In the Rokko mountains above Kobe sits one of Japan's oldest and best known hot spring areas: Arima Onsen. Located in the Seto-nai-kai National Park, the climate could not be more different from the balmy port city Kobe. At 931 meters above sea level, it was snow-covered and bitter cold the night we stayed. Kobe, though unseasonably cold, felt positively spring-like in comparison.
The area features the oldest golf course in Japan, farms, a winery, skiing, and of course hot springs. The first sanitarium was allegedly built here by monks more than a thousand years ago.
From Osaka, we rode the Hankyu line to Rokko Station. And then up we went, with the skies darkening and snow beginning to swirl around us. By the time we arrived in Arima and got a cab to the hotel, it was nearly dark and the roads were covered with snow.
We checked into a moderately priced hot spring hotel, with the usual cheesy chandeliers, karaoke boxes, game center, and gift shop. The main point of the trip, though, was not architectural; it was physical. After dropping off our bags in the rooms--simple but spacious--we changed into yukata robes and headed down to the baths.
Again, you get what you pay for. There were no rotenburo, or outdoor baths, just a large room for washing and two big hot spring fed tubs. The left tub, called kinsen (gold spring), was filled with a muddy orange-brown colored water that had a slight smell of iron. The right bath was a "pure spring," and had neither odor nor color.
After an hour of washing and soaking, beer beckoned. Two beers later and the zen hot spring experience commenced. Aided by the aforementioned beer, the bath, and an inane tv show, time no longer had any meaning as we dozed on the tatami mats in our room.
Hunger brought us back to the temporal.
Downstairs in a large dining room, guests in their robes sat at low tables and enjoyed kaiseki or Kobe beef. We drank more and ate more, until there was nothing to do but collapse on our futon. After a short nap, we got in one more bath.
The next morning before breakfast, we all bathed one last time. Then after checking out we took the ropeway and cable car back down the mountain. It was a clear and cold morning, but by the time we were back on the Hankyu express to Osaka it was a comfortable 7 degrees.
Staying in an onsen in Arima, Hyogo Prefecture Onsen in Japan
Tuesday, December 27, 2005