Thursday, March 26, 2009

NAGISA no YU - Spacious, Soothing Outdoor Baths

The crown jewel of this onsen are two outdoor mineral baths (rotenburo) which are especially refreshing on a cold night when you stand up and the air around you turns to steam. The larger pool could easily seat 12-15 men, while the raised, deeper pool comfortably seats six. High walls hide the bathing areas from outside peering eyes but from the smaller mineral pool we can stand and look south out through two portals to view the inner harbor of Kobe Port. Cut stones cover the outdoor courtyard walkways but raw, rough rocks ring these two mineral pools.

Also situated in this outdoor area are the six powerful 'jet baths' with finished, black granite. An unusual feature for onsen establishments are the three large soaking barrels, each one large enough to hold a father and a 10-year-old son.

Natural mineral water originating from about 760 meters comes out at 35.7º C but the outdoor mineral baths and jet baths are heated to about 41.1º C. The sole indoor mineral pool is hotter at 42.3º C and prduces a faster sweat but it is still comfortable and soothing. A larger, shallow, indoor clear-water pool is also heated to 41.1º C while a smaller one is at a chilling 18.2ºC. These two pools would be either artesian well water from the nearby Rokko Mountains or city water. The green mineral water has that familiar slimy feel on the skin, like some other onsen drilled between the Rokko Mountains and Osaka Bay, but during this soak I didn't notice bubbles that are sometimes present at others.

The spaciousness of this relatively new onsen, constructed on reclaimed land, is further evident by the size of its two saunas. The dry sauna could easily hold 40 men, while the smaller, three-tier 15-man sauna has steam coming off of a pile of exposed rocks.

The huge changing area has around 200 electronically-locked lockers. About 40 indoor washing stations, close to the two clear-water pools, which suggest that this onsen can or does accommodate a real crowd of bathers. An unused sign near the main entrance on this Wednesday evening probably posts the waiting times for men and women during peak bathing times. I wouldn't be surprised if bus loads of Japanese tourists use this facility on weekends as well as a lot of the locals.

For a quieter and more pleasant bathing experience, Nagisa no Yu would probably best be avoided on weekends and national holidays. The bathing charge is ¥800 plus ¥200 for a small bathing towel. Shampoo and body wash is included. Oddly, a large sign near the entrance prohibits people with large, shoulder tattoos to enter but I did notice one man with an outline of a large one on his left shoulder. Large, colorful tattoos often identify people who have gangster affiliations.

Getting there by train: HAT Nagisa no Yu is in the HAT redeveloped area, behind Kobe Red Cross Hospital. It is located east of Sannomiya, one stop on both train lines. From the east exit of Hankyu Line Kasogano station, walk south through the shopping arcade, under the main highway, and along the overhead walkway for about 15 minutes. Or walk south from Hanshin Line Kasogano station for about 10 minutes.

【営業時間】 10:00〜26:00  (最終受付 25:00)
【休業日】年中無休 ※都合により休館する場合がございます。
【お問い合わせ】 電話:078-231-4126  FAX:078-231-1126

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kin no Yu - Steeped in Onsen History

It felt refreshing and not just because we had been hiking for over six hours to get there. The trek started from the warm, south-side of the Rokko Mountain range at Hankyu Ashiyagawa up to the 900+ meter high ridge, then down to the frozen, snowy, north-side to the famed Arima Onsen area. Actually, a long-awaited soak is one of the drawing points of most people who hike a similar route.

Arima Onsen has a recorded history of over 1400 years and it ranks along with Dogo and Shirahama as the three oldest spas in Japan. Pricey hotels in this area, with natural hot spring water, bring in guests from the nearby metropolitan areas of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe as well as more distance destinations. Kin no Yu (Gold Water) and Gin no Yu (Silver Water) spas seem related since they advertise on the same brochure. These two spas have ancient roots and they are open to the general public for ¥650. The outside foot soak is free, I believe.

The time not to visit Arima Onsen, if choosing is possible, would be weekends and national holidays. Bus transportation to and from Takarazuka or Ashiyagawa (35 minutes) is limited to maybe two buses an hour on Sunday evenings, the time when hikers normally end up there. Roads are congested with Sunday drivers which makes the travel times unknown.

