Located just outside of Kobe, Arima Onsen is a hot spring town that’s well worth a day trip, or even better a weekend escape. Overflowing with hot spring water and fascinating spiritual legends, Arima Onsen is one of Japan’s most scenic and ancient onsen towns.
A crash course in Arima history
Before soaking in the baths, it’s wisest to soak up a little history, and Arima has a lot to soak in. The legend of the onsen goes back 1,300 years; it was first mentioned in Nihonshoki, (the Chronicles of Japan), a record that traced Japanese mythology preceding the accession of Jimmu, the nation’s first Emperor. In this mention of the onsen, it’s said that Onamuchi-no-mikoto and Sukunahikona-no-Mikoto, two Shinto gods, discovered some wise crows bathing in the hot spring waters.
Fast forward to the 7th–12th centuries, when the onsen became a favorite stop off for Buddhist monks making their pilgrimages across Japan. It wasn’t long before Japan’s emperors, nobility, and samurai caught word of this famous healing ‘golden water’ and began frequenting the area, laying the foundations for the early development of the Arima we see today.
What’s so great about the water?
What made Arima so popular is that it boasts two very unique types of onsen water. The first is the ‘kinsen’ (in English ‘golden water’). That isn’t just a euphemism for excellent water, but the color is literally gold. The color is a byproduct of the iron-rich content of the water. Sure, visually it takes a little getting used to (it’s fair to say it looks more rusty than gold), but for millennia now, people have claimed that this water is excellent for alleviating muscle pain and improving your skin health.
The second best water is the ‘ginsen’ or ‘silver water’, which is less silver than ‘kinsen’ is gold, but the high levels of radium and carbonate are meant to soothe various muscle and joint ailments quite unlike anything else.
Where to soak
The town Arima is very easy to explore in one day, so if you’re looking for a quick escape from Osaka or Kobe, it’s a doable adventure. However, chances are you’ll want to explore the bathing options, so it’s highly recommended you make it an overnight trip.
Get a taste of the water by dipping your toes into the free public foot bath located just outside the Kin no Yu bathhouse. It’s open to all, so give it a try before you go for the full-body experience. The next port of call on the hot spring hopping adventure is Kin no Yu. It’s the biggest of all the public onsen. Inside you’ll find two indoor baths filled with ‘kinsen’ water. Reconstructed in 1884 it’s still one of the most historic of all the bathhouses.
Kin no Yu
If you want to sample the silver water, the head on over to Gin no Yu. Positioned a little deeper into the town center, this bath is a little more humble in size, with just one large indoor bath for each gender. This complex opened in 2001, but what it lacks in history it makes up for in charm with its cozy ambiance and modern facilities.
Gin no Yu
For a more luxury-style experience, look no further than Arima Grand Hotel. Situated atop a hill overlooking all of Arima Onsen town, it has some of the best views in the area, and offers the ultimate in ryokan-style facilities.
The hotel has luxury ryokan-style rooms, however, if it’s a little out of your budget to stay the night, day guests are welcome to come and use the facilities. You can access the baths by purchasing a day-pass ticket. The bathing complex has open-air baths boasting sweeping views of the city below, as well as indoor baths, and private baths too.
It’s worth noting for foreign guests that tattoos are allowed at Kin no Yu, in fact, it’s one of the most tattoo-friendly baths in the area, so you don’t have to feel self-conscious. At the Arima Grand Hotel, they strongly request guests with tattoos not use the large public baths, however, a private bath is always an option.
How to get there
From Kobe the trip to Arima takes 30-40 minutes, from Shin-Kobe Station take the subway to Tanigami Station, then switch to the Shintetsu Arima-Sanda Line to Arima-guchi before making the transfer to the Arima Line to Arima Onsen Station. The journey costs ¥740 each way. If you’d rather a more direct route, Hankyu and Shinki Bus companies run services between Shin-Kobe Station and Sannomiya Station around twice an hour.
It’s also an easy day trip from Osaka.
For shopping throughout the area, be sure to bring your passport along with you as foreign guests are eligible for tax-free shopping. For more details visit: https://tax-freeshop.jnto.go.jp/eng/shopping-guide.php