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.