If you want to go to a hot spring paradise near Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, look no further than Arima Onsen (有馬温泉). Located just outside of the city in the forest-covered Rokko Mountain range on top of a natural hot spring, you can bathe here surrounded by forests and fresh air. The streets are winding up the hills, the old town is charming, and you can hear the sound of geisha practicing their traditional music skills coming through the walls around you. Needless to say you can take gorgeous pictures and videos with a traditional Japanese backdrop all over town. For the most beautiful scenery you should drop by during fall foliage season, but the town is a wonderful place to visit year-round. Let us introduce the history of and what to do in Arima Onsen!
Arima Onsen’s Long History
The history of Arima Onsen goes all the way back to the 7th century, to the time of Japan’s 34th Emperor Jomei who is said to have visited this town for a good soak. Many other notables have followed in his footsteps, including other Emperors, court nobles, and samurai. The healing power of the water is said to have been discovered when 3 injured crows bathed in the spring water and were cured. It was seen as a place of healing ever since, and the area has a deep connection to Buddhism. Because of this connection, special traditional inns were built where people could come to heal and receive treatments to improve their health. These ryokans are still operating today, and you can stay here to experience the deep calm that comes with bathing in hot springs while surrounded by nature. In the last 150 years, some Western-style buildings have joined the centuries-old ryokans, and a varied, attractive town has emerged that is still enjoyed by tourists looking to relax in beautiful surroundings. For a bit of variety during your trip, you can also visit the small hot spring museum in Arima Onsen with an entry fee of only 200 yen.
Silver (ginsen) & Gold Water (kinsen)
Most hot springs in Japan originate from volcanoes, but Arima Onsen is different. Here, the spring water stems from the earth’s mantle, emerging from deep cracks in the substrate. This is why the water in Arima Onsen is full of natural ingredients that can help alleviate various health issues. There are two types of hot springs in Arima that are especially nourishing for your body; ginsen (silver water) and kinsen (gold water). Kinsen is called that way because of the golden brown color of the water which is chock full of salt and iron. These minerals help moisturize your skin and warm you up from the inside so you don’t get ‘after-bath chills’. The heat also helps with joint pain. Of ginsen there are two types: carbonated spring water which stimulates circulation and radioactive spring water. No worries, although the latter sounds alarming it is not harmful to your body. Quite the opposite, as when you inhale the radon from the steam it is said to enhance your body’s natural healing powers.
Besides soaking in the relaxing hot spring baths, another activity that can thoroughly soothe your tired body and mind is shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. This activity, in which you simply immerse yourself in a forest while consciously breathing in the fresh air and taking in the many natural shades around you, is even prescribed by doctors in Japan to relieve busy working people from their stress.
You can come to enjoy shinrin-yoku year-round in Arima Onsen, and the scenery will change according to the season. In spring, you can see the weeping cherry blossoms of the Zenpuku-ji temple, in summer there are paired sal trees that bloom only in the daytime and riverside balconies to enjoy the lush greenery, and in the fall the foliage is some of the best in the country. In the winter there may not be as much forest bathing to do compared to the other seasons, however, everyone knows that bathing in a hot spring while the snow is falling down around you is one of the best feelings in the world.
A stay in Arima Onsen isn’t complete without spending a night in a ryokan, the traditional accommodations that you can find especially in the quieter parts of Japan. One of the best parts of staying in a ryokan is that they have an in-house onsen that you can use as many times as you want. What’s better than taking one last bath in the evening, getting in your comfy ryokan pajamas, and rolling on your futon? If you book a more high-end ryokan you can even get your ensuite hot spring bath, giving you the opportunity to have a bath in private. And let’s not forget about the sumptuous meals that they serve their guests, for breakfast as well as dinner. You can enjoy your meals in the privacy of your room, and while you are taking a bath afterward the staff will clean up and prepare your room for the night.
And staying in a ryokan doesn’t mean that you are limited to only using their baths. There are two public baths in Arima Onsen that you can also use for a small fee, and several ryokans offer their baths for non-guests as well for a fee. It is fun to try different baths with different views and surroundings!
How to Get to Arima Onsen
Because of its location near several famous cities, it is easy to combine a trip to Arima Onsen with a city trip to Kobe, Himeji, Osaka, or Kyoto. Here are the easiest ways to get to Arima Onsen from those cities by public transportation:
▲Kobe: take a bus from Sannomiya Station to Arima Onsen, it takes around 40 minutes.
▲Himeji: take a shinkansen from Himeji Station to Shin-Kobe Station, take the Hokushin Express to Tanigami Station, take the Kobe Electric Railway to Arimaguchi Station, and then take the Kobe Electric Railway Arima Line to Arima Hot Springs. The total trip will take around 60 minutes.
▲Osaka: take a direct bus (JR/Hankyu) from Umeda Station to Arima Onsen, it takes around 60 minutes.
▲Kyoto: take a direct bus (JR/Hankyu) from Kyoto Station to Arima Onsen, it takes around 70 minutes.
A Trip to Japan
There are so many reasons to travel to Japan, and there is something for every interest. You can build an itinerary containing historical sightseeing, cultural activities, shopping, skiing, water sports, hot spring relaxation, amazing hiking, and more. Whether it is your first time in Japan, if you are a repeater, or if you live here, it is always a great addition to your trip to do some private guided tours. If you are planning a trip to Arima Onsen, why not do a fun tour in Kyoto, Osaka, or Kobe? That way, you can learn so much more about Japan’s culture and history and the city you are in than you would have if you discover the city by yourself that it will truly enrich your trip.
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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.
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