When walking around Arima Onsen city on this Sunday, January the 11th, afternoon we noticed some uncapped, 98°C hot spring pools steam and emit a smell of sulphur. The main element, printed in Kin no Yu's published propaganda, seems to be iron. Its concentration could account for the light-brown water color at Kin no Yu and one of the warning signs saying not to drop your towel in the water. It would surely stain.

Kin no Yu onsen is well worth a visit if you happen to be passing through but it doesn't seem worth the time and effort to go there simply for a soak. It has only three hot baths: one, city clear-water at 41°C, one, light brown color water bath at 41°C, and a similar color water bath at 42°C. It offers no other bathing options such as, a cold bath, a sauna, or even a rotenburo (outdoor bath), like many of the onsen on the south-side of the Rokko Mountain range. The water didn't seem aerated or slimy like the green mineral water of Minatoyama Onsen or Nada Onsen.

Kin no Yu must get its share of non-Japanese since it posts the do's and don'ts of proper bathing etiquette. I only broke one rule. I used the individual shower spray while standing, not sitting, at the wash station. We shouldn't do this because we might spray the nearby bather who is also washing.

As many readers already know, bathing in hot water at home, often daily, still remains a custom among most adult Japanese. And it is common for work associates, friends, and relatives to bathe together. Of course, only same-sex bathing. Japanese might even make an overnight trip together for the purpose of visiting a hot spring area. It is not uncommon to easily spend an hour or two going from a hot bath, to another hot bath, to a cold bath, to the sauna, to the outdoor bath, or in whichever order one desires. On an overnight trip to a hot spring, most people will spend at least two, long sessions soaking.

Kin no Yu is closed every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, and it is open on the other days from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Other information is available by phone, 078-904--680 or from its website:

定休日 ● 第2・第4火曜日(祝日営業 翌日休)
及び 1月1日
営業時間 ● 午前8時〜午後10時
入浴料 ●
大人 650円(中学生以上)
小人 340円(小学生)
幼児 140円(5才以下)
※ 3才未満は無料

住所 ● 〒651-1401 神戸市北区有馬町833
TEL ● 078-904-0680

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Reviewed on Sunday, January 11, 2009, around 4 p.m.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


To Do List:


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Takaha Onsen - Another Defunct Onsen

When I went there in June 2008, the doors had already been closed for good but the structure was still standing. This area, 3-400 meters east of Hankyu Rokko, is mostly a residential area with single-family housing.

I was forced to use onsen and sento after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January 1995. So, I had to search out which nearby ones were available. Because there were so many people using them, we were given a time limit. Since then, I know of two that I had used near Kobe High School on the number 2 bus line that have been closed down. And a third, about 200 meters southwest of Hankyu Rokko and across from Rokko Elementary school, now has apartments where it stood.

In addition to a lack of patrons, due to a shift in the local housing, I can imagine that the cost of fuel has further squeezed profit out of that kind of business.
This was the outdoor notice board of the price structure, 380 yen for adults, and cost for soap, shampoo, and towel rental, up to 470 yen.

Otomezuka Onsen - Male and Female Alternating Bath Areas

Updated: January 14, 2016

In the eight years since I have posted, the base fare has increased to ¥420 and with the sauna charge it is ¥700. One of the unusual aspects of this mineral hot spring bathhouse is the men's and women's sides change every other day. One half has mostly tile throughout while the other side has a wood-rimmed indoor bath, and a stone-rimmed outdoor hot and cold bath.

Years ago, while I was neck-deep in the cold stone-rimmed outdoor bath, while all of the other men were in the hot bath, a Japanese man went to sit in the cold bath but only got as far as his ankle before he jerked out his foot. I suppose he was thinking that since I was a foreigner sitting up to my neck, it was a hot bath. I also recall here, a father with two young children were getting in the outdoor bath. The father could tolerate the heat but the 3 or 4 year old children couldn't. Most homes use showers these days so young people may not become accustomed to the heat, so they may never adapt to this prime aspect of Japanese culture.

