まんだら湯)
Mandara yu is where Kinosaki Onsen began. Just off the main road, it is situated at one end of the peaceful Kiyamachi Street. The story goes that when, in the year 717, Dochi Shonin, the founder of Kinosaki's Onsenji Temple (温泉寺) chanted the Hachimandara sutra (八曼荼羅経, hachimandarakyo) for one-thousand days, his prayer was answered and an onsen burst forth from the ground, marking the beginning of Kinosaki Onsen.

This is a relatively compact soto-yu, but with its location in the foothills of a mountain it's definitely an atmospheric place, and you can enjoy the view of the mountain whilst taking a dip in the open-air bath.
【Hours】3:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
[Video] 5:43 - Mandara yu, With Its Impressive Vivid Emerald Green Roof and Karahafu (Curved Gable) Entrance

● Gosho no yu (御所の湯)
This soto-yu takes its name, Gosho no yu, from a text in the Nanbokucho period (CE 1337–1392) historical tale "Masukagami," stating that Emperor Go-Horikawa's elder sister, "Anka Monin" bathed there in 1267.
Its imposing style - which imitates that of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto - makes it stand out, even when compared to the other soto-yu. Reopening in 2020 following renovation work, it has been reinvented as a spacious, fully open-air bath.
Also known as "Bijin no Yu" (美人の湯, lit. Beauty Spring), the facility is fully equipped with an onsen mist sauna with skin beautifying properties. This soto-yu has found favor particularly amongst female visitors.
【Hours】7:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
[Video] 6:48 - Goshono yu, With Its Architecture Reminiscent of Kyoto's Imperial Palace」

● Ko no yu (鴻の湯)
Although not featured in the video, Ko no yu is also one of the seven soto-yu. Its open-air bath surrounded by nature is its stand-out feature. a href="" target="_blank" class="textlink">Ko no yu gets its name from a story that long ago, a wounded stork (コウノトリ, "konotori" in Japanese) went there to soothe its wounds. Upon inspection, an onsen was found to be welling up from the place it had been standing.
【Hours】7:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Must Bring Items and Need to Know Manners for Visiting the Soto-yu

Image of a woman touring the hot springs at Kinosaki Onsen
Photo:A woman touring the hot springs at Kinosaki Onsen

If you're planning to spend the day touring the soto-yu at Kinosaki Onsen, you're probably wondering what you'll need to take with you.
And it goes without saying that proper use of manners from each visitor is an important aspect of enjoying the soto-yu. Allow us to guide you through the most important items to bring and necessary manners for your soto-yu tour.

The soto-yu do not have free bath towels or face towels available to use, so it's a good idea to bring your own with you. You can also pay to rent bath towels and purchase face towels at the reception at any of the soto-yu.

When staying over, you can leave your valuables at your hotel or inn, but this solution isn't useful if you're only visiting for the day. Fortunately, Kinosaki Onsen Station has coin-operated lockers which can be used even for larger luggage, so we recommend depositing your valuables in one of them.

If you want to tour the soto-yu in a yukata, we'd recommend visiting a yukata rental store where you can borrow geta and other accessories together as a package.

Each soto-yu provides shampoo, conditioner and body soap. Like any regular public bathhouse hairdryers are also available, but don't forget to bring your own skincare products.

・Bathing Etiquette
Onsen are public places. In addition to using the shower area and baths in a hygienic manner, behavior such as soaking towels in the bath and placing personal objects somewhere in an attempt to reserve a shower space should be avoided.

The opening times and days vary between the soto-yu. To avoid wasting your time and turning up at a soto-yu only to find it closed, be sure to check the opening times and plan out your route in advance.

Recommended Cuisine and Accommodation in Kinosaki Onsen

Image of Tajima Beef
Photo:Tajima Beef

Whilst crab is the first thing to come to mind when talking about Kinosaki, Tajima beef is also popular. Brand name "wagyu" (high quality Japanese beef) such as Matsuzaka beef, Kobe beef, Omi beef and others trace their roots back to Tajimi beef.

Sampling such quality ingredients as crab and Tajima beef in one place is something you can only do in Kinosaki. Make sure you get a bite to eat as you explore the onsen district from one of the shops in the area. Crab sticks from the tempura specialist "Hokyuan" (汸臼庵) or Tajima beef "menchikatsu" (a fried cake of minced meat) from "Gyusho Ueda" (牛匠 上田) are also good choices.

If you want to enjoy Kinosaki Onsen at your own pace, why not stay at one of the historical ryokan in the town?

● Yutoya (ゆとうや)
Founded in 1688, and situated in the center of Kinosaki's hot spring district, Yutoya's premises include a gorgeous Japanese garden spanning more than 1.5 acres, which is visible from all of the guest rooms. The Japanese style architecture has been designated as a Tangible Cultural Heritage by the government of Japan. Eikitei (one of Yutoya's guest rooms), with its curved gabled roof similar to those used on shrines, once played host to Emperor Showa and (his wife) Empress Kojun.
[Video] 4:58 - Historical ryokan "Yutoya," with its imposing facade

● Tsukimotoya Ryokan (月本屋旅館)
Founded in 1869, Tsukimotoya Ryokan sits in the heart of Kinosaki Onsen, a convenient location for those planning to tour the soto-yu. It underwent a renovation in October 2021, and the interior has been re-imagined in modern Japanese style. Heading into the coming season, you can get a full course crab dinner included in certain price plans at this extremely popular inn.

Kinosaki Onsen Soto-yu Tour: Roundup

Loved by some of Japan's literary greats, Kinosaki is not only a hot spring resort, but also a place with a deep connection to the literary arts, dotted with monuments related to literature. Take a trip to see the monuments and lose yourself in the world of classic Japanese literature. A healing atmosphere, delicious cuisine, unique literature; Kinosaki Onsen has them all amongst its history-steeped streets.
Whether it be a girls' trip to the top Instagrammable spots, a relaxing ryokan stay with family or close friends, or a crab tasting tour, why not plan a trip to this atmospheric and enchanting hot spring resort for your winter vacation?

[TripAdvisor] Kinosaki Onsen

Written By
Last Updated : Jan. 2, 2023
まつだあゆみ(Matsuda Ayumi)
A write that was born in Hiroshima and moved to Tokyo after becoming an adult.
A Tour of Kinosaki Onsen's Soto-Yu via Video! Learn About the Seven Detached Hot Springs + Recommended Accommodations, Things to See and Do, and Delicious Dining Experiences at the Hot Spring in Hyogo Prefecture!
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