Last week, I tried the bath again after several years absence. The outside tiled hot bath felt a comfortable, slimy green with loads of gas bubbles. As we sit, the bubbles accumulate around the hairs on the submerged parts of the body. I believe the cold bath is artisan well water off of Mt. Rokko and is around 19° C, but this is an exceptionally warm winter. The posted temperature of the hot mineral water is 41.1° C. Both the indoor and outdoor hot mineral baths have a low enough hot temperature for lingering, which a handful of local, older men did outside. I prefer a bath closer to 41.5° C or so. The hot, dry sauna on the tiled half of the bathhouse is entered with a wooden latch key and is hot enough but seating for only 3 or 4 men.

This bathhouse has three floors: ground floor with the changing room, second floor with washing stations and bubble Jacuzzi baths, and the third floor with more washing stations, the sauna, one large, indoor mineral bath, and the hot and cold outdoor baths. As always, it is wise to take short, tentative steps when walking in the bathing areas to avoid a slip or a fall. A lot of Japanese produce a liberal amount of soap or shampoo suds around their wash station and may not wash the suds away. Wet floor tiles, on their own, are often slippery.

The ground floor has a seating area with tables and chairs for beverages, including draft beer, and light food, along with beverages from an automatic vending machine. Like some other bathhouses, but not all, people can leave valuables in a small locker after inserting 100 yen which is returned after you open the locker on your departure. A timed, payable massage chair is available. Pink, Himalayan rock salt was available for sale which, frankly, was a surprise for me, at around 540 yen for a small bag.

Great feeling mineral water with good aeration but I prefer baths a bit hotter.

六甲おとめ塚温泉 [web]

兵庫県神戸市灘区徳井町3-4-14 [map]
6:00〜1:00 (年中無休)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Asahi Onsen - Slimy & Green ... Wonderful

Luckily, their main attraction, the 31°C ambient-temperature, 2x2 meter, mineral pool, appeared on their web page. The other three mineral pools include a refrigerated 1x2 meter 20°C pool (reserved for paid-sauna goers), the 2x4 meter 42°C pool, and the hot, 2x2 meter 46°C pool.

It took some time, using my faltering Japanese, to verify that the natural mineral water came out at 31°C and not at 20°C, the cold bath which looked greenish but lacked the oxygenated bubbles like the 31°C pool where bubbles accumulated on ones skin giving it a slimy texture. This natural pool felt more like the one found at Nada Onsen (Suidosuji) than at the closer Minatoyama Onsen.

Other onsen or sento might use the shallower, clear, artesian well water for its cold bath rather than refrigerating natural mineral water. Consequently, it is not refrigerated to maintain a set temperature and greatly varies more on the season.

Since I report on onsen, I tried the reputed 46°C pool. I could stand its heat up to chest deep for a minute or so. That was enough. Later, I told the 70-year-old woman at the reception desk that it wasn't popular because only two or three men soaked in this hot pool during the hour I was there. . She did say that in the evenings and on weekends there were plenty of men who soaked there. By my calculations, using a meat thermometer, the pool was only 44°C. This could be why I managed to stay in it for a while.

The fee of ¥380 allowed men to use seven pools plus the warm-hot steam sauna. For ¥500 men could enter into the hot sauna which came with a plastic key and a large, orange bath towel. Supposedly, the cold pool was also included with the added fee but regular bathers seemed to use it, as well. This hot, dry sauna with covered wooden benches and brick walls could seat 16 men, so I suppose one this size must be popular.

Four clear water pools and one forceful waterfall fill out the bathing options there. These include: 1) two 1.5 x 1.5 circular, bubble hot baths, 2) one, 120 cm. Width electric bath, 3) one sit-down jet bath, and 4) one, waterfall with two powerful streams beating down at shoulder width. These options are fairly common at sento, as well.

I visited Asahi Onsen, on Monday, November 17, 2008, from about one p.m. I mention the day and time because at this time of day only a dozen, or so, mostly young-elderly, and elderly men, were around. It wasn't crowded or noisy with children running and splashing about which could be the case on weekends and evenings.

One 60-year-old man sported a full-back tattoo of Kannon (Guanyin) but I didn't steel myself to ask if it were due to his religious convictions or not. He later looked like a good-natured fellow while talking with the reception desk staff so he must be a regular. Another man in his 50's had both his arms, from his elbows up, and his chest muscles darkly tattooed. Without spectacles, the inked images were unclear and it didn't feel right to look too intently at a person with such tattoos.

The two women at the reception desk guessed that this onsen has been there since about 1935. The photos of the drilling platform, along with the surrounding buildings, suggests that the drilling took place much later. Earth samples from the drilling, and the actual drill bits, provide some of the decoration for one room with electric massage chairs.

In addition to vending machines, the staff provide hot beverages like coffee and tea. Probably a cold beer and light food is also in store for those with more of an appetite.

Asahi Onsen is situated about halfway between JR Kobe and JR Hyogo, on the north side of the track. It's pink and orange, three-story structure with a happy, soaking family painted on it makes it hard to miss.
TEL 078-577-1836

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Asahi Sento - A Standard Bathhouse with a Great Sauna

Asahi Sento is one of the smaller bathhouses with only 30 lockers in its narrow changing room and 13 washing stations inside the tiled room with the three bathing pools. Patrons bring their own washing materials or buy them there. I had forgotten my thin washing/drying off towel and was ready to buy or rent one, which is the normal case. Unexpectedly, the proprietor just gave me one to use and told me to leave it in the red basket. Before that happening, I guess he had warmed up to me because I had commented in Japanese that what was said on TV, 'more white people voted for McCain' was true and I further explained that this was especially true for those white males over 45 years old. I wonder why he gave me a towel to use rather than renting it. Maybe it was because I was sociable or because I was an unexpected foreigner who spoke Japanese with him.

This bathhouse is near the Hanshin Railway line and traditionally along this line and to the south, to Osaka Bay, medium and large industries were established. And, until 20 years ago, many people in this area rented an apartment without a shower or bath so they had to go out for a bath. This is not so much the case these days but a hot bath at a sento or onsen would be easier to prepare than a bath at home so some patrons still find their way to one. It is probably more popular with middle-aged people and above. Local women may find it a community center for catching up on gossip. An aged, bent-over woman with a cane and a push food cart/basket was leaving at the same time I was.

Asahi Sento has no naturally heated mineral water, only artesian well water. It is rightly called a sento, bathhouse, but with the artesian well water at natural temperature it is surely a notch above those. The natural well water changes its temperature depending on the season. The proprietor said it is now, in early November, at 18° C but it gets colder during the winter. Today, this water felt cooler than the natural pool at Nada Onsen in July but not as cold as I have experienced during the colder months.

The bath area has three hot pools which may actually be city water, and the natural artesian well water. The furthest one has three, reclining jet sprays and is at a comfortable 41° C. The center bath, with electrical panels on one side, is at 42° C. The electrical current was strong enough to exit through the arm that was out of the water touching the side of the tiled pool. Really too much for me. The deeper, nearest pool to the door is at 43° C. I saw one man get out of this pool showing a noticeable, lobster-red tone where he had been submerged. This deep red is a clear sign that the pool is a bit hot. I tried it but didn't find it so pleasant.

The Asahi bathhouse seemed below-average for this part of Kobe City but my impression of it heightened after I found the sauna: it is one of the best ones that I've discovered to date. It is a 7-meter wide, all-wood, dry sauna at about 108° C with a low level and a high level bench. I would think that six men could easily sit and watch TV there. It took me eight minutes to produce a stream of sweat flowing off but this delayed sweating might be due to soaking in the ambient 19° C pool just before. Still, it didn't seem as oppressively hot as some saunas are and it seemed a bit roomier than most, as well.

Getting there. The easiest way to find Asahi Sento is by walking east for 3-4 minutes on the south side of the Hanshin railway track from Hanshin Oishii station. It is one block south. The map is an approximation. Address: 4-5-14 Oishii higashii, Nada-ku, Kobe-shi. Phone: (078) 871-0578.